Mobile devices are commonplace in every aspect of our lives. We rely on computer technologies for nearly everything we do. So we’ve come to accept the occasional water splash on our screen and yes, even full-on device toilet drop, as “something that just happens from time to time.” We may even joke about it, while trying to overcome the frustration of the device’s failure and the demise of being offline while we replace it. And we do everything “better” the next time, buying “rugged” cases and thicker screen protectors to mitigate the impact of a repeat event.
However, to military organizations and business mobile computer users, a situation like this is no laughing matter. Anything that can bring down a device can harm an entire system and hinder critical operations due to the ripple effect. A device failure for any reason can ultimately lead to a larger service or mission failure. So, fluid contamination of a mobile computer in any capacity is serious in the professional environment.
But not all fluid contaminants are created equal and not all damage devices at an equal pace.
For example, there’s water, and then there’s salt water. If you’ve ever lived on a coastline, you know what I mean. Rust is common on cars and boats, and key components to outdoor living (i.e. metal patio furniture, BBQ pits, etc.) have to be replaced constantly or be extremely well maintained with covers and deep cleaning. And while certain levels of direct water contact can harm off-the-shelf tablets or notebooks immediately upon impact, the vapor or “fog” that’s found in proximity to large bodies of water can have a slower – though just as damaging – effect. Salt fog (or sea air) is especially corrosive, with frequent exposure leading to oxidation that can deteriorate any type of metal or electronic device over time.
In short, neither fresh water nor salt water is readily compatible with the average mobile computer – or any other electronic device for that matter – hence the need for specially-designed mobile PCs for maritime use. So what makes a “maritime” mobile computer so different than the typical tablet, laptop, or handheld device you can buy through mass market retailers?
While I can’t speak for other manufacturers, I can tell you from speaking with customers over the past several years that any mobile computer considered for use on a ship, submarine, or even in port operations should be:
- Built genuinely rugged - not reliant on rugged cases, covers, screen protectors, etc.
- Proven to safeguard internal components against water and salt fog’s corrosive effects, not just protect the external display or prevent water and dust penetration through I/O ports
- Field tested and proven to maintain its processing speed, connectivity, and overall integrity in a multitude of maritime applications and variable sea-based operating conditions
- Readable in bright sunlight, the dark of night, in foggy conditions, and even when surf conditions aren’t so smooth
- Able to deliver full-screen viewing of all documents, data, and applications
- Designed for secure transport ( in hand or carry case, while on foot) and secure docking
- Easy to use when walking and working
Keeping the above criteria in mind, the only rugged tablets that will withstand frequent exposure to corrosive sea air are actually ultra-rugged tablet PCs. These are IP67 rated (meaning completely dustproof and waterproof) and they are tested (and ideally certified) to MIL-STD-810G Salt Fog specifications.
In other words, a rugged mobile computer that’s proven fit for either commercial transportation or military maritime duty…
- Doesn’t have to have a clamshell design. It just has to have a tightly sealed and impenetrable design so that the salt fog particles can’t sneak in through any crevices anywhere.
- Is not going to be available “off the shelf.” That takes iPads out of the mix, as well as almost every other consumer or commercial-grade tablet, laptop, and notebook.
- May not be the rugged tablet, rugged laptop, or rugged notebook that you think is best. That’s why it’s so important to consult with mobility experts that know your business and industry. Though purpose-built for more extreme operating environments, not all rugged computers are created equal and not all are capable of thriving in every extreme environment. Some rugged computers are designed primarily to serve in a manufacturing plant or other indoor environment; others may just need to carry greater vibration tolerance for use in a firetruck or on heavy machinery where salt fog isn’t an issue. Either way, manufacturers that have your best interest in mind will advise you on why certain mobile PCs will or will not work – and actually demonstrate why.
- May appear to cost more upfront. But…the reality is that, by paying more for the ultra-rugged tablet that checks all the boxes on your criteria list, you’re paying once for years of protection and mobile platform stability. Compromise a “little” on computing capabilities, security, or rugged protection just to spend a little less on your hardware today, and you’ll end up paying way more than you bargained for in both tangible and intangible expenses. Lost time, lost productivity, and extensive mobile hardware/software replacement costs occur when the “less expensive” mobile PC underperforms or fails sooner than expected. Eventually, you’ll need to upgrade your OS, applications, or data storage capacity as well. Can the mobile PC you choose hold up? Is it really built to last long enough to give you the cost savings you want for your entire mobility solution?
Though the “short list” of viable rugged mobile computer candidates may be severely reduced with those specifications in mind, be confident that by choosing the right ultra-rugged tablet technology, you’ll have the right level of device quality, reliability, and scalability needed to protect both onshore and offshore operations (and your mobility investment) long term.
Find out more about why MIL-STD-810G and IP ratings are so critical in the selection of maritime mobility solutions :