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What does "rugged" stand for in computers?

What does this robust actually mean when it comes to such devices? From the user’s perspective, ruggedness is simply the computer’s ability to work under a wide variety of extreme working conditions.

The stipulation here is that the computers survive these demands for the entire period of use of the device. However, depending on the work to be performed, ruggedness can mean something quite different to each user. For example, the demands regarding drop and dust resistance of mobile devices in the warehouse are quite high, as experience shows that they are often dropped and can also be exposed to a lot of dust. At the same time, it is unlikely to be exposed to extreme temperatures or rain. On the other hand, a forester will need a device with protection from water and a wide temperature range, but is probably not too concerned about dust.

Fields of application of rugged computers

Digital transformation and the digital transition in numerous industries are advancing. Not all work takes place in an office. Daily operations in many companies take place in less than ideal conditions, especially dirty jobs in harsh industries. For workers in mining, oil and gas, construction, or even agriculture, consumer-grade equipment simply isn’t enough. The applications for rugged computers such as laptops, tablets or handhelds are many and varied. In this section, you will find a brief outline of the areas of application for such devices in the various sectors and industries.

Whether in police departments, public order offices or the German Armed Forces, robust computers have found their way into the public sector on a broad scale.

  • Military: The military has long relied on rugged mobile devices for use in overseas missions, fleet maintenance in dusty and humid environments around the world. Among the benefits of rugged tablets for aircraft maintenance is their ability to streamline processes and workflows among crew members and at the administrative level.

    Military operations take place in all kinds of terrain types with varying topography. Poor visibility is a common challenge for soldiers in the field. Sunset and nightfall is another reason for extremely poor visibility that soldiers in the field deal with constantly, as most operations last several days and nights. Using a military-grade tablet on such missions provides critical information about everything happening in front, behind and in the soldiers’ immediate vicinity. With technology that works at all altitudes, in all conditions and even when fully utilized, comrades can rely on it. They have the ability to access accurate information about their surroundings and their position in relation to other locations, even if they cannot see it themselves.

    Other mission areas also include mobile mapping operations and control of drones and unmanned vehicles. These and almost all other missions require highly reliable, rugged, state-of-the-art mobile devices that provide optimal connectivity.

  • Police: Law enforcement officers are responsible for investigating crime scenes. Accurate data must be obtained that will stand up in court in the event of a trial. To achieve this level of accuracy when processing a crime scene, police officers need powerful tools that can minimize or even eliminate human error, capture information quickly and retrieve all the data they need. In addition to traditional cameras, tablets are increasingly being used here, for example for advanced metadata such as location.

    For an optimal investigation of crime and accident scenes, the quick arrival of the investigating police officer is essential. Rugged tablets also contribute to this aspect, as integrated GPS tells officers the fastest way to get to the scene of an incident, with real-time traffic information and route guidance. GPS tracking also allows officers and supervisors to see the location of all officers on duty and whether they are on foot or in a vehicle. It also makes it easier to report the exact location of incidents, which can be extremely useful and important in court and during trial.

    Regular crowd control operations are also inconceivable without digital devices. With the help of rugged tablets or notebooks, database queries are carried out in real time on site, enabling the secure identification of persons or vehicles being checked.

  • Public order office: We all know them, the ladies and gentlemen of the public order office, parking monitoring department. As citizens, they are often not our friends, because when they show up, bills are handed out. The legally compliant recording of parking violations is now increasingly done via robust mobile computers in smartphone format. The small, handy devices usually have a camera to document the violation. The ticket is issued via an integrated ticketing system and a connected mobile printer.

Large parts of hospitals are increasingly being digitized. The aim here is to enable modern medical treatment by improving interaction between patients, medical staff, the facility itself and equipment.

Robust devices are mainly used in three areas:

  1. hospital consumables management (often using RFID technology and 2D barcodes).
  2. specimen and blood management using RFID tags or barcodes, and for the
  3. traceability of medications

In contrast to “normal” rugged devices, additional regulations must be met in the medical sector – depending on the intended use. Products for the medical sector are usually white and have an antimicrobial surface.


