Decontamination of Mobile Devices – Not Just a Healthcare Concern

The skies open up and the rain starts pouring down on your tablet’s screen as soon as you step foot off the truck to make your first delivery of the day. Coffee spills on your laptop’s keyboard, seeping down into the side I/O ports, as you jump up in response to an emergency call from dispatch. You place your company-issued mobile PC on the counter next to the sink as you wash the grease off your hands at the end of your shift at a maintenance, repair, and overhaul facility; water splashes all over it. Your latest oil well comes in as a gusher and oil flies everywhere. In each case, you quickly panic, trying to find a way to dry off your device and protect it from damage or data loss.

Even though each of these fluid-related incidents was unanticipated in that moment, they are not uncommon. That’s why more and more mobile devices, regardless of form factor or overall rugged factor, are being designed with water-resistant features in expectation of such common spills and environmental exposures. It’s why damage from a few drops of liquid is not nearly as extensive today as it was even a year ago.

Xplore Rugged Tablets with IP protection to defend against fluid and dust intrusion

But minimum Ingress Protection (IP) ratings aren’t going to protect the open I/O ports that remain common on today’s commercial off-the-shelf laptops, notebooks, tablets, and smartphones. Even the most frequent recommendations of a rugged case+ screen protector+ careful handling won’t protect your organization’s mobile IT budget from the repercussions of frequent computer contact with certain chemicals or liquids. All these band-aid measures can do is (hopefully) buy you a little more time to clean up the contaminating fluid before irreversible damage is done. That’s assuming employees – who naturally take less pride in ownership for company-issued devices – even care to put on a device case or attempt to handle your company-issued mobile PC with care every day.

If you are buying and issuing mobile computers on behalf of any business in any industry, think twice about how well that mobile PC will hold up when…

  1. Any type of fluid or chemical contact is possible and frequent – accidental or otherwise.
  2. The tablet will be used by someone who has to wear gloves on the job. If they are trying to protect their hands from exposure to something, then you should be wary of buying mobile devices that can’t be equally protected from that same harmful element. Employee’s mobile computers will be frequently touched by their hands after all. And the data they are either inputting or retrieving from that device is a valuable asset to your business and your ability to deliver a quality product or service.

In either case, fluid-caused PC failure must be avoided – or the cost of frequent failure must be accepted. There’s an internal debate that many organizations have when trying to weigh the immediate cost benefits of non-rugged versus rugged mobile PCs against the long-term benefits gained from the combined internal and external features.

  • On the one hand, you can “chance it” with a commercial off-the-shelf, non-rugged mobile PC and the best-rated rugged case on the market and save a little money right now – fingers crossed that employees will protect the device and the data it contains at all costs.
  • On the other hand, you can spend more money upfront and buy a rugged mobile PC that you know was built and tested to military-grade reliability standards – therefore making the fluid contamination scenarios described above, really, a non-issue.

Here’s a good rule of thumb to follow: If a liquid, chemical, gel, grease, or otherwise non-solid substance is likely to touch your employees’ hands in the course of a day, it’s even more likely to touch the mobile PC they use during that same time frame.

Non-rugged devices can’t withstand a little spray from a water hose. How are they expected to withstand the frequent contact with bodily fluids and chemical cleaning solvents common to healthcare environments? Daily decontamination of tablets is a nearly given among hospital and EMS personnel, with some procedures requiring entire mobile PCs to be dunked into a bucket of bleach water. Can your iPad survive that?

Fluid contamination – and decontamination of devices using disinfecting chemicals – is not just a relevant consideration when shopping for mobile computers for healthcare. There are hundreds of different liquids that could harm a device used on the job, if it is not designed with the proper built-in rugged protections:

  • The gel that seeps all over a telco technician’s gloves – and everything they touch – when cable is spliced
  • The oil, grease, diesel fuel, and/or gasoline frequently found on the hands of auto mechanics, aircraft and heavy machinery maintainers, and other railcar, boat, and fleet-related technicians. Really, anyone who works with their hands in the utility, mining, or oil & gas sectors as well.
  • The raw materials handled by many manufacturing plant and warehouse workers
  • The chemical, biological, and disinfectant components used in labs and other cleanroom environments for research and development efforts

Each of these scenarios is real, and possibly relatable to your organization. Each requires frequent cleaning of devices crevices, digital pens, and touchscreen displays. Each demands the built-in reliability of a rugged mobile PC that has been tested to MIL-STD-810G standards for fluid contamination and carries a minimum IP65 rating. Non-rugged devices – even with the best rugged cases – can’t guarantee performance in these scenarios.

So the real question becomes: Do the minimal cost savings you anticipate over the life of the non-rugged device really outweigh the risk of inherent failure sooner than later? The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of non-rugged devices is almost always double that of rugged devices. The calculator numbers make this quite clear, and I’ve yet to meet a customer that didn’t regret their initial selection of non-rugged computers, regardless of form factor, in today’s most mobility-driven industries.

Find out more about the IP water-resistant/waterproof and MIL-STD-810G fluid contamination specifications that you should look for when selecting any mobile computer for your personal or employee’s business use.

See Our Rugged Whitepaper