Sizing Up Ruggedized Computers

The computer has moved from the office into the field. Today, people who perform normal job functions in demanding environments use rugged mobile computers that guard against water and dust, operate in high and low temperatures, and protect against shock and vibration. However, meeting these standards is not a “yes/no” or “pass/fail” proposition. Computers are designed with different tolerances. Understanding the working environment and how computers handle these conditions is a key part of selecting the correct unit.

Dust and Water
Dust and water are two of a computer’s worst enemies. Non-organic matter can clog connections. Organic matter such as mud can lead to fungal growth or the retention of moisture, leading to corrosion that could take months before intermittent operation occurs. Water, in the smallest amounts, turns to vapor upon operation of electronic equipment and thereby migrates throughout the entire unit. In order to prevent or minimize dust and water ingression, a computer’s external housing must be designed and manufactured to very tight tolerances, and all gaps must be carefully sealed.

Rugged computers are often ranked by ingress protection ratings which specify the environmental protection provided by an electronic enclosure. The IP rating normally has two numbers (see table), indicating the levels of protection against water and dust. Within the category of rugged computers, the highest levels of dust protection (5 or 6) are desired; a water protection level of 6 is considered to be water resistant.

High and Low Temperatures
Mobile devices are subjected to a much broader range of temperatures than are office computers. Sound thermal design practices not only address electronic components, but also the liquid crystal display (LCD), battery, and spinning storage media.

Designs that use fans to remove heat run the risk of single point failures, may become clogged, or are difficult to clean and/or decontaminate. A computer designed for use in harsh environments uses mechanical design to transfer heat away from internal components, such as chip sets, to the housing where heat is dissipated into the ambient air. This “heat pipe” approach has proven superior to an internal fan.

The liquid crystal chemistry of LCDs is also affected by temperature. At low temperatures, the viscosity of the liquid increases, and if inappropriate vendor specification and/or design techniques are used, the display updates are slow, leading to “ghosting” of images. At high temperatures, the viscosity decreases to almost that of water, resulting in “brownout” of the screen.

A battery that is fully charged provides its stated capacity at room temperature. However, this capacity will decrease as temperatures rise or fall to extreme operational limits. Rugged designs leverage trades between weight and total available battery capacity, selection of battery chemistries, thermal design, and power management to optimize user performance over broad temperature ranges.

Shock and Vibration
Mobile devices are subjected to a broad range of intentional and non-intentional usage environments not present with office equipment. Non-intentional shock includes dropping and sliding off surfaces, while intentional shocks occur through operations such as a vehicle backing up to a loading dock, a rail car engaging, or a tow truck winch operating. Vibration, on the other hand, is specific to the vehicle or stationary equipment on which the device is mounted.

Careful attention to material properties such as malleability (too malleable leads to wear) and fragility (such as glass shatter) are required. All components, boards, brackets, and cables need to have rigid mounting. Spinning media are isolated so the drive head does not crash. For shock, materials that deform and then relax at a slow rate are used. For vibration, materials that absorb the vibration energy and dissipate as heat are used.

The growing market for rugged computers is characterized by a degree of confusion about the meaning of the term rugged. There are some specific ratings, such as ingress protection that may be used to gauge specific performance criteria. And there are categories like “semi-rugged,” “rugged” and “fully rugged” that are often used, but are not easily defined. Thus, users must evaluate levels of protection in light of the specific environment in which the computer will be deployed. For more information visit the DRS Tactical Systems web site.

