Ruggedized mobile computers improve productivity on or off new or used forklifts.
As technology rapidly improves, on-board computing has added incredible productivity and visibility for lift truck fleets everywhere. However, the pace of that improvement has some customers concerned that they will be left with obsolete computer equipment within a few years.
Given the intensity of many lift truck applications, customers also wonder if new computing equipment will hold up or result in costly and time-consuming repairs. Mark Holleran, president of Xplore Technologies, says recent improvements in durability, modular component design, and user interface are enabling customers to get even more from their on-board computers while ensuring a productive future.
The current trend in warehousing/distribution, says Holleran, is to move away from fixed-mount devices to more mobile platforms.
“If, say, 20% of the fleet is down at any given time for charging, repair or off shift, the device is also down,” says Holleran. “Similarly, if the computer is down, then so is the lift truck.”
With easily detachable on-board computers, the customer can purchase and maintain fewer devices. This kind of flexibility can even enable devices to serve a number of purposes in a facility, says Holleran, from wall-mounted time clocks to GPS units.
Holleran says the second key shift in mobile computing is the preference for tablet-style computers with touchscreens. Customers want stylus and touch capability, and studies show that the intuitiveness of touch interfaces increases data accuracy, says Holleran. An additional benefit of the widespread use of tablets is the ease of training. “To some extent, training for these devices and their software is built into the ambient culture,” he says.
Customers want to be able to do on-site repairs for things like hard drives and ports that become damaged, he says. Some tablets now offer tool-less hard drive removal, tool-less access to the SD memory card, and as little as four screws to access the memory chips. These features allow for quick upgrades, repairs and data transfers in the field.
Durability is also essential, says Holleran. Units should have a minimum five-year lifespan, he says, as compared to an 18- to 24-month rotation cycle for desktop computers. Unlike desktops, industrial tablets must contend with industrial environments, like rough floors and minimal suspension.
“You need industrial-class components, not just a hard shell on a consumer-grade product,” says Holleran. “They call those products ‘semi-ruggedized,’ but customers need real-world rugged.”