Why rugged tablets are needed in harsh factory environment

Factories have harsh operating environments that normal devices would not survive in. Rugged tablets are engineered to withstand drops, shocks, spills, vibration, dust as well as oil and grease found in manufacturing floor space, say Rick Hwang.
Why rugged tablets are needed in harsh factory environment
One of the largest automotive markets in the world is found in South Asia and it has created over a million jobs. As the fourth-largest automotive market globally, India’s annual production of vehicles has been registering a healthy growth since 2018, with the number of automotive owned expected to reach 72 vehicles per 1,000 people by 2025.

In recent years, we are seeing a shift in focus towards electric vehicles (EV) in India, with the Ministry of Heavy Industries shortlisting 11 cities to introduce EVs into the public transportation system. The city of Pune for example has already deployed over 100 electric buses, which have been well received by citizens. The initiative’s success signals an impending increase in demand in automotive manufacturing, as India gears up for further adoption.

Manufacturers in India’s automotive industry are already facing new and pressing changes thanks to globalisation, individualisation, digitalisation and increasing competition.

The advent of COVID 19 has only exacerbated current problems the industry is facing. And manufacturers will need to actively look towards recovery efforts in the future. What the new normal will look like post-COVID-19 in India’s automotive sector is still uncertain, but the adoption of digital technologies will likely be a reliable means through which manufacturers can attain resilience and reinvigorate output.

Why the automotive industry needs to get smarter
Augmented by new technologies, the industry has leapt forward. Until recent years, only a handful of companies used technologies like IoT, additive manufacturing, robotics and virtual reality (VR). The automotive industry as we know it is changing rapidly, manufacturers no longer see themselves as just automakers, but as technology firms. And the manufacturing process is getting harder to manage, as electric and smart connected vehicles gain popularity.

To stay competitive, players in the automotive industry should look at continuously investing in new technology, including hardware and software solutions to ensure the factory is always connected. According to Capgemini Research Institute, automotive manufacturers are already planning to convert nearly half (44%) of their factories into smart facilities.

A smart factory combines traditional manufacturing excellence with digital applications to increase performance. This leads to benefits such as enhanced efficiency, quicker decision-making and shortened response times. Smart facilities tend to require less electricity, provide greater oversight over the manufacturing process and ultimately are more cost-effective.

In these unprecedented times, companies must quickly prepare for the post-COVID-19 storm in the short-term and devise long-term strategies to be future-ready. The present could be a great opportunity to restructure and rewire post-COVID-19.

Going “smart” means companies can embrace a zero-defect culture at the operator level to drive individual and area-level performance management. Companies can also look at reimagining end-to-end sales and operations processes by using digital technologies and analytics such as forecasting tools, to optimise capital structure, as well as increase customer satisfaction. This can be made possible with the use of digital tools including the integration of software and hardware like rugged tablets as well as various types of robots and machines.

Rugged solutions for automotive manufacturing
In automotive manufacturing, rugged laptops and tablets can optimise manufacturing processes. Rugged devices have transformed factories into far safer, more pleasant, and efficient workspaces.

The increase of interconnected sensors means that manufacturers are able to carry out various diagnostics despite the complex nature of automotive manufacturing. When daily operations become more complex, manufacturers turn to specialised equipment such as rugged laptops and tablets for solutions. This is why the employment of rugged devices as compared to consumer-grade tablets would meet the demand of manufacturers.

Generally, factories are harsh operating environments that normal devices would not survive in. Rugged by design and suited to the challenging automotive environment, rugged tablets are engineered to withstand drops, shocks, spills, vibration, dust as well as oil and grease found in manufacturing floor space. This is possible due to the stringent international rugged testing standards for rough handling and mobility. Ideally, rugged laptops and tablets should be certified to MIL-STD 810H and up to IP67. Built to survive, these devices undergo rigorous test methods to determine their durability as well as to verify electromagnetic emissions.

To ensure accurate diagnostics, rugged tablets should be equipped with cutting-edge automotive solutions to meet the demands of modern automotive manufacturers and vendors. This means that the rugged devices should be designed as a purpose-built tool with a host of configurable options to fit your workflow. For example, combining integrated components such as the Offboard Diagnostic Information System Service and the Diagnostic Interface with a rugged laptop to ensure highly efficient diagnostics of vehicles. The ability to connect directly to a wide range of machinery and sensors on the assembly line would allow users to carry out inspections, conduct test and gather technical data.

Rugged laptops and tablets are especially sought after when companies look for a device for diagnostics and this is because of its ability to integrate with ERP, MES and quality inspection systems for more transparent manufacturing operations.

To achieve optimum performance and productivity with the configured options, rugged devices must be powered by high-speed processors that ensure greater computing and GPU performance. An extremely stable and high-performing rugged laptop or tablet would prevent compatibility problems between the diagnostic system and operating system. The processor should also be able to reduce power consumption, ideal for situations where complex tasks require great speed. This can create an optimal solution for our customers.

Rugged devices with integrated high-speed wireless communication technologies and a multitude of flexible and unique input and output options are vital for operations. This is via the likes of PowerShare USB, USB3.1 Gen 1 Type-C and even a second LAN. Additionally, the option of utilising advanced 4G LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and wide range of wired and wireless connectivity options means that the rugged tablets would be compatible with leading diagnostic software and allow instant access to onboard diagnostics and fast vehicle scanning.

Versatility and portability are an increasing trend among manufacturers today. Rugged devices that come with optional multi-function hard handle or the availability of dock options and flexible port options would allow users to conveniently carry the rugged tablets and access various ports of connection. Handles that can act as a kickstand or as a stable grip for users to grab and go is definitely a bonus in a factory setting as users are often on-the-go and mobile.

A new benchmark for the automotive industry
There is no better time than now for companies to plan for digital transformation and implement new initiatives across the manufacturing process. In a post COVID-19 world, companies should look at investing in small and incremental quantities of digital manufacturing technologies that can help mitigate risks.

I would encourage companies to start building digital thread for automation, which will significantly improve your company’s agility for the future. This includes upgrading your capabilities such as adopting rugged tablets to manage operations on the floor, which will create long term value and set new benchmarks for when the economy picks up.

About the author:
Rick Hwang is the President of Rugged & Video Solutions Business Group at Getac Technology Corporation

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