Dell recently ranked oil and gas production among the top 20 most rugged jobs in America. The list evaluated the physical labor, risk of fatality and injury, and environmental exposure that workers encounter daily. These conditions push mental and physical limits, but a context that is often overlooked is the toll inflicted on work equipment, and how that too can negatively affect workers.
Laptops and tablets brought office computing power on the go, revolutionizing location-based work. They have become the go-to device for oil and gas workers where a significant chunk of time is spent in the field. However, due to the extreme conditions of the work itself, special considerations in IT equipment must be made.
Even in an ideal scenario, a typical commercial laptop can only take so many bumps and dings. Out in the field, working on uneven, rocky ground or out in the open water, the extreme conditions can easily break a machine with little effort. Those assets, if broken, can cost your organization in both production and safety. If a worker’s laptop fails in the field, it could slow or even halt production on the project they are working on as well as cause significant safety risks if they are not able to communicate with their crews at a critical point. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that workers in the oil and gas business are among the highest at risk for injuries and fatalities on the job. Dependable, reliable equipment can make a safety difference.
This labor-intensive work requires specialized IT equipment. Rugged IT client devices are designed with this in mind, to withstand the harsh conditions and challenges the oil and gas industry brings to bear.
Defining Durability in the Field
What is meant when we use the term “rugged” when referring to an IT client device? A rugged client device is a purpose-built machine which can be either a laptop, a tablet, or a 2-in-1 convertible which can switch between the two. True rugged devices will meet the United States military’s MIL-STD-810G standard for drop and impact resistance. This can be accomplished by employing a hardened shell of impact-resistant ultra-polymers and sturdy magnesium alloy to frame the exterior. Early rugged systems saw a drawback to these requirements due to additional weight, but new advancements with lighter materials have significantly cut down on the bulk and weight with some 12” fully-rugged tablets weighing under 3 pounds. But to be rugged you must also safeguard critical internal components and, in some cases, advances like HZO® Protection can be applied to keep the machine’s internals safe from exposure to liquid.
Perhaps the most critical safety aspect of the oil and gas industry is the constant risk and danger associated with the presence of flammable gases in the air. If improperly selected, an electronic device could easily serve as an ignition source for those gases with disastrous results. Companies operating in such environments would do well to ensure the safety of their personnel and their assets by utilizing rugged client devices carrying ATEX and IECEx certifications, validating that they’ve been tested for, and are safe for, use in potentially explosive workplaces.
Testing for Durability
Though these devices are considered “rugged” they are not indestructible and even the most rugged device will still have its breaking point. This is most evident when it comes to unpredictable and inherently harsh working environments. The goal for a rugged PC manufacturer is to keep moving that breaking point further away from the end-user. At Dell, we have created an extreme testing facility to push the physical limits of our rugged products to create tougher, better devices. Within the Dell Latitude Rugged Lab, you will find specialized machines designed to simulate those inherently harsh working conditions with trained engineers subjecting our devices to the following sample of endurance tests:
Extreme Cold: A freezer chamber that can drop the temperature to -60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Extreme Heat: A heat chamber that can bring the temperature up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Water Ingress: A water chamber simulating 70mph driving rain.
Dust Ingress: A dust chamber which circulates fine particulate and encases the system in dust.
Hinge Durability: A hinger cycler that opens and closes a laptop/tablet lid 150,000 times.
Drop Test: Systems free fall between 3 to 6 feet at multiple angles.
Salt Fog: A chamber designed to test salt fog/air/mist.
When we test – we test to fail. By pushing our systems to their physical limits, we can ensure our system’s reliability in extreme environments and utilize that data to improve upon our existing designs and future product releases.
Engineering for Functionality
Beyond durability, there are other practical aspects that IT buyers in oil and gas must consider. Industrial gloves can make device interactivity a challenge and working under direct sunlight can cause glare on the screen. The rugged devices Dell brings to the market go through a thorough research and development process to identify user pain points, so we can build solutions for them right into the machine.
In the case of our latest Dell Latitude 7220EX Rugged Extreme Tablet, we’ve added a 1000-nit Corning Gorilla Glass screen for maximum visibility in direct sunlight, along with glove-touch capacity and ATEX and IECEx certification for use in potentially explosive environments. Dual, hot-swappable batteries will keep your workers productive all day without having to interrupt the job to get a fresh charge. New 802.11ax wi-fi connectivity offers reduced interference and increased network throughput for faster video streaming and file transfers. Lastly, a dispersed workforce spread across multiple locations can make it difficult for an IT manager to ensure every machine is up to date and working properly. In response, Dell created a set of unique tools called the Dell Client Command Suite with VMware Workspace ONE. This unified workspace solution provides IT departments a central control point to remotely push critical updates, firmware and new applications to all deployed devices regardless of where they are in the field.
Taking all these aspects into consideration, a rugged device delivers long-term value by extending the life of the machine and enhancing employee performance. Since all workplaces are unique, recognizing your use case will help identify the correct rugged device with the right mix of capabilities. The safety of your workers and the success of your business can start with the performance of your devices on the front line.
About the author: David Plourde leads strategic alliances for the Dell Rugged business, working closely with Dell customers and technology partners. He’s spent over a decade in the Rugged computer industry and has more than 25 years’ experience in both the commercial sector and state & federal government sales.