Tash Sievwright (pictured), Transport and Logistics Business Development Executive, Conker, looks back at extreme conditions of 2022 and fit-for-purpose rugged devices.
Largely shaded red and dark red, weather forecast maps of the summer of 2022 were tracking what turned out to be the hottest summer on record for Europe. From June to September persistent heatwaves affected no fewer than 16 countries across the continent. The highest temperature recorded was 47°C and the waves of punishing temperatures resulted in significant danger weather warnings, evacuations and widespread droughts. In the United Kingdom temperatures surpassed 40°C for the first time since records began.
Climatologists and scientists predict that continuing changes in the jet stream will cause heat waves with increasing frequency across Europe causing hot areas to stay hot for long periods of time.
During the unprecedented record-breaking temperatures across Europe, many companies undertook a hazard assessment of extreme conditions to identify the potential harm to staff – a standard requirement for many firms. As most staff will use equipment of some description, extending the assessment to machinery, equipment and tools that workers use to perform their roles makes sense.
The rapid digitalisation of global supply chains, the advent of Industry 4.0 and interest in progressive advanced technology and tools such as AI means that very few industries if any, escape the need for computer devices for on-site staff and remote workforces working in all conditions.
However, day-to-day commercial pressures such as rising costs coupled with improved and advanced functionality such as built-in image readers that decode barcodes and QR codes, buying lower-cost, standard off-the-shelf devices can be tempting. However, do they have sufficient battery life and can they withstand the rigours of extreme working environments – day in and day out – and what happens when they go wrong or get broken?
Extreme working conditions are not limited to high and low temperatures but also include humidity, wet conditions, direct sunlight, dust, snowfall and ice, altitude, atmospheric pressure, low visibility, complex terrain and vibration. These conditions call for a choice of rugged devices that are fit for purpose delivering value for money and with service levels that match the needs of the job.
Many working environments including warehousing, manufacturing, transport and logistics and utilities rely on real-time information that provides visibility of all elements of the supply chain, where goods are or how critical services are being delivered. The cost of failure can be substantial not just in the cost of downtime but in customer satisfaction and brand reputation.
Create operational efficiencies
Streamlining different processes, information streams and the entire workforce helps to better manage delayed production, waste and poor planning. These operational efficiencies rely on quality-connected equipment, cost management, technology stack, internal communication, supply chain and order management, and improved business processes. Linking rugged mobile devices that collect operational data and work seamlessly with back-end platforms removes data input errors and provides real-time visibility.
Rugged devices are not only tough but are designed to work in their specific environments, such as being secure in a vehicle or easily lifted in and out of a holster or cradle. In cold or hazardous environments touch screens are designed to be operated with gloves and equally are usable in direct sunlight. Conker enterprise devices sit securely in an operating vehicle and read barcodes, NFC and RFID tags from multiple angles and all devices have a battery life designed to last the entire shift.
Rugged goes beyond the rugged case that keeps the device protected. Rugged devices are a type of hardware designed specifically to tolerate the harshest environments. From extreme temperatures to dusty environments, wet conditions and then back inside. They can tolerate a range of hazards including exposure to fluids and extreme vibrations. Touch screens can be operated with gloves on and as the battery life is designed to last an entire shift – rugged devices are built to last. These attributes can positively impact costs in downtime and the time and cost to replace devices that are not durable enough. All Conker devices are drop tested typically to 1.2m and for peace of mind have the durability rating of IP65, protecting them against dirt and making them dust and waterproof.
Compared to traditional scanners and other mobile devices, wearable devices are less likely to get damaged or dropped, resulting in lower equipment replacement costs over time. The ergonomic design of wearable scanners makes them feel natural to use in day-to-day operations. When a backhand scanner is used in conjunction with a glove, workers benefit from having a full range of hand and digit movement.
Reduction in TCO
Looking beyond the initial cost to acquire rugged devices and considering the cost of deployment, training, support, maintenance and service and critically the cost of downtime will provide insight into the true cost of ownership. If there is no time for downtime in any mission/time-critical environment, rugged is probably a wise choice.
My colleague James Summers, CEO at Conker, says: “The hard-working products surfacing to deliver across global supply chains are further supported by automation and real-time connectivity with other departments. The results include increased productivity, reduced resources, and speed of response to customers’ orders resulting in improved bottom lines.
“In the current period of cooler weather organisations can use this time of respite from harsh, hotter conditions to take stock and review how well they coped in 2022 and consider necessary improvements to ensure that device performance stands up to what might come their way next year.
“It is vital that production managers ensure good usability testing on all tablets, handheld and wearable devices because good usability will help to support a happy workforce. They also shouldn’t be afraid to demand upfront user testing before committing to new devices in the IT stack.”