Fire departments and rescue services are and will always be an essential pillar for the protection and safety of our society. For the people who work in these professions, going headfirst into unknown situations is an everyday occurrence and often a necessity. Thanks to their diligent work, they ensure that both public and private areas are safe. They often take some personal risk while being responsible for the safety of our community. These are the very departments that deserve to be equipped with leading technology that helps firefighters and emergency responders as effectively as they help our community.

From preventative measures to crisis operations, rugged tablets help improve the efficiency of responders and reduce the time it takes them to do their jobs. At the same time, this increases their safety by allowing them to leave the scene more expeditiously.

With the introduction of computers in vehicles, emergency and rescue responders were finally able to access and enter large amounts of information while on scene. But although models have been updated significantly over time, the technology has reached a point of stagnation. Instead of traditional laptops or integrated vehicle computers, you’ll find more and more rugged tablets in use today.

Field service workers need tools, software and rugged devices that not only meet the requirements for their jobs, but also for the harsh environments they work in. Rugged tablets are ideal for utility work, city fleet vehicle maintenance, incidental tasks in parks and more.

Government, city and municipal services, other public works, and utilities benefit from rugged mobile devices. Powerful computing and communications options, fast speeds, easy-to-read screens and various accessories provide an optimal mobile user experience. They also enable easy and functional movement from the office to the vehicle and to field locations.

Field workers can access what they need on-site to collect data, generate reports, and thus manage projects quickly and cost-effectively. This can minimize the costs and losses associated with false starts, oversight failures, cost overruns, repeated delays, or any of the many obstacles that aging infrastructure can create. They can also help build modern cities by incorporating “smart” features such as light and/or air sensors from day one.

With a rugged tablet, you get multiple functionalities on one device. Instead of field workers being forced to carry a separate camera, barcode scanner, GPS device, magnetic stripe reader, and monitor, this can all be combined into one device designed specifically for these needs. This is not only more practical in terms of handling, but also saves costs.

The “Transport & Logistics” sector has given robust computers the right impetus over the last 30 years. Today, it is hard to imagine companies without mobile devices such as compact handhelds, as used in parcel delivery or intralogistics.

Robust handhelds and tablets for use in the warehouse can take package handling to the next level. Transport and logistics are under enormous cost pressure, so digitization is now inevitable. Optimizing processes in the aisles increases efficiency, boosts productivity and creates smarter ways of working.

Workflows in the warehouse, package handling and delivery can be made more efficient with robust devices. This frees up more time for high-priority tasks. With multiple features for use in the warehouse, rugged computers don’t just save time. They also help reduce paperwork, decrease accidents, injuries or errors, and improve the overall efficiency of warehouse processes. Integrated barcode scanners or RFID scanners allow for lightning-fast data capture.

In addition to mobile devices, there are also stationary devices for use in material handling vehicles. They are called vehicle computers or forklift terminals. But there are also usually suitable holders for vehicles for industrial tablets.

For years, the buzzword Industry 4.0 has been haunting countries, being used so intensively that it’s coming out of your ears. In the digital age, data is known for its high value in intelligent decision-making and improved business insights. In manufacturing, however, it serves a different purpose. Data helps manufacturing personnel manage goals and tasks, understand work order details, and visualize critical conditions, such as machine configurations or technical specifications.
While large companies have often already fully digitized and in many steps automated their production, smaller companies still lack this important step. As I write these lines in the year 2021, there are unfortunately still companies that work with pen and paper in production. Especially in industries with high competitive pressure, this will lead to problems in the future when it comes to making production faster, more efficient and more cost-effective. Manufacturing companies face unique challenges when it comes to efficiency, work processes, waste, productivity, inventory management and cost overruns.

In a warehouse or factory floor, you see large machines, high technology and almost no one sitting at a desk. In addition to rugged tablets, handhelds and panel PCs, you can also find wearable solutions or even entirely automated systems in industry and production. The last point alone could fill an entire book, which is why we want to limit ourselves here to user operating devices. Robust devices for manufacturing companies and plants can help optimize workflows and solve many problems, thanks to important functions that lay the foundation for high-level production. They are ideal for companies whose focus is on reducing waste, improving efficiency and the overall business model.

