Rugged Tablet I/O Needs Aren’t New, They’re Just Not Optional Anymore

Last week I stressed that Manufacturing, Distribution, and Logistics operations have unique connectivity needs not necessarily found in other industries. USB ports alone can’t satisfy all of their I/O requirements for testing, inspection, and other every day workflows. Relying on USB bridges as work-arounds for HDMI and Serial Cable connections aren’t really cutting it anymore either. (While these USB-to-Serial dongles kind-of work, are you really going to continue changing your expensive CNC machine to conform to a dongle?)

So I want to explain why anyone – and everyone – in a position to buy, evaluate, or use mobile devices in these sectors needs to understand the importance of investing in a rugged tablet that offers every I/O connection needed as a standard feature…

First off: Anyone who frequently works outside against tight picking, packing, shipping, and delivery deadlines will more than appreciate the advantage of having immediate, real-time access to every work order, bill of laden, inventory manifest, and quality control tool possible at the ready no matter where they’re logging in. Paper-based processes, or multi-PC systems, are not conducive to real-time data or fast reaction by employees constantly on the move via foot, forklift, freight train or truck. They need simple workflows on a single, all-inclusive mobile PC.

I/O Connectivity with Xplore Rugged Tablets

Secondly: Rugged mobile PCs, even though advantageous in extreme environmental conditions, could still be restrictive in many situations if they require users to login to a laptop or desktop to complete certain workflows. Think about it: So many devices being built today use HDMI for video and audio communication. How do you test these connections and the circuitry behind it if you don’t have an HDMI port available on your mobile PC? And that’s just a single example. Similarly, that’s why true serial ports are essential. Same with RFID to read tags from stations or pallets, or barcode scanners that are accurate in poor lighting or with smudged barcodes.

Consider the many machines that are used throughout a factory that have been reliably producing your products for years. They have Serial Ports for communications, diagnostic checks, or configuration changes, all of which need a True Serial port to connect to the rugged tablet tasked with daily data collection from the shop floor. You also need ports to connect mobile RFID readers for tags on stations and pallets, and barcode scanners that are accurate in poor lighting or with smudged barcodes. Plus, do you think you could do any of this using only USB ports on your tough mobile PC…

  • Connect the rugged tablet PC to truck equipment via a Diagnostic Link Connection that requires a Serial Port; this may include Heavy Vehicle Event Data Recorders (HVEDRs), Data Terminal Equipment (DTE), Data Communications Equipment (DCE), etc.?
  • Connect the rugged tablet PC to manufacturing line controllers or industrial equipment using an Ethernet (RJ45) connection, requiring an Ethernet port on the tough tablet PC?
  • Use the rugged tablet PC as the “teach pendant” or the interface for Robot controllers? (Remember, when changes need to be made to the function or form of an industrial robot, the rugged tablet PC is required to have the correct I/O ports for wired connectivity to the robot controller to access the software to change robot movement and instructions.)
  • Use the rugged tablet PC as the actual robot controller? Especially when wired connectivity to the industrial robot itself is essential and critical?

Not easily, if at all. So, these are four more reasons why rugged tablet manufacturers would be remiss to limit I/O ports in their designs moving forward if their tablets are intended to serve as full mobile solutions for these industries.

But, why now? Why is the tide just now turning when there was clearly a need in earlier mobile PC generations?

There is an expense to add all the necessary I/O ports. By expense, I don’t just mean parts cost – although USB 3.0 is more expensive. (But shouldn’t all products launched in 2015 have USB 3.0 vs. trying to save some costs with the slower USB 2.0 ports?) There are also expenses in the design and testing of ports that won’t be used by all customers. Not everyone wants to make that investment.

The other reason for delayed action is that there has been a false split between full PCs and mobile tablets until recently; manufacturers felt that each form factor played its own role and that tablets needed to maintain certain design, size and functionality parameters to be relevant. Certain functionality considerations were often pushed to the wayside. Sure, an iPad is sleek and features an appealing tablet design, but it can’t satisfy true rugged requirements of Manufacturing, Logistics and Distribution. Any tough tablet intended to support these industries needs to prioritize functionality and should include all necessary ports versus striving to save a millimeter here and there. That’s a false savings anyways when you really need the I/O.

In short, most mobile PC manufacturers just haven’t realized the limiting factors associated with fewer connection capabilities like we have at Xplore, thanks to constant design collaboration with our customers and feedback from end-users in the field whose productivity is defined by the mobile tools they utilize.

Fortunately, our response to industry-defined mobile computing standards – the addition of eight standard IP65 sealed I/O ports – has officially taken thmane guesswork out of your mobile logistics equation and added vital simplicity to your mobile operations.

See the New Xplore XSLATE B10 with Multiple Standard I/O Connections