Written by 6:00 am Feature, FSM Technology

Keeping pace with the evolution of rugged technology for operational success

Fred Kao, CEO Twinhead International, the company behind Durabook, the brand for rugged and mobile-optimised laptops and tablets, discusses the evolving landscape and identifies the key factors organisations should consider when investing in the latest rugged technology.

Organisations across every sector are rapidly recognising the multiple advantages of cutting-edge rugged devices in boosting operational efficiency and productivity in even the most challenging environments.

Leading rugged technology manufacturers appreciate that businesses are constantly evolving to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive marketplace and are reliant on technology that can keep pace. For this reason, the latest models have evolved to consistently outperform consumer-grade devices by offering resistance to the harsh environments associated with field, factory and construction work.

Fred Kao, CEO Twinhead International, the company behind Durabook, the brand for rugged and mobile-optimised laptops and tablets, discusses the evolving landscape and identifies the key factors organisations should consider when investing in the latest rugged technology.

Meeting the demands of every sector

Rugged devices have radically improved over the last few years, integrating and adopting the latest cutting-edge technologies that have been proven successful in commercial and consumer devices. In line with these consumer devices, rugged devices are getting smaller, lighter, and more intuitive, yet pack in more power and a longer – often-round-the-clock – battery life. In addition, they can connect to future and legacy systems for expanded use. Demands for security, reliability and resilience mean that rugged devices must meet specific industry recognised standards to help boost modern workforce productivity.

However, leading rugged technology manufacturers understand that every organisation has specific requirements regarding how they implement technology to work and support employees across different environments. For example, industrial customers need reliable devices that operate seamlessly and securely in harsh environments that may be dusty, extremely hot or cold, or are exposed to harmful substances. They usually require fully-rugged tablets and laptops that are more durable; for example, they can withstand 4 to 6 feet drops and prevent dust and water ingress. This sector also demands more robust security features, like fingerprint scanners and smart card readers. Easily removable storage ensures data is safe and secure, especially during hardware repairs by third parties, and prevents others retrieving sensitive company data.

Alternatively, field service workers require larger screens that can be easily used outside in all weather conditions, including bright sunshine and rain, to facilitate repair and maintenance. Meanwhile, other industries require different I/O interfaces or specific CPUs, in order to meet their specific needs. For example, automotive customers often request special Fisher connectors, while those in the industrial manufacturing sector frequently require RS-232 serial ports or other legacy interfaces. Some industries don’t need such ruggedness built into their devices at all but still require a consistent, reliable performance.

The good news is that, although each industry has unique needs, the latest rugged technology has evolved to meet all of these demands head on, delivering the critical functionality required to keep businesses consistently productive and competitive.

Reliability, performance and ruggedness

It’s common for devices to be manhandled through drops, knocks, spillages or heavy vibration from vehicle mounts. Yet, today’s workforce, especially those on the front line, need devices to function seamlessly despite these challenges. Therefore, procurement teams must ensure devices are tested to certain standards and include MIL-STD and IP certifications. Some devices are tested beyond these standards, ensuring continuous functionality in explosive atmospheres or where there is solar radiation, salt fog or fungus. Today’s rugged devices are lighter, thinner and more portable than ever, yet remain robust and durable for operation in any environment and offer additional features such as hot-swappable batteries ensure consistent performance.

Notably, the most competitive rugged devices on the market today have evolved to offer fanless functionality that meets the demands of the harshest working environments. In the field, dust poses a real operational problem for standard consumer devices that incorporate a fan as this can lead to dust build-up that reduces functionality. Beyond practicality, a fanless device can also serve an important safety function. For example, the presence of combustible or explosive gases and vapours in some environments, such as the oil and gas industry, can be extremely hazardous; a fanless device can prevent the risk of these hazardous components igniting. In addition, these latest models comprise an integrated passive cooling system that allows the devices to work with even the most powerful processors, operating at a higher frequency while dissipating more heat. This evolution in rugged technology ensures that users can operate in the most dusty or contaminated environments without risk to their computer or loss of performance.

Expandability and customisation

While it’s possible to make informed predictions about how technology will develop in the future, there is no crystal ball. So, organisations must be prepared to adapt in the most cost-effective way in order to benefit from new technologies as they are introduced and proven. Some rugged device manufacturers recognise this challenge and have incorporated expansion capabilities as standard. This means rugged tablets and laptops have the flexibility to be expanded to incorporate the latest technology, as well as legacy systems that will continue to be used for years to come.

For example, a rugged laptop can easily be expanded to become a portable cloud or local storage device or server providing immediate and safe analysis, capture and analysis of data for accurate decision-making, such as GIS maps for mission planning. Plug and play expansion capabilities also mean rugged devices can be used as a remote control or radio system for automated technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), drones, or other robots.

Security and connectivity

Important security features that can help minimise the threat of cyber-attack now and in the future include; personalised identification and authentication via fingerprint and smart card readers and RFID. It is also essential that storage devices can be removed easily and rapidly so that data can be protected away from the device.

Moreover, for military organisations, for example, mission success often depends on the ability to access or transmit sensitive data while in the field, so rugged devices must guarantee top secret security classification to protect against cyber hacks, infiltration or other security threats. Data in transit can be a significant risk, so connectivity must be encrypted too. Devices should include a trusted platform module (TPM), which stores RSA encryption keys for hardware authentication.

While it can be difficult to predict the growing needs of front line operatives, it isn’t impossible. The most successful organisations can take steps to safeguard their operational success by partnering with technology suppliers that are one step ahead of the game, delivering flexible, high-performance and reliable rugged technology in a safe and secure way.

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