If area calculations, material requirements and measurements are recorded by hand, they still have to be entered into the PC in the evening after the construction day – this results in two work steps, although only one would actually be necessary. It would be much more practical to save the recorded data digitally. This would save one work step and, of course, also working time.

In addition, handwritten notes always lead to inaccuracies. This is partly due to illegible handwriting, and partly because notes are lost. If important data is recorded exclusively by handwriting on a construction site, data loss can easily occur. With the use of tablets and notebooks, on the other hand, data can be recorded immediately in the appropriate software.

Another point is that the digitization of work processes always has the advantage of faster data transfer and thus immediate further processing. The data from the construction site is available in real time and is immediately transmitted to the appropriate recipients. They can react quickly and, for example, immediately straighten or order the required material.

Today, no construction site can do without modern measuring devices. Laptops and notebooks are indispensable for the data acquisition of these devices – with the help of reliable tablets and notebooks, measured values and data can be stored and made available directly in digital form.

Planning and documentation are tasks that can be completed on the construction site in the blink of an eye with tablets. When new material is delivered, for example, they can scan barcodes directly at the construction site and automatically manage the delivered material using special software.

Whether in movie theaters, restaurants, theaters or casinos, the use of rugged tablets and handhelds enhances the customer experience and offers a variety of benefits.
With rugged POS devices, staff can quickly take customers’ orders, which are immediately routed to the kitchen. When the food is ready for pickup, staff receives a message. Devices can also be used directly at the customer’s seat, e.g. in snack bars and canteens. Once a customer has made himself comfortable at his seat, he can order drinks, food and sweets at the touch of a button. Customers can peruse the menu at their leisure, decide what they want, and there is no need to stand in line at the counter.

The use of robust devices is particularly useful here, as they can withstand accidental dropping by guests or staff. They can also be cleaned and disinfected quickly and easily.

But there are also wide-ranging application scenarios for rugged and industrial IT. For example, rugged notebooks are used by journalists who have to produce reports in wind and weather and edit their video material while still on the move. They not only have special demands on stability and battery life, but usually also need a dedicated graphics card. Other areas of use are agriculture & forestry, surveying, gastronomy, retail, security services and many more.

Characteristics of rugged computers

Rugged computers are fundamentally different from their conventional counterparts. Unlike normal consumer devices, rugged computers are usually not equipped with the latest technologies, but in return have numerous features that “normal” devices do not have. They are much more durable and equipped with additional features specifically for industrial needs. They usually have ingress protection against water and dust, can withstand drops, and can be used in a wider temperature range. Many of these features are certified by test laboratories.

At the same time, however, significantly older components are usually used. Newly released devices often contain processors that already have several generations as successors.

The degree of robustness is determined by three specifications in particular:

  • Usable temperature range
  • MIL-STD-810 test – tests drops, vibrations, shocks, etc.
  • Ingress protection – usually referred to as IP protection.

Knowing the different specifications and what they mean provides a lot of information about how a device will perform in the field and in the long run. From experience, these three specifications can be found on the respective data sheets.

Distinction between Semi Rugged, Fully Rugged, Ultra Rugged and Military Rugged

There are no official standards or categories for rugged computers. Designations that have become established are “Semi Rugged”, “Rugged” or “Fully Rugged” as well as “Ultra Rugged”. In the past, we could also find “Business Rugged” or “Education Rugged”, which could be classified below Semi Rugged in each case. Due to the lack of a standard, the marketing departments of various manufacturers sometimes come up with very creative names. At WEROCK, we have decided to limit our classification to the three common designations:

 

How are the devices tested?

A rugged computer manufacturer can’t just write the word “Rugged” on their products and that’s it. Rugged computers undergo rigorous testing and must meet certain performance guidelines to truly be considered rugged by industry standards. The rugged computer industry has adopted testing standards developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the U.S. military (MIL-STD 810G), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and other organizations. Tablets are tested against vibration and drops, extreme temperatures, moisture and liquids, and falls.

