Whereas consumer-grade mobile devices are well-suited to everyday use in homes, schools, and offices, rugged tablets are especially designed for harsh and demanding environments. The number of trades and professions where rugged tablets and portable devices are required are considerable, including:
- Medical devices
- Military, government, security, and law enforcement
- Energy, oil, and gas (including in explosive environments requiring intrinsically safe circuitry)
- Instrumentation, test, and measurement
- Logistics and transportation (including automotive, locomotive, marine, and aviation)
- Construction and trades
Electronic devices deployed by these industries share a number of characteristics that influence device design. They must:
- Withstand and fully operate through prolonged vibrations, accidental drops, and direct impact to each side edge of the device
- Be impervious to dust, dirty, water, and other liquid contaminates
- Operate over extreme temperatures, in very hot and very cold environments
- Often be used in direct sunlight or extreme darkness, requiring displays that can easily be read and controlled for these light levels
- Often be operated with thick gloves, which typically requires specialized touchscreens
- Sometimes require custom equipment interfaces that are not integrated into common consumer tablet devices
- Be certified to meet operational and safety requirements within specific industries
- Be available for purchase in a constant known configuration for many years, to ensure they continue to meet certifications
Modifying consumer-grade tablets is often insufficient to make a tablet reliably rugged for these industries, for the following reasons:
- Adding thick overmolds may improve vibration and impact resistance, but may be insufficient to protect against direct impact to the display or provide sufficient ingress protection over the long term
- Extreme temperature operation requires internal circuitry to use industrial temperature components for reliable operation. Sometimes, special conformal coats must be added.
- Add-on peripherals that plug into standard USB jacks or other ports may not physically withstand daily use, provide adequate ingress protection, or provide long term reliable connections.
- Changes made to the tablet hardware, software, or mechanicals is controlled by the tablet manufacturer. These changes can pop up unexpectedly and can require significant modifications at high cost and schedule to the device as deployed.
- The consumer tablet is often available for sale for no more than a couple of years, with no end of life warning. It may become necessary to hold significant front-loaded inventory to assure long term application availability.
- There may be insufficient control of the software on a consumer tablet. To disable general use (like playing Candy Crush) or to provide enhanced security, modifications to the operating system or access to certain hardware-level features may be required. This is generally not provided for consumer tablets.
Rugged tablets and portable devices solve the above problems – reliably meet all environmental requirements, enable custom circuitry and interfaces, provide enhanced security and software control, meet regulatory and industry certifications, and be available for extended periods of time. Custom tablets and portable devices can be designed and delivered for relatively low engineering costs and short schedules when based on a validated rugged tablet design, using a process called Modified COTS.
More information can be found from InHand Electronics – an industry leader in the design and manufacture of embedded circuit boards and custom-designed devices for Original Equipment Manufacturers. If you have a rugged application that requires unique interfaces, enhanced security, operating system customizations, special displays, or other features, with unique product requirements of rugged tablets or other portable handheld devices, including customized engineering services, turn to InHand. Contact us for an evaluation of your application.