Much like with the average consumer, when daily operations become more and more complex, factories and plants turn to specialized pieces of equipment for solutions. We’ve observed this before with the widespread employment of rugged computers, PCs designed to operate in highly volatile industrial spaces, and we’ve begun to see it again with another widely embraced piece of tech: the tablet. 

Tablets have become a welcomed addition to both the casual and professional consumer’s tech arsenal and that only gets truer with time. In just 2019 over 36.7 million tablets have been shipped globally with Apple’s iPad line maintaining its market superiority. 

Understandably, industrial plants and manufacturers have also begun to hop onto this trend themselves. Already across numerous industries we see tablets used to handle several of the day to day operations typical of a factory or plant. And with Apple’s share growth of 21.8% in the tablet market this year, that naturally begs the question: is Apple’s aforementioned iPad a good fit for a factory setting? Or is a more rugged industrial tablet the superior choice?

iPad or Rugged Tablet

The iPad is first and foremost a product designed with the casual consumer in mind. They’re amazing for entertaining yourself with videos at home or for making a showy display at a Starbucks while you work on your screenplay, but they come up short in the industrial setting. 

Just like average consumers require a tablet tailored to their needs and daily lives, so too do industrial professionals need a device equipped to handle theirs. That’s exactly what a rugged industrial tablet does in more ways than one.

Enhanced Durability

“Rugged” isn’t just a fancy adjective, it’s a category of tablets and computers designed under military-grade specifications. The first of these specifications being an Ingress Protection (IP) rating. Rugged industrial tablets are tested and rated based on how difficult it is for dust, moisture, and other contaminants to penetrate into the device and cause damage. 

The iPad isn’t rugged or water-resistant. In fact, it has no IP rating at all, meaning there’s no formal measure of how dust and waterproof it is. This isn’t a deal breaker for the leisure user because they don’t necessarily plan on sharing a shower with their tablet, but for the industrial employee working near debris and moisture producing equipment like water jet cutters and woodworking tools, certain insurance against those contaminants is a must. 

A rugged tablet with an IP65 rating is completely sealed against dust particulates and can brave direct jets of water without compromising performance. 

On the topic of ratings and certifications, rugged tablets are also MIL-STD-810 certified, meaning they’re tested and proven to survive environmental stress, drops from 5 feet high, and more. Coupled with the testing they receive to handle operation under wider ranges of extreme temperature, it’s clear to see that the rugged industrial tablet is more prepped to handle the highly volatile industrial workplace.

Customized for YOUR Workplace

iPads are beautiful pieces of hardware, but their customization is limited to different color trims and more storage. That’s perfect for the avid traveler who takes thousands of photos and is partial towards “space grey”, but isn’t very helpful to the employee that needs a barcode scanner to help with asset and inventory management.  

Industrial tablets are designed and made with the industrial worker and workplace in mind. Not only does that mean extra durability, it means customization and ease of integration into an already established workflow. Some industrial tablets come with the option to customize each individual unit with technology fit to the unique work space. In addition to bar code scanners, rugged tablets can be equipped with RFID and smart card readers, and even biometric fingerprint readers, integrating seamlessly with the authentication processes any given plant already employs.

Lastly, a factory worker’s ability to integrate a tablet with other equipment through full size ports is more than a quality-of-life consideration, it’s a necessity. Many factories and manufacturing plants operate on legacy software and hardware and need older ports to support the foundational devices and tools their operations run on. Taking that into consideration, Apple’s propensity to always innovate and stay up to date with the newest ports and high resolution connections can actually be a hindrance on a factory’s healthy operation.

Uncompromising on Software

Building off of that last point, factory operations are intensely tied to their software, most notably their enterprise resource planning (ERP) and warehouse management systems (WMS). In many cases, a device’s ability to play nicely with these programs is the main selling point for factory management. The last thing they want to hear is that they need to uproot their entire infrastructure because their new Apple iPads don’t support an integral program of theirs. Unfortunately, this can often be the case since iPad’s don’t support many of these key programs such as Microsoft Dynamics, forcing management to resort to the watered down alternatives they can find on the app store.

A rugged industrial tablet that runs either Windows or Linux, however, not only bypasses this issue by supporting the most used industrial software, it even allows employees to load information into those programs in real time thanks to the tablet itself being outfitted with the barcode scanner and authentication hardware.

Reliable Battery

Apple claims their iPad can be used for 10 hours before needing to be plugged in for a charge. A selling point for the average consumer for sure, but battery life can vary wildly based on the applications being run and the intensity of the work done. 

Run the right applications for long enough, and that 10 hour battery life can quickly drop to 8 or 7. And once that tablet runs out of juice, it might as well be an ornate brick as it sits next to a wall charging for the next 5 to 6 hours. Once more, this isn’t an issue for the average user, but for the factory worker who needs to be on the move constantly throughout the work day, it’s lost productivity waiting to happen. 

Rugged tablets with hot swappable batteries eliminate this problem. With two batteries inside the tablet at a time, an employee can replace them one by one with batteries that have been charging on standby without powering down the device. This removes the need for the tablet to be placed on time out next to an available power outlet and also ensures valuable data and information isn’t deleted or corrupted thanks to a sudden power outage. It also means the device can theoretically operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Industrial Tablets for the Industrial Workplace

iPads and other consumer-grade tablets fulfill a purpose and need for the consumers they were designed for. And while many factories may want to use that same tech to fulfill their own needs, there is no denying that they’re forcing a tablet to perform in a way it wasn’t designed to perform in an environment it wasn’t designed to work in. 

Factories, industrial plants, and manufacturers that leverage a tool tailored for them will ultimately see the most success and the most seamless assimilation of their new tablets. 

To learn more about rugged industrial tablets and how to implement them for a more efficient factory operation, contact a Cybernet expert today.