IP protection and why this is important

Many electronic devices claim things like “water resistant” or “waterproof”. But how do you know if they are what they actually claim to be? This is where the so-called IP ratings come into play. They are defined in ISO 20653 and DIN EN 60529.

IP stands for Ingress Protection. Put simply, it is a rating that indicates what a device can withstand in terms of solid particles and liquids. Most of the world’s manufacturers now follow this standard to rank their products. The rating consists of a simple two-number system that rates solid particles and liquids separately to clearly indicate how well a device is protected from these elements. This number is sometimes supplemented by an additional letter, for special applications. The first number represents particles and the second number represents liquids:

Example: Let’s take IP65. The first number – 6 – indicates how resistant a device is to solid particles. The 6 is the highest number on the scale in terms of ingress protection, and the device is therefore completely sealed against dust. This does not mean that it is impossible for dust to get into the device. But it does not get into the device in sufficient quantity to cause damage.
The second number – 5 – indicates the device’s resistance to liquids, especially water. In the example, the device is protected against water jets from all directions.

Please note: Protection against liquid penetration always refers to water. A device can also be protected against other liquids, but the IP rating does not refer to chemicals. Many chemicals are corrosive and can potentially damage a device’s seals, negating the device’s resistance and IP rating. If the device comes into contact with chemicals, please check with the supplier before purchase to determine if it is resistant to the chemical in question.

DIN 40050-9 expanded the newer IEC 60529 rating system to include IP69K protection for high-pressure and high-temperature washdown applications. ISO 20653:2013 enclosures must not only be dust-tight (IP6X), but also withstand high-pressure and steam cleaning. The IP69K standard was originally developed for road vehicles – particularly those that require intensive cleaning on a regular basis (dump trucks, concrete mixers, etc.) – but is also used in other applications, such as food processing machinery and car washes. Essentially, IP69k protection is like IP66 protection, but withstanding more pressure.

IK Protection

In the past, especially in France, an optional third digit of the IP code was used to classify the protection with regard to mechanical force impact. This has since been replaced by the IK code or the IK impact resistance level. This code is usually applied to the touchscreen of rugged computers. The test is performed with a pendulum hammer, alternatively up to IK07 with a spring hammer or above IK07 with a free-fall hammer. The test procedure is specified in the EN 60068-2-75 (or VDE 0468-2-75) and IEC 60068-2-75 standards.

code

Stroke energy
in joules

corresponds
falling height of the mass

IK00

no protection

IK01

0.14

7 cm – 200 g

IK02

0.20

8 cm – 250 g

IK03

0.35

14 cm – 250 g

IK04

0.50

20 cm – 250 g

IK05

0.70

28 cm – 250 g

IK06

1.0

40 cm – 250 g

IK07

2.0

40 cm – 500 g

IK08

5.0

25 cm – 2 kg

IK09

10.0

20 cm – 5 kg

IK10

20.0

40 cm – 5 kg

IK10+

50.0

50 cm – 10 kg

Usually, the touchscreens of ATMs have a protection of IK10. Notebooks and tablets are usually not specifically tested for this, so this specification is missing on most devices.

Extended operating temperature

Robust computers not only withstand all kinds of weather and shocks, but also score with an extended temperature range for operation and transport. Thus, the devices survive even extreme heat or cold. A mobile device is actually just a tool to help you with your work. Unlike you, the tablet or handheld doesn’t have to wrap itself up thickly once again, because the devices can withstand cold temperatures between -10° C and -40° C, depending on the design. Even very hot environments can rarely harm the robust devices, so most devices can withstand 50° C – some even up to 70° C. The particular challenge, however, lies in the rapid changes between hot and cold temperatures, which cause additional stress on both the electrical system and the housing itself. Many devices are therefore also tested for thermal shock as part of the test for temperature resistance (MIL-STD 810 Method 503.5).

