Your construction company wants tablets for its crews out in the field. The reasons you get vary from increased worker safety to the upcoming construction boom.  

You have been tasked to select those tablets. Where do you start? What do you look for? Right now, all you know is the regular, off-the-shelf offerings won’t cut it. Discussed below are those certain features buyers should consider for tablets used on construction sites. 

What does Rugged Mean?

The best rugged tablet is simply one that can stand up to hard everyday use while continuing to provide top-notch functionality. It has been designed to withstand extreme conditions whether it’s bad weather, sweeping changes in temperature, or simply being knocked around. Construction contractors, engineers and those who do a lot of field work are some of the best candidates for such portable PCs.

Two features ﹘ IP Rating and Military Grade ﹘ should be looked at when determining the right rugged tablet for use in construction. 

Rugged X10
At IP65. the Rugged X10 is rated “dust-tight” and water resistant from any direction.

IP Rating: Sealed Against the Elements

One of the first things one should look at is the tablet’s IP rating.

IP ratings, or Ingress Protection, serve as a good indicator of the tablet’s environmental endurance; that is, how waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof it is.

IP ratings are formatted with the letters “IP” followed by two digits. As an example, take a rugged industrial tablet (see image) with a rating of IP65. The first digit indicates how well protected the device’s delicate interior is against solid objects like dust. A zero rating means no protection while a top rating of “6” means it is sealed against such objects. 

The second digit indicates how well protected the device’s delicate interior is, especially against water. Again, a zero means no protection. Most off-the-shelf PCs, tablets, and smartphones can be considered to be at this rating. A rating of “1” means it is sealed against dripping water while a “5” is considered water-resistant, protecting against a jet of water from up to a quarter of an inch away. Ratings “7” and “8” show the device is sealed tight enough to be fully immersed in water (example: underwater camera).

A fanless design is one way tablet makers use to achieve such ratings. Regular fans draw in air to cool the interior. This immediately eliminates any dust or waterproofing. Tablets using fanless design use a heat sink and other similar methods to cool the computer without affecting its IP rating. 

Being fanless has another advantage. There are no moving parts like that found in a typical fan and its spinning blades. These can be damaged from a hard enough jolt and render the entire tablet useless until repaired or replaced.

Military Grade Components: Tough Enough for a Soldier

Many rugged tablets have been advertised as “military grade.” This means the hardware has been built from the ground up to meet MIL-STD 810 standards. Common tests include being violently dropped or thrown about. Other tests involve how the devices hold up in heavy rain, temperature extremes, contact with chemicals, dust, and even fungus. 

Commercially available ones have undergone similar testing.

Touchscreen: With or Without Gloves

Most tablets are controlled by touchscreens. So it’s vital to know if construction crew members will be using workman gloves when handling them. 

Touchscreens come in two types. 

  • Resistive touchscreens are made up of various layers of plastic and glass. When the screen is pressed, these layers respond to the pressure to launch the appropriate app or feature. 
  • Capacitive touchscreens are also multilayered. They are designed to use a person’s natural bioelectricity to trigger a response from the phone. 

Resistive touchscreens allow control whether the worker is wearing gloves or using a stylus, because they react to pressure. Capacitive touchscreens detect and respond to much lighter touches. This gives them greater accuracy when responding to a worker’s input like when texting. The disadvantage is they don’t work through gloves or by stylus. Discuss with the construction crew on who’ll be using the tablets and whether it’ll primarily be through protective gear like gloves or with bare hands. 

Software to Run Everything

Rugged tablets can ﹘ and are expected to ﹘ do a lot out on the construction site. A short list of functions include:

  • Calculator
  • Camera
  • Clock
  • Construction scheduling
  • Flashlight
  • GPS
  • Memo pad
  • PDF reader
  • Stopwatch
  • Telephone
  • Video capability
  • Voice Recorder
  • Weather report
  • Web browser

It’s important to make sure there’s enough disc space in the tablet for every needed app and program. This is also true with memory to properly run them. Look for at least 32GB of disc space and 4GB of RAM in a rugged tablet.

Now look into the operating system to run the software for the above features. Android or Windows are the most popular operating systems on rugged tables used on construction sites. Available programs to run on either vary and are not compatible with each other. Thus, it’s important to know what apps work with which OS.

Customization: Right Features for Your Unique Needs

Pretty much every aspect of the rugged tablet can be customized. Upgrading both disc space and memory is pretty common. And having wi-fi capability is almost a given in today’s modern, connected world. 

So you’ll want to see if there are specific issues on your construction site that can be handled through customization of the rugged tablets. A barcode scanner is one example of a custom feature. Crews can use it to track inventory like incoming materials. Or use it to monitor tool usage among contractors. RFID readers can perform similar functions. They provide greater flexibility due to a longer range and no need for direct line of sight to items. Both can also be used to read ID badges for time clock procedures. Such private information can be made secure through custom features like an Imprivata Certified fingerprint scanner or a FIPS Compliant smart card reader. 

Dual hot swappable batteries are another custom feature. Construction crews can be at a site all day with little chance to plug in their devices into an AC outlet to recharge. Hot swappable batteries allow them to insert a fresh battery while the tablet is still running. This allows for literally 24/7 operation as long as the batteries are continually recharged. 

Closing Thoughts

Choosing the right rugged table for construction can be an undertaking given the environment ranging from rough handling of the devices to lack of easily accessible power. There are tablets built to thrive with such challenges, though. When looking for them, ask yourself the following:

  • Will the device be used primarily outdoors?
  • Will the device be used primarily onsite? 
  • Will the device and touchscreen be used with gloves on?
  • What software will you primarily be using?
  • Do you have enough disc space and memory to run all your software?
  • Any special uses for the tablet (example: tracking inventory)? 
  • Will the device have easy access to AC power?
  • Can the device be charged routinely?

To answer the above questions or to learn more about the tablets, contact a representative from Cybernet. Also follow Cybernet on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin to stay up to date on this and other relevant topics.