Consumer Grade vs. Ultra Rugged Equipment
March 16, 2014

It is imperative to understand the inherent differences between consumer grade and ultra rugged devices for use in industry and enterprise. Some may argue that a Sony Experia Z Cellphone is a waterproof(?) device but that does not make it rugged. It simply means that a specific type of disaster will not destroy the phone. In order to be a truly rugged device it is imperative that the device is evaluated (and passes) for the most extreme conditions it is likely to experience in daily use whilst performing the function for which it is chosen.

Did you know that “rugged” doesn’t simply mean “more durable?” The term actually refers to a device’s ability to withstand certain conditions that may prove disasterous to a less qualified/suitable device. In order to determine the level of inherent ruggedness built into the design of a specific device (and to compare apples with apples for the lack of a better expression) we rely on MIL-STD-810G and IP durability tests. These tests are designed to prove a device’s resistance to:

  • Water and Dust Ingress (Intermittent or Constant)

  • Heavy Vibrations

  • Extreme Temperatures (Operating and Resting)

  • Drop Ratings

  • Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) Ratings

  • Ex Ratings (for use in volatile, explosive and underground environments)

It is important that the buyer understand the differences between these ratings so that they are not “tripped up” or “caught out” by unscrupulous advertisers describing a IP41 unit as a rugged device simply because it has been IP rated.

One then also need to remember that the total cost of ownership is not simply the cost of purchasing the device PLUS the cost of having it repaired when it fails. There is certain other costs that may or may not even be quantifiable.

So for instance when a field device fails there is usually no backup to it and the user needs to return to some office for a swap out OR even worse wait for the device to be returned from repair. In addition should a swap out device be available at their office it implies that additional hardware has been bought as a fail over for the field devices which should be divided between and added to the cost of the devices for which it serves as a fail over.

Additionally the cost of lost data, recollection of the lost data, delays in the collected data and lastly the social impact of not being able to provide a reliable service to the end client on time and once off should also be considered.

If a service provider (field service, route accounting, auditing, asset tracking, inspection and maintenance etc.) could not provide the service reliably and on time I as an end user would think twice about contracting them again to provide me with the same service. If a police officer can not perform his duties because of failed tools or be delayed because the vehicle closer to the incident had a failure and a further one needed to be dispatched it could have grave implications for the victims involved.

The ideal remains to work towards the ever elusive 0% failure rate. For this reason alone it is imperative that clients select devices which is suitable to and designed for the environment in which they will be used.

If your business requires a device that can withstand extreme environmental conditions, then going “rugged” is the best option. Rugged devices bring all the benefits of a standard computer into the midst of extreme, remote and outdoor operations, but don’t hinder your workforce by breaking down when the going gets really tough.

A good quality rugged device should not fail on average within a given period of time. The timeframe that would typically elapse before this first failure is largely dependent on the quality, ruggedness and design of the device but also on the specific environment it is expected to function within. Everything will eventually fail but the time frame for zero failure is what is important and proves the reliability (and ruggedness) of a certain device within a certain environment.

Choosing wisely at the start of any project for the collection, verification and/or analysis of data in remote, outdoor or extreme environments will result in the lowest possible cost to company and highest possible return on investment. If software and systems are presumed to be constant the best device choice will always be the one best suited to the people and environment in which it will be used.

NOTE: This post has been compiled from the various comments and viewpoints of professionals in the rugged device industry and the end users of these products. It firmly represents the view and opinion of Consolidated African Technologies and a subsection of industry.