One to watch: Mining’s toughest rugged computer

Panasonic Toughbook. Image: Panasonic

For a company that boasts pre-eminent research and development capability in one of the world’s most technologically-advanced countries, Panasonic isn’t interested in creating the next shiny “it” device.

Instead, Panasonic has been perfecting its mobile solutions technology, which have outclassed industry standards for the past 23 years, sharpening the performance of the company’s rugged computing devices from its factory floors in Japan.

The range of Toughbook rugged PCs and tablets have evolved from “bulkier” military style laptop computers to slimline tablet solutions, which incorporate both Android and Windows operating systems, according to Panasonic Australia general manager, mobile solutions Marc Amelung.

Toughbooks will soon feature the latest Intel vPro CPU and optimised BIOS to reduce the risk of attacks to firmware and devices, while its competitors are still playing catch up to provide security of this ilk for their products.

Toughbooks are more durable and rugged compared with competitors, specifically when it comes to drop testing and resistance to water and liquid.

It is perhaps unsurprising that mining equipment, technology and services (METS) provider IMDEX has declared the Android and Windows Toughbook devices as the company’s preferred tablet hardware. 

“We initially approached Panasonic based on the company’s strong reputation for robust and reliable products,” IMDEX products development engineer Guru Jabbal says.

“Now, after working with Panasonic for almost a decade and deploying more than 1000 seven-inch FZ-B2 Toughbook tablets, we can confidently say that its products have delivered on this front.”

Panasonic’s vision for the Toughbooks is evidently not about building devices that will only last or be trending for a short while.

Its Toughbooks are proven to have very low failure rates and are built for longevity, leading to a lower total cost of ownership (TCO), according to Panasonic Australia senior product marketing manager, mobile solutions, Ranjit Sohoni.

This achievement proves the integrity of Panasonic’s in-house testing procedure, which is designed to replicate the real environment the Toughbooks will be used in over multiple years of use.

Toughbooks are subjected to extensive drop and shock tests from heights of up to three metres, and pass other rigorous rugged tests which comply with the stringent MIL-STD810G certification.

“Apart from having an in