Use in harsh environments – military-grade protection

There are numerous standardizations worldwide. For most rugged computers, however, certification to U.S. military standards has prevailed. The United States Military Standards are a collection of various guidelines, procedural instructions and general rules. Standardization ensures interoperability, interchangeability, reliability and compatibility with military logistics systems for a wide range of products and processes. The scope and definition is defined by the Defense Standardization Program (DSP) in DoD Manual 4120.24. In individual cases, individual U.S. military standards are also adopted by civilian standards organizations such as ANSI or ISO, as is the case with MIL-STD-1815, for example.

Corresponding test laboratories are prepared for these tests and can perform them reliably. Some manufacturers also have their own test equipment to check robustness in the development process itself. The documents are free of copyright and available free of charge, which has certainly contributed to the success of the standards.

MIL-STD is divided into five sections that define interface standards, product development standards, standards for manufacturing processes, common practical procedures and testing standards. One example is the MIL-STD-810 test standard, which specifies environmental test conditions.

  • MIL-STD-167 – Mechanical vibration of marine equipment.
  • MIL-STD-188 – a series related to telecommunications
  • MIL-STD-196 – a specification of the Joint Electronics Type Designation System (JETDS)
  • MIL-STD-202 – test methods for “electronic and electrical components”.
  • MIL-STD-276A – Standard for vacuum impregnation of porous metal castings and powdered metal components.
  • MIL-STD 461 – Requirements for control of electromagnetic interference characteristics of subsystems and equipment.
  • MIL-STD-498 – on software development and documentation
  • MIL-STD-499 – on technical management (systems engineering)
  • MIL-STD-806 – “Graphical symbols for logic diagrams”, originally a USAF standard
  • MIL-STD-810 – test methods for determining environmental effects on equipment
  • MIL-STD-882 – Standard procedures for system security
  • MIL-STD-883 – Test method standard for microcircuits
  • MIL-STD-1168 – a classification system for ammunition production, replacing the Ammunition Identification Code (AIC) system used during World War II.
  • MIL-STD-1234 – sampling, inspection, and testing of pyrotechnics.
  • MIL-STD-1376 – Guidelines for sonar transducers, specifically piezoelectric ceramics.
  • MIL-STD-1394 – construction quality of helmets; often confused with IEEE 1394
  • MIL-STD-1397 – input/output interfaces, standard digital data, Navy systems
  • MIL-STD-1472 – Human engineering
  • MIL-STD-1474 – Sound measurement for handguns
  • MIL-STD-1553 – digital communications bus
  • MIL-STD-1589 – JOVIAL programming language
  • MIL-STD-1750A – instruction set architecture (ISA) for airborne computers
  • MIL-STD-1760 – Intelligent Weapons Interface, derived from MIL-STD-1553
  • MIL-STD-1815 – Ada programming language
  • MIL-STD-1913 – Picatinny rail, a mounting bracket on firearms
  • MIL-STD-2045-47001 – Connectionless data transmission application layer
  • MIL-STD-2196 – Communication over fiber optics
  • MIL-STD-2361 – digital development, acquisition, and delivery of Army administrative, training, and doctrine publications and technical equipment in SGML
  • MIL-STD-2525 – Joint Military Symbology
  • MIL-STD-3011 – Joint Range Extension Application Protocol (JREAP)
  • MIL-STD-6011 – Tactical Data Link (TDL) 11/11B message standard
  • MIL-STD-6013 – Army Tactical Data Link-1 (ATDL-1)
  • MIL-STD-6016 – Tactical Data Link (TDL) 16 message standard
  • MIL-STD-6017 – Variable Message Format (VMF)
  • MIL-STD-6040 – United States Message Text Format (USMTF)

Since most of these standards have no practical relevance for rugged computers, only MIL-STD-461 and MIL-STD-810 are discussed below.

 

MIL-STD-461

MIL-STD 461 is a U.S. Department of Defense standard on electromagnetic compatibility requirements for products used in military applications. Usually, only devices that are actually for the military or “Ultra Rugged” are tested according to MIL-STD-461. The standard, which has been in existence since 1967 and is continuously updated, is currently current in the December 2015 version MIL-STD-461G. Since 1993, MIL-STD-461 has been on a five-year review cycle to ensure it remains current and useful. This does not mean that a new revision must be issued every five years, only that a review must be conducted on that cycle. It would be perfectly acceptable to simply reaffirm the old version with no changes. To date, this has not been done. So an update of the standard to MIL-STD-461H is expected around December 2020 or early 2021. However, most test labs are still testing to the older MIL-STD-461F standard.

