Do Rugged Computers Cost More or Less?

On a fairly frequent basis, Group Mobile provides a price quotation to a prospective customer on a ruggedized computer…and when we follow-up the prospect says "Well, the decision was made to buy commercial computers since the ruggedized computers were higher in price. We felt like we could save quite a bit of money and if the plastic computers break, we can just buy new ones and we would still save money over buying ruggedized equipment."

Then invariably, a few weeks or months later, the same person calls back and says "I guess we are ready for those ruggedized computers now. We tried the commercial plastic computers and they were failing every couple of weeks. Our guys were 'down' and without their computers for days at a time. It was costing us a fortune in lost productivity. Not to mention the hassle of losing data and having to constantly re-load our software on the repaired computers."

So why does this scenario repeat itself over and over again? We can only blame ourselves…the people who are involved in manufacturing and selling rugged, mobile computers. We have not done a great job of educating people about the necessity of ruggedization when using a computer in a vehicle, in a factory, in a warehouse, in a service bay or out in the field. Those same construction companies, utility departments, service, repair, inspection or delivery companies, police departments, etc, think nothing about spending thousands of dollars for the equipment specialized for their job or their business, but balk when it comes to buying specialized computers. They are just not fully aware that commercial grade computers are not designed for vehicle, warehouse or field use.

What are the Differences in Ruggedized Computers versus Commercial Computers?

1. Magnesium Casings. Magnesium is 10-20 times tougher than ABS plastic. This tougher casing provides significant protection against accidental drops and the type of banging around that a vehicle or field computer experiences. And, magnesium is only slightly heavier than plastic.

2. Shock-Mounted Hard Disk Drives. The disk drive in a ruggedized computer is mounted on springs, on rubber or on a gel-like substance. This allows the disk to float so-to-speak. This prevents a read/write head crash, which is the primary failure in a mobile computer. The shock-mounted disk drive also mitigates the constant vibration that a vehicle-mounted computer undergoes.

3. Additional Cushioning and Padding. There are additional steps taken inside the computer to protect the vital components from drops and vibration. There may be foam rubber, Styrofoam or other cushioning materials in key places throughout the inner space inside the mobile computer and also surrounding the display screen. Also, the various component connections on the mother board are often bridged and supported or double-soldered to remain solid.

4. Hardened Glass. Many ruggedized computers use hardened glass for the display screen. It is not unbreakable, but is much harder to shatter and scratch than the regular glass in a commercial computer.

5. Sealed Against the Elements. Most semi-rugged computers offer sealed keyboards and display screens. This provides protection against liquid spills. The fully-rugged computers take this a step further and seal the entire computer. This sealing keeps out rain, humidity and other moisture, dust and dirt, and hot and cold ambient temperatures.

6. Outdoor-Viewable Display Screens. The displays in a commercial, plastic computer are designed for indoor use. They are not bright enough to be seen outdoors and they lack anti-glare/anti-reflective optical treatment. These issues also apply in a vehicle with the sun shining through the windows. Some semi-rugged and all fully-rugged computers offer daylight/sunlight readable display screens. The other common complaint from the people who mistakenly buy commercial computers for vehicle or outdoor use is "Our people can't see the screen. They have to find shade or they are constantly angling the screen in order to read the words on the display".

7. Intrinsically-Safe. Some rugged computers are designated "Intrinsically-Safe". This means that they are guaranteed not to emit a spark and thus can be safely used around hazardous materials or flammable gases.

8. Three-Year Warranty. Most ruggedized computers come automatically with a three year warranty as opposed to the one year warranty provided with commercial computers. Rugged computers are designed to last a long time and hold up against less than pristine handling. One customer told us "My guys, they ain't ballet dancers you know". This probably applies to many in-field, vehicle-based or in-warehouse workers.

So, Rugged Computers Actually Cost Less

We all know that there is a difference in price and cost. The price is what you pay up front for an item. The cost is what you spend over the course of the life of the item. Rugged computers are priced higher but cost less. The primary reasons for this are less down time, less lost data, fewer repair costs and increased worker productivity. Obviously, this is only true when said computers are to be used in or on a vehicle, in a dusty dirty environment, in a hot or cold environment, outdoors or on-site.

In every job there is a right and a wrong tool for the job. Commercial portable computers are perfect for indoor, white-collar, taking home at night or flying on a business trip. Rugged mobile computers are the right tools for those who do real work for a living.