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In 2022, I had the opportunity to visit a warehouse yard and meet with a truck spotter who was recording shipments using a specialized, ruggedized device. "Why don't you just use a smartphone?" I asked.
"I drop these devices probably once or twice a week," he said. "There's also a lot of dust that flies in the yard. A smartphone would never last in these conditions."
He's not alone. Many people work in environments with extreme temperatures, corrosive substances, or high risk of dropping or damaging their electronic devices. These individuals require ruggedized hardware that can withstand the challenges they face while performing their jobs.
Investing in the right ruggedized devices upfront saves time, money and potential disruptions in the long run. Before making a purchase, take the necessary steps to secure reliable equipment that will endure the challenges of your operating environment.
Ruggedized hardware encompasses a wide range of devices, including laptops, scanners/readers, phones, sensors and other IoT devices. These devices are specifically designed and constructed to survive harsh environmental conditions, such as extreme temperatures, dust, moisture, vibrations and other forms of physical punishment. Ruggedized devices are most commonly used in industrial, military, scientific and construction industries. They typically incorporate features such as fully sealed keyboards to protect against dust or liquids entering the device and scratch-resistant screens that are readable in direct sunlight.
If your organization requires ruggedized IoT equipment, here are some key approaches to ensure you obtain the best-suited devices.
How to select the right rugged device
Fit the equipment to the use case
Understand the specific requirements of the end users, and consider the environmental conditions and ease-of-use features they desire. For example, a warehouse worker might need a hands-free reader/scanner that enables comfortable warehouse operation and quick item scanning and stands up to being dropped on a concrete warehouse floor. Military operators or construction foremen might prefer ruggedized laptops capable of withstanding high levels of vibration and physical abuse.
Test equipment for standards compliance and ease of use
In military settings, the MIL-STD-810G specification defines durability standards that ruggedized equipment must meet. To meet these standards, the equipment must pass a series of 29 different durability tests for shock, vibration, heat, cold, gunfire shock, humidity and more. In warehouse settings, formal standards are less rigorous, but ease-of-use issues are more significant. For instance, a new ruggedized device might not be able to mount easily into a holding fixture, the stylus on the device might be awkward or the device processor might not be strong enough. Conduct thorough testing of the devices under actual working conditions to identify any potential shortcomings.
Evaluate the cost
Ruggedized devices are built to last, and they sometimes come at a significantly higher price compared to their commercial device counterparts. Weigh pricing against durability, and consider the total cost of ownership. Determine whether it's more cost-effective to repair or replace standard devices when they fail or invest upfront in more expensive ruggedized devices that offer greater longevity.
Vet the vendor
The ruggedized device market is projected to grow by $1.67 billion between 2020 and 2024, so it's crucial to thoroughly research each vendor before making a purchase. Many vendors offer ruggedized devices. Examine the vendor's financials, tenure in the industry, and the strength of their service and support. Seek feedback from other customers to ensure a reliable and reputable partnership.
Don't forget the little things
In certain environments, wireless access may be challenging, making hard-wired Ethernet connections a preferable option due to superior speed, stability and reduced exposure to electromagnetic radiation. Additionally, consider customizing ruggedized devices such as sensors optimized for extreme temperature variations or underwater usage.
By considering these factors and following these guidelines, organizations can make informed decisions when selecting ruggedized IoT equipment. Choosing the right devices tailored to the environment, ensuring standards compliance and ease of use, evaluating costs, vetting vendors, and considering additional factors will lead to durable and efficient solutions that meet the specific needs of the users.