What Does “Rugged” Mean?

Warehouse with rugged device

Rugged is a term synonymous with our industry and one that has become a catch-all, used by many and truly understood by few. This is unsurprising given that there isn’t an industry set of standard tests that devices must go through, and this also means that the measure of ruggedness can vary between manufacturers.

The word rugged is commonly used to position enterprise-grade handhelds, tablets, and printers, setting them apart from consumer-grade options, but we bet little time has been spent helping your business understand the real value behind the word, “rugged”, and what it means about your devices.

We recommend having a firm grasp of what performance measures add up to ruggedness as this will help you make informed technology decisions with a greater understanding of your total cost of ownership. This is where our expertise comes in… we’re here to debunk what rugged means.

What Makes A Device Rugged?

You might be familiar with the terms such as “IP rating”, and you’ve possibly seen drop specifications on a datasheet, but with ‘shiny’ devices like iPhone and Samsung smartphones today boasting these credentials too, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the gap between consumer and rugged devices has dramatically reduced.

There’s much more that goes into the design of a rugged device. When you buy a rugged device, you can expect that it has passed extreme testing to prove its durability, such tests include:

Table Showing IP Ratings

IP Ratings

IP (standing for Ingress protection in this case), is a rating that refers to a device’s tolerance to dust and particles as well as liquids. The first number relates to dust and particles, and the second to liquids. The higher the number, the better the protection. To the right, you can see a breakdown of the protection level by rating:

Dust and dirt tend to find their way into vulnerable parts of mobile computers such as ports and buttons on a keyboard device. This can lead to problems with functionality, slowing productivity and affecting business efficiency.

An IP rating alone doesn’t make a device rugged, but it does indicate its ability to withstand conditions such as a dusty warehouse or suitability for outdoor use. You can then relate this back to your application; do you need a device that boasts IP68 and can be submerged in 1.5m into water for up to 30 minutes, or is an IP65 device adequate as well as a more cost-effective solution?

Drop Resistance

It’s inevitable that your devices will be dropped and if they’re not fit for purpose, your business will be impacted by broken screens and damaged hard drives. Rugged devices are designed to absorb and resist impact up to 3 metres as well as being able to withstand repeated drops.

Manufacturers put devices through their paces by conducting a series of drop tests such as dropping them when turned on from a height range, multiple times per side, and often at different operating temperatures too. Typically, if the device turns off, reboots, or data is lost then the device will have failed the drop test.

This process gives you the confidence that a device won’t let you down if it’s dropped. Each manufacturer will conduct drop tests differently so the key things to look for are:

  1. What height are devices being dropped from?
  2. How many times was the device dropped?
  3. What surfaces has it been dropped on to?
  4. Was the device turned on or powered off during the test?
  5. Is the drop specification dependent on an accessory such as a protective boot?
Temperature tolerance

Temperature Tolerance

Some applications such as cold store use or hot manufacturing environments call for a device that can perform in extreme temperature conditions. In these instances, you need a device you can rely on no matter the temperature – it’s no good if it shuts off because it is too cold or for your device to overheat.

This is why testing temperature tolerance is vital, ensuring a device can withstand extreme and sudden temperature changes as well as determining its operating temperature range. There are specialist devices that can withstand conditions of between -20 degrees and 60 degrees so when extremes of temperatures affect your business, make sure your device choice is suitable.

Humidity Resistance

Humidity is a measurement of the amount of water vapour in the air and here in the UK, our climate is defined as humid temperate oceanic. If that moisture gives into a device, it can lead to all sorts of problems including the physical and chemical deterioration of the hardware, affecting electrical and mechanical performance. Rugged devices are rigorously tested to ensure optimal performance even in high humidity.

Vibration Resistance

Something you might not have considered is the effect of vibrations on your devices. From use in heavy manufacturing environments, construction, or in vehicles, rugged devices are exposed to higher levels of vibration each day in comparison to typical smartphone use.

With time, excessive vibration leads to loose wires and fastenings, display misalignment, intermittent electrical contacts, and even cracked casing. Vibration tests ensure that despite high levels of vibration in your work environment, devices operate as expected.

Pressure Resistance

Particularly important when devices are being used by emergency services, in the military, or on aircraft, pressure testing measures a device’s resistance to atmospheric pressures and ensures that it still operates properly. If you have similar specialist requirements to meet your application, make sure you ask your hardware supplier for information on pressure resistance.

Helping Your Business Select The Right Technology

We recognise the level of investment made in technology and the need for this to translate into real impact in your business. With so many rugged devices on the market, understanding the differences and identifying which best supports your business operations is a challenge.

We’re on hand every step of the way, experts in assessing your requirements and recommending suitable devices for thorough evaluation. For support choosing the right device for your business, contact the Pen Mobile team and lean on our expertise.