461F461GDescriptionFrequencyChanges
CE101CE101Conducted emissions, audio frequency currents, power cables30Hz – 10kHz 
CE102CE102Conducted emissions, radio frequency potentials, power cables10kHz – 10MHz 
CE106CE106Conducted emissions, antenna connector10kHz – 40GHz 
CS101CS101Conducted susceptibility, power cable30Hz – 150kHz 
CS103CS103Conducted susceptibility, antenna connector, IntermodulationIntermodulation,
15kHz – 10GHz
 
CS104CS104Conducted susceptibility, antenna connection, rejection. unwanted signalsSignal Rejection,
30Hz – 20GHz
 
CS105CS105Conducted susceptibility, antenna connector, Cross-modulationCross-modulation,
30Hz – 20GHz
 
CS106 Conducted susceptibility, transients, power cables Removed – because CS115 already fulfills its intended purpose. Which is to provide protection against equipment power degradation caused by voltage transients on ships
CS109CS109Conducted susceptibility, structure current60Hz – 100kHz 
CS114CS114Conducted susceptibility, bulk cable injection10kHz to 200MHzAdded clarification that the monitor probe is placed around a second Bracket is placed and terminated with 50Ω.  
CS115CS115Conducted susceptibility, bulk cable injection, Pulse excitation  
CS116CS116Conducted susceptibility, Damped sinusoidal. Transients, cables and power supplies10kHz to 100MHz 
 CS117Conducted susceptibility, lightning induced transients, Cables and power feeds New – derived from RTCA DO-160 Section 22 Lightning Induced transient fault susceptibility for aerospace applications
 CS118Conducted susceptibility, Personnel induced. Electrostatic Discharge New – incorporates elements from RTCA DO-160 Section 25 and IEC. 61000-4-2  
RE101RE101Radiated emissions, magnetic field30 Hz to 100 kHz 
RE102RE102Radiated emissions, electric field10 kHz to 18 GHzThe limitation of the upper frequency range of the test based Based on the highest intentionally generated frequency within the EUT. is removed (tests are performed up to 18 GHz)
RE103RE103Radiated emissions, antenna Spurious and harmonic outputs.10 kHz to 40 GHz“Width” has been changed to “Area,” resulting in additional Test positions for all DUTs with a height greater than the smallest part of the antenna beamwidth curve.
RS101RS101Susceptibility to radiation, magnetic field30 Hz to 100 kHz 
RS103RS103Susceptibility to radiation, electric field2 MHz to 40 GHz 
RS105RS105Radiation susceptibility, Transient electromagnetic field  

MIL-STD-810

The MIL-STD-810 is a US military technical standard that specifies environmental test conditions for military equipment. Equipment that meets this standard has passed a number of different environmental tests. Their survival in the field is thus assured. MIL-STD-810 addresses a wide range of environmental conditions, including: low pressure for altitude testing, high and low temperatures plus thermal shock, rain, humidity, fungus, salt spray for rust testing, sand and dust exposure, explosive atmospheres, leakage, acceleration, shock and transport shock, gunfire vibration, and random vibration. The document does not prescribe design or test specifications. Rather, it describes the process of environmental adaptation that results in realistic material designs and test methods based on the performance requirements of the material system. In many cases, real-world environmental exposures (individually or in combination) cannot be duplicated in test laboratories. Therefore, users should not assume that an item that passes laboratory testing will also pass field/fleet verification testing.

The original standard was published in 1962 and has been tweaked ever since. Standards currently in circulation for rugged computers include.

  • MIL-STD-810F – published January 1, 2000,
  • MIL-STD-810G – published in April 2014, and
  • MIL-STD-810H – published on January 31, 2019.

For rugged computers, not all test methods are typically performed, but only those that are relevant to the product’s intended use.