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The Team behind Xplore Rugged Tablets: Meet VP of Engineering Bryan Bell

Xplore engineers and Solution Architects work tirelessly around the clock (literally) to find new ways to apply rugged tablet technology to common and complex business challenges. Xplore’s engineers have helped manufacturers, militaries, utilities and public safety professionals improve their operations and deliver better products and services to the global community. Our team has also helped energy producers sustain their output; enabled airlines and railroads to execute safer and more efficient operations; and empowered the world’s largest telcos to build and maintain top-quality networks so society can enjoy constant and reliable internet, voice and video services.

In honor of what they do and have accomplished, we will be spotlighting them in a yearlong interview series.

Byran Bell, VP Engineering, Xplore

So, without further ado, please meet Bryan Bell, the (far too humble) leader of Xplore’s engineering team:

Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you worked at Xplore? What area are you responsible for?

Engineering Xplore Rugged Tablets

I’ve been with Xplore a little more than 10 years. As the vice president of engineering, I’m responsible primarily for product development. My job is to ensure that Xplore’s rugged tablet solutions are equipped with the right product features for the right markets at the right time. I also ensure we meet our customers’ strict quality and cost requirements with every platform and customization. All of our products are purpose built for targeted segments, and we always want to have the features that customers care about, even if our competitors don’t.

You have worked for other mobile computer OEMs in the past. What makes Xplore different?
Our engineering team members individually develop relationships with counterparts within our customers’ organizations. Our team cares about our products being successful from the customer’s point of view. That is why our development team travels frequently to visit with our customers face to face, and we commonly engage in weekly calls with customers. It is the only way to gain an understanding of their problems. In a previous work life, I was responsible for Texas Instrument’s $500M notebook business targeted to consumer and small office. Acer acquired TI’s notebook business unit, and I became GM and VP, Acer Advanced Labs. I’ve seen how other computer manufacturers operate. In my opinion, Xplore’s deep and lasting partnership with customers is what separates us from the competition. It would be impractical for companies who base their full engineering team in China or Japan to do what Xplore does in this area.

What are some of the unique challenges of engineering rugged tablets? Compare this to your previous engineering experience.
As I just noted, we gain an in-depth understanding of our customers’ needs and identify specialized design requirements. We identify new technology requirements to incorporate into our roadmap and theirs. Xplore XSLATE B10 HDMI-In Ports You probably have heard about some of the product features in our tablets and accessories, such as the HDMI-in port added for our telco customers; water resistant docks for warehouse freezers; AEI RFID readers for railroads; and iridium satellite modems for communications in remote locations such as forests or ocean fisheries. We understand customers require a financial return for the money they spend on mobility. By working closely together, we can successfully design a complete solution, such as the Industry 4.0 paperless factory we’re building in collaboration with a leading worldwide automotive manufacturing company.

In fact, if you were to ask me “ What is common with Xplore compared to other mobile solutions ?” I would say one big thing: Xplore must deliver mobile computers that feature the latest in technology at a competitive price, just like everyone else. Except, we focus on meeting the expectations of professional users with very specific requirements for their heavily industrial or field-based applications. This is why, for example, the XSLATE R12 includes the Kaby Lake Intel i7 processors with PCIe SSDs, a combination that resulted in a 48% Passmark performance increase of Kaby Lake with SATA SSD.

Describe work done for special customer requests or unique customer segments.
We encourage customer requests; it is our culture. We have built mutually trusting relationships with our customers for these special projects. Our customers are literally world leaders in their craft and their individual disciplines, and we know our mobility solutions directly influence their mission success in many cases. That is why Xplore has assembled an “A team” for rugged tablets ( whom you’ll get to know more in this interview series ). We have 20+ year veterans in various engineering disciplines such as mechanical, electrical, software, wireless, and regulatory. We could not implement our products without the special skills possessed by our team, which is literally top rated in the world for its expertise.

As an example, when asked to implement an Army-level RE-102 emissions project for a rugged tablet that controls drones; we put a team of veteran emissions experts in charge of the execution. We knew there was no time for learning on the job. By applying the right resources, this special request resulted in quiet emission improvements at the benefit of all customers.