Leave a Reply

Tools & Smart Equipment Stories
DronessenseFly Launches eBee X Drone, Breaks Through 1,000 acre Coverage Ceiling
September 5, 2018
senseFly today reportedly sets a new standard in mapping tools with the launch of the eBee X. Launched with the Read More
John Deere ExactApply
AmericasSciFi in Ag: Self-Reacting Spray Nozzles to Fight Dicamba Drift
September 5, 2018
Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Tools & Smart EquipmentCanadian Planter Manufacturer Purchases Harvest International
July 19, 2018
Seeding and planting technology innovator Clean Seed has signed an agreement to strategically acquire U.S. planting equipment manufacturer Harvest International, Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversStine Seed Plunks Down $5 Million on Smart Ag’s Driverless Tractor Kit
June 14, 2018
Stine Seed Farm has invested $5 million in Smart Ag Inc., an Iowa technology firm that has developed a full Read More
Trending Articles
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Imagery/SensingAgtech: 10 Things I Hate About You!
September 4, 2018
Before you get bent out of shape from the title, remember if you’ve read my articles before you know I Read More
Kansas State University
Industry NewsKansas State University, Topcon Form Precision Ag Research Partnership
August 30, 2018
Kansas State University and Topcon Agriculture are collaborating to develop tools and systems to advance precision agriculture and support farmers. Read More
Blockchain building block graphic
Specialty CropsIs Blockchain the Future of Food Safety?
August 24, 2018
When the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) was standardized in 1982, permitting the worldwide proliferation of interconnected networks and eventually the Read More
WinField’s Joel Wipperfurth On Empowering Data-Driven Decisions
InfoAg ConferenceOne on One with Joel Wipperfurth, Winfield United
August 15, 2018
Winfield United's Joel Wipperfurth discusses ag technology trends and topics during last month’s InfoAg Conference. Read More
Industry NewsUrtheCast to Acquire Geosys from Land O’Lakes in $20 Million Deal
August 15, 2018
UrtheCast Corp. and Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced they have entered a binding term sheet for the purchase of Geosys Read More
Latest News
Corn field sunset
Decision Support SoftwareLand O’Lakes SUSTAIN Launches Ambitious Digital S…
September 24, 2018
Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN today announced its plan to roll out the Truterra Insights Engine, an interactive on-farm digital platform that Read More
Business ManagementIvy Tech, Farmers Partner to Help Precision Ag Educatio…
September 20, 2018
Harvest time has taken on a new meaning for some Wabash Valley farmers, and Bobbi Hunt-Kincaid hopes her family’s first Read More
Sensors/IoTThe Answer to Agriculture’s Daunting Challenges – Soil …
September 20, 2018
According to the United Nations, 9.6 billion people will live on planet Earth by 2050. Feeding these mouths will require Read More
Data ManagementRainfall Revisited: Accurate Observations and Beyond
September 18, 2018
As a provider of weather analysis and forecast services to the agricultural industry, one of the most common questions I Read More
Business ManagementWhy Is Funding a Challenge for Women-Led Agtech Compani…
September 17, 2018
When it comes to women-led agtech companies the funding discussion never seems to cease. In June after the The New Read More
Mobile Phone in field
Decision Support SoftwareWhy Are 570 Million Farmers Not Yet Using Agricultural …
September 17, 2018
Until recently, using agricultural apps and software was a rare practice among growers. This is now changing. The mass adoption Read More
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsDeere-Granular Collaboration Produces New Profit Maps T…
September 14, 2018
The newest development from the ongoing John Deere-Granular product development and marketing collaboration is Profit Maps, now available to farmers Read More
DronesOpinion: Combining Two Pluses with the WingtraOne UAV
September 13, 2018
For the every-day consumer interested in UAVs, there is an ocean of products from which to choose. This includes the Read More
AsiaShould Agri-Input Manufacturers Outsource E-Commerce to…
September 12, 2018
Editor’s note: Venky Ramachandran is a contributing writer for’s sister site, This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Now, Read More
Industry NewsValley Irrigation Adds Remote Irrigation Management Opt…
September 11, 2018
Valley Irrigation, an industry leader in smart irrigation solutions, has announced enhancements to its remote management technologies. Multi-Year Licensing In Read More
Variable Rate ApplicationVariable Rate Fertigation System Expands with Mobile Co…
September 10, 2018
Building on the success of its Reflex Variable Rate Fertigation system, Agri-Inject has taken fluid injection to the next level Read More
Industry NewsTeralytic Earns Ag Data Transparent Certification
September 10, 2018
Soil analytics company Teralytic has completed the Ag Data Transparent certification, affirming that their data use is private, secure, and Read More
Business ManagementTop 20 Two-Year Colleges for Precision Agriculture
September 10, 2018
Earlier this year, I compiled a list of the 25 best colleges for precision agriculture. It was quite the process. Read More
Industry NewsRaven, Topcon Announce Slingshot API Agreement
September 6, 2018
Raven Industries and Topcon Agriculture announced today a licensing agreement for Topcon Agriculture’s use of the Slingshot Application Programming Interface Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementThe Power of Predictive Analytics in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Years ago if we would have been told computers, data, and technology would be scattered around every farm there may Read More
DronessenseFly Launches eBee X Drone, Breaks Through 1,000 ac…
September 5, 2018
senseFly today reportedly sets a new standard in mapping tools with the launch of the eBee X. Launched with the Read More
AmericasOn The Scene: 2018 Farm Progress Show Wrap Up
September 5, 2018
Former Monsanto President (now Bayer CropScience Chief Operating Office) Brett Begemann’s opening salvo during his first appearance at a Farm Read More