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Hardened Technology: What Makes a Ruggedized Device?

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Some industries demand ruggedized devices that can withstand harsh usage conditions—whether it be the rigors of commuting or weather. Before purchasing anything marketed as rugged, there are several things you need to know. In this HardBoiled, we discuss levels of ruggedness, industry testing standards, and pitfalls to beware.

Business Grade

Not an industry recognized or an official certification, business grade describes computers and peripherals built to higher-than-consumer standards. Business grade means the difference between a consumer-grade Dell Inspiron and a business-grade Dell Precision laptop. The Precision laptop features a metal chassis, while the Inspiron laptop utilizes mostly plastic. This allows the business-grade laptop to survive more drops and shocks.

Shockproof, Water-resistant, and Etcetera

Shockproof, drop-proof, water-resistant, and similar terms are frequently used to market products as rugged. But the veracity of these claims vary from product to product, with few actually tested or certified. To ensure your organization’s IT equipment withstands harsh usage scenarios, look for on more than just –proof and –resistant in product descriptions

Industry Certifications for Ruggedness

There are several different ruggedization standards manufacturers design their devices to meet. The two foremost ones include the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Ingress Protection (IP Code) and the Military Standard (MIL-STD).

Ingress Protection (IP) Code

The IEC’s IP codes signify how well a product withstands intrusion by foreign particles such as dust, sand, and water. A product’s IP code is typically given as IPXX, where XX is two different ratings. The first X denotes solid particle protection while the second denotes liquid protection. A higher number signifies better protection from that specific type of damage, with zero meaning no protection.

For dust and other particulate resistance, six is the highest possible rating and means the item is completely protected from dust. The liquid protection scale goes up to nine, which means that a project is protected from high pressure and high temperature sprays of water.

One product that measures quite high on the IP scale is the Panasonic Toughbook 31, with a rating of IP65. This signifies that it has a dust protection rating of six and a liquid protection rating of five. For the exact meaning of each number see the following chart.

Military Standard (MIL-STD)

The list of military standards is vast and used to certify products based on usage scenario. One standard can certify a product for use on ships, while another can certify a product for electromagnetic interference protection.

Ruggedized computers and electronic equipment are usually tested against the MIL-STD-810G standard, which certifies a product for use under a wide variety of conditions, including low pressure situations, high and low temperatures, shock during use and while in storage, rain, humidity, and more.

For a full list of military standards, see the EverySpec website.

Compliant v. Tested

Be aware that claims of IP and MIL-STD compliance can be misleading because products can be built to meet compliance without being tested or tested lightly. Try to find the test results for yourself and not rely on a “MIL-STD-810G Compliant” logo.

When purchasing a device for everyday office use, you will likely not need to pay close attention to ruggedization standards. But for harsh computing conditions you should be aware of both IP and MIL-STD certifications. So do you ever need to purchase ruggedized devices and equipment? Let us know if you do in the comments section below.

Photo by gnuckx, taken from Flickr Creative Commons
Wallace Chu

Wallace Chu

A self-professed tech hipster that loves computers and music. Uses an iPhone ironically.

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