How many customer projects require some level of customization (software, hardware or both)? What capabilities require the most level of customization?
Most of our revenue results from products with some level of customization. Xplore, unlike our competitors, relishes in the fact that we can discuss details with our customers and then hear “we will buy 300 tablets, but we need XYZ.” Before you know it, we are off and running to integrate the feature sets that support their specialized workflows. For example, we have customized BIOS pre-sets, SCCM images, Android features, docks, unique battery charging behavior and so on. Xplore Rotating Hand StrapWe have also added the Kickstand and Rotating Hand Strap – we call it the Kickstrap – and desk docks that can charge three batteries as the result of direct customer interaction. We have the most expansive standard I/O offering on the market of any mobile device. For example, the XSLATE B10 standard offering includes two USB 3.0, HDMI-out, Ethernet, and true serial port collectively resulting in all the ports all the time.

Xplore’s product lineup is both the most unique and the most protective of our customer’s investment. Not everyone knows this, but we have expansion ports built in to all of our products so that we can be ready for customers’ future requirements, whatever they may be. Just as a desktop PC has PCI card slots for future expansion, Xplore has an expansion area with a USB port on the rear of the tablet behind a sealed door. Xplore XSLATE R12 SlateMate RFID ReaderOur customers have utilized this expansion for all kinds of module functions such as AEI readers, iridium satellite modems, CAC readers, and bar code scanners. Similarly, our XSLATE R12 has Slatemate to add functionality, and our F5m/C5m has Easy Connect.

Lastly, I think it is important to note that Xplore invests a great deal of time on refining accessories, as they typically complete a solution. We make hundreds of small engineering decisions that ultimately protect our customers’ investments for years—such as the use of damage-resistant spring-loaded “pogo” style pins that maintain electrical connections even in a moving truck. Additionally, there are hundreds of different trucks from GM, Ford, Mercedes, etc. These trucks all have different mounting gear, and Xplore’s Systems Architects, procurement, and development teams assist our customers with the mounting plates, arms, keyboard trays, etc. Many times in-vehicle mounting is unique for each install.

Xplore rugged tablets have some of the lowest annualized failure rates of any mobile computer in the market, regardless of ruggedness or form factor. What would you attribute to that resilience/performance?
Our products boast about 2x better quality than our best competitors because we design our products to be rugged and to withstand harsh environments, and we apply industry best practices to every decision we make. In all our efforts, we start with customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You cannot start with the technology and try to figure out where it fits. Of course, we also have the exclusive advantage of being laser-focused on rugged tablets, and only rugged tablets, for 21 years.

Xplore XSLATE D10 Rugged Android Tablet

What would you consider Xplore’s greatest engineering feat in the last 5 years?
I would say the XSLATE D10 is probably our greatest feat in the last five years, because of the high level of customizations we delivered for one of the largest Telcos in the world. Today, the XSLATE D10 is the most successful Android 10.1” tablet in the market, and this line has been successful for 5 years running.

Does your family understand the work you do, or do they only understand it generally?
Yes, my XSLATE R12 is in use in the passenger seat on long drives. Yes, the tablet goes on our vacations. Plus, our development team is split between Austin and Taiwan, so we “sit” together virtually multiple nights a week starting at 8:30pm CT. My wife Susan has joined our conference calls to say hello a few times because, after a while, she has gotten to know everyone. This week, she was watching the Hurricane Harvey coverage which remains a serious situation for Texas. I received a text message from Sue, “I am watching the weather channel and one of the reporters is using a tablet that looks like it has a plastic bag on it. She needs an Xplore tablet”. Yes, she understands!

You aren’t just an engineer…what do you do for fun?
Well, I like woodworking, heavy things with more power, and rescuing old things. I have made much of the furniture in our house. My favorite woods to use are Black Walnut and Mesquite. I start with the whole log and make boards. The best tools for woodworking are the industrial ones that take up all the space in the garage. The latest addition to the shop literally makes the lights temporarily go dim when you turn it on and weighs 3,500lbs. I have three of the original 2,000 1950’s Massey Harris Pacer tractors (If you ask “why?” there is not a satisfying answer). This month I purchased a 64-year-old train. This train goes on a 16-gauge track like the ones sometimes found at amusement parks and kiddie parks. The idea is that, 10 years in the future, I will have a “backyard” train that goes between the lake house and the boat dock. (My wife Susan says this is not a plan; hopefully she and my mother-in-law will start speaking to me again after the train incident in the coming weeks).

In your opinion, what’s the next big “rugged tablet application”?
Industry 4.0 and paperless factory is a large opportunity for manufacturers, and Xplore. We already have a base in this area and continue to focus our engineering efforts in supporting this ecosystem.

See some of the ways Xplore Tablets are built to last.

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