Who Needs a Rugged PC Anyway?

Guest blog by Christian Funk from MHI Member Company JLT Mobile Computers

“Fit for purpose” is a simple but very powerful concept. The right tools designed the right way for the right job will have an immediate impact on your business, increasing uptime, productivity, and eventually, your bottom line. When failure is not an option, you need to call in the specialists.

As an IT manager, you’re probably more than used to dealing with desktop hardware that has seen a steady evolution in terms of cosmetics and processing power, but office computers rarely venture anywhere other than your desktop, and you certainly wouldn’t use the word ‘rugged’ to describe them.

It boils down to “fit for purpose”. Office PCs, needing to only to bear the weight of a monitor, deliver various inputs and outputs (I/O) and keep the expensive internal stuff cool and hidden away from prying fingers; but beyond that, most other feature choices and visuals are simply down to style.

Now ask yourself this question: Would you attach an office PC or laptop to a forklift and expect it to work flawlessly in a demanding warehousing environment? The answer is of course no. Yet forklift-based IT is now an operational necessity across a huge range of logistics environments, some of which would destroy an office PC in a matter of seconds.

Vehicle-mount terminals are becoming essential

As industry standards move towards more lean operating principles and 24/7 availability of services, the pressure on front-line workers to work faster, but with the same accuracy, has grown exponentially. For this reason, IT technology – as part of a digital transformation – is rewriting workplace dynamics. This is why vehicle-mount terminals, or VMTs, are becoming more commonplace, even on industrial vehicles that operate in tough environments, such as forklifts, trucks, cranes and reach stackers.

VMTs must give operators the ability to read and input data straight from their vehicles, helping them to maximize their productivity. As a result, they must go where the people and the vehicles go, so fit for purpose is a prerequisite! They have to stand up to the rigors of the harshest of environments, across multiple applications, withstanding shock, temperature extremes, vibrations, dust, and even water.

Taking rugged to a new level

The figures are terrifying! VMTs may need to withstand environmental extremes, from as low as -30°C (-22°F) up to 55°C (131°F). Some may even need supplemental heating to prevent frost formation on the display. Couple this to increased ingress protections (IP rating) from dust and water and you get a new understanding of the word ‘rugged’.

And it can’t be one size fits all… it never is. Devices need to suit the application and the vehicle. They must offer different screen sizes, so you can find the best-fit solution for the space you have available. And what about power? You need battery back-up and a power solution equally ruggedized against less-than-optimum forklift power systems.

Tough screens too

When it comes to longevity, touchscreen displays are one of the most common failure points, so they must be suitably hardened, while still offering interactions across a range of temperatures… and with gloved hands. Ruggedized and sealed I/Os and docks are essential, too, to make sure you can stay connected.

And, what’s the point of having these real-time capabilities if you can’t talk to your servers… in real-time? Bluetooth, WLAN, and an optional 4G LTE/ 5G connection should be offered as standard, so workers can update, scan and check data at any time right from their vehicle, reducing downtime.

Finally, you might need more than just a screen, and as a result, anything you connect must also be fit for purpose. It’s a false economy to have a state-of-the-art VMT and then attach an office keyboard to it! Look for accessories that complement your VMTs, such as rugged keyboards, scanners, and cables – all of which should have undergone commensurate levels of ruggedization for harsh industrial environments.

Lower TCO
Finally, for the more cost-conscious among you, ruggedized VMTs will certainly result in a lower total cost of ownership compared to non-rugged alternatives, especially when you consider downtime and extensive repair bills for devices that are certainly NOT fit for purpose.

Do you want to know more about the benefits of investing in rugged IT solutions for your business or have any questions? Feel free to come and talk to us in person at ProMat 2023.