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The Tablet Gets Tough

March 13, 2012
With the increased demand for real-time business intelligence across the production line, ruggedized tablets are hitting the factory floor.

There was a time when good business meant monitoring activity from behind a desk and when good data was provided in spreadsheets and formal reports.

But these times are gone.

We are now is a post-PC world, said Apple CEO Tim Cook -- a world in which good business now means active engagement throughout the production process and good data are those im mediately accessi ble in real-time.

In other words, it is time to transition from the desk to the field, from the PC to the tablet.

The new Z710 has been designed to withstand five feet drops, water and dust ingress (IP65), and boasts the rugged military grade MIL-STD-810G rating.
Photo courtesy of Getac.

"We're talking about a world where the PC is no longer the center of your digital world, but rather just the device," Cook said during the company's new iPad launch in March. "We're talking about a world where your new devices, the devices you use the most, need to be more portable, more personal, and dramatically easier to use than any PC has ever been."

In the manufacturing world, this is no different.

"These markets are moving toward devices that combine best-in-class mobility as well as the capacity to perform in rugged environments," said Peter Molyneux, vice president of computer manufacturer, Getac UK.

However, these "rugged environments" bring up one very important question: How are these tiny pieces of glass and aluminum ever supposed to survive a factory?

The answer: they get rugged.

The Rugged Tablet Market

The rugged tablet market has been exploding in recent months, putting out ever tougher, ever faster and ever more economical ruggedized devices to help companies meet the high-speed, high-tech business intelligence needs of the era.

Equipped with the now standard Gorilla Glass strength and durability plus the emerging trends of factory water- and dust-proofing, tablets are getting tougher even on the commercial side. Products like Getac's Z710 Android tablet, however, take this to a new degree.

"[We] have combined the power of tablet computing with Getac's ... rugged manufacturing technology, meaning the unit can operate in the harshest of conditions," explained Molyneux.

Built to be the smallest, most robust Android tablet on the market, the Z710 was designed to withstand five-foot drops, water and dust, and to operate in temperatures ranging between -22 and 140 degrees, said the company. Not something you'd want to try with a standard iPad.

With this as a standard, the future for tablets in the factory seems bright. And this is a very good thing, said Mani Gill, vice president and general manager of business intelligence at SAP.

"I don't think [manufacturers] can compete efficiently today without mobility," he said. "It brings real-time access to large amounts of data," which is the key to success in today's manufacturing world.

This connectivity is absolutely critical in today's market, said Roman Bukary, general manager of Manufacturing and Wholesale Distribution at NetSuite.

With manufacturers running multiple production facilities in multiple countries across the globe, executives and plant operators need "anytime, anywhere access," he said.

He points to Schaeffer Oil as a good example of this.

"In their business, business continuity is vital," he explained. Any kind of disruption in service or information in that environment can have serious, costly, and potentially dangerous consequences. With mobile access to information on machines designed for that kind of environment, though, these disruptions can be avoided.

If there is ever a disruption, he said, you just connect your device into the nearest WiFi network and business continues. In this case, disaster can be avoided literally with the push of a button.

The Future of Rugged

With the undeniable advantage of mobility and the resulting requirement of ruggedization, the rugged tablet market can only continue to grow, said Gill.

"The consumption of information is moving very quickly," he explained. "People in the fields, people on the shop floor are absolutely going to require mobile experiences. I think these mobile experiences are going to develop rapidly."

One major setback to ruggedized equipment of any kind has always been cost. In the past, such devices have sold for sometimes double or triple the price of commercial versions. As Lewis explained however, this isn't necessarily the case anymore.

"From a cost savings perspective, there have been some real advances on these military spec. devices," he said.

"Ten years ago, these things were bricks. They had to be," he said. "Now, the core features of ruggedization are staying the same, but the materials are getting better. New devices are thinner, more modern. They're evolving."

With this it seems clear that, as Molyneux explained, "the rugged tablet market is going to be very exciting and dynamic and will help to bring flexibility of operation, communication and connectivity to a whole host of sectors."

As such, it seems safe to say that these machines have now officially arrived in the market and can be expected to grow. As the manufacturing environment becomes more informed and quickens its productive pace, these machines will be right beside them, growing more durable and dependable as the field demands.

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