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Righting the Ratings: More Mobile “IP” for Me?

Do I need to up my IP? That’s a question we’re hearing a lot from folks worldwide in mining, utilities and even public safety – industries where workers find themselves, and their technology, frequently exposed to elements that you and I might liken to taking a shower in a dust storm. And to be clear, they’re not talking about intellectual property or Internet Protocol.

What is the right amount of Rugged for the job

The “IP” in question these days is the Ingress Protection of mobile devices, as it rightfully should be. Just like any investment – whether a house, a car or a mobile computer – you need to be confident that your asset can withstand varying weather conditions, normal wear-and-tear and even unexpected accidents. In particular, field service workers operating in more rugged environments need assurances that their tablet PCs – which are often their one and only work computer – will still continue to function even if dropped from waist-high, left out in a rain shower or given a light dusting. What they don’t need is a rugged tablet that is so “protected” that it’s too heavy or expensive to realistically meet their operational needs. “Specmanship” has led to the over-design of many rugged mobile computers, which has quickly led to the (completely unnecessary) over-budget predicament many field service organizations are struggling with. Too high of an IP Rating and you have a 7-lb $3500 mobile PC. Too little and you have a consumer grade device that may not survive one month in the  field. It’s a Goldilocks-type situation that can be resolved by having “just enough”. That’s why the conversation about IP Rating quickly becomes one of the first many want to have when shopping for new “certified rugged” tablet PCs.

These IEC standardized markings – denoted as IPXY – clearly classify and rate the degree of defenses that mechanical casings and electrical enclosures provide against dust and water, ultimately separating the right from the wrong when deciding which mobile tablet is built tough enough for the job at hand.

But having too much of something can be just as expensive as not having enough. In the case of IP ratings, less can be more (peace of mind and money in your pocket) and excess protection is counter to the mission of mobile workers, as surely as too little protection will be. Take the extreme example of a Fire Marshall in the San Francisco Bay Area. At a recent device fair he mentioned to me that he leaves his 8lb extremely tough and highly IP rated mobile device in his office and goes to the field with pen and paper because the device is simply too heavy to stand and compute with! Which leads back to the very first question asked by many IT guys: “Do I need to up my IP?” Probably not. Because the question you really should be asking is: “Which IP Rating is right for me and my workflow?”

Before I go any further, let me decode IPXY so we’re all speaking the same language. There are always two numbers that follow “IP” to rate the level of protection guaranteed with each tablet PC: X= solid particle protections and Y=liquid ingress protection. So, for example, the volume of splashing water that the mobile computer can withstand for IPX4 exceeds that of rain. Think “buckets of water” equivalent to approximately 10 liters per minute, or a liter every 6 seconds. And the difference between an IP5Y and IP6Y rating would be dust proof versus dust tight.

Now, don’t get hung up too much on the numbers. The IP ratings seen most often in today’s top performing ruggedized tablets are IP54 and IP65. When asking whether you need to invest in a device with a higher IP rating, the real question should be: Which IP rating is RIGHT for my use case? Which rating meets my requirements? Consider this:

  • The vast majority of mobile work flows do not require a dust proof device as dust tight will suffice and offers several advantages over dust proof, including reduced thermals (which allows for higher performance). Some manufacturers have been forced to limit processor speeds in order to keep thermals down just to meet the IP6Y rating!
  • Realistically, how much water is the tablet PC going to be exposed to? Going back to our previously example, IPX4 exceeds even the heaviest of downpours. Short of immersion or other extreme cases, IPX4 meets the vast majority of mobile work flow requirements.

If it’s any consolation, one of Motion’s customers in the Pacific Northwest was in the same boat many of you may be in. They were concerned that the IP54 rating of the Motion rugged tablet PCs simply wasn’t high enough for their use case, which involved e-Citation for their motorcycle unit. Let’s just say any doubts they had about whether or not IP54 protections were enough were quickly quelled after an officer decided to test one of the Evaluation tablets by leaving it running on the hood of a police car in the rain for half a day.

What is the right amount of Rugged for the job

Honestly, after 10 years of selling Motion tablet PCs, I’ve never heard of an issue with our devices related to dust or water ingress. But I understand why some are concerned about having enough IP, especially since many have been overprotected for so long. My advice: Protect your mobile computing investments long-term by choosing the IP rating that you can be confident will be right for the unique exposure risks and use cases of your field service workers. Otherwise that excess IP will just be expensive in dollars, device size and weight.  A mobile device that isn’t mobile is well, ultimately just something that will end up a permanent office or vehicle fixture. Plus, choosing a rugged tablet solely on its IP rating could force you to compromise on other features or capabilities that you can’t afford to not have.

Just remember… you wouldn’t let a rental car agency encourage you to upgrade to a larger car or even a luxury car if you don’t really need it and you can’t realistically afford it. There is nothing wrong with renting a Cadillac, except it is a lot more car than you need to get from the airport to the hotel and it’s really just not right for your situation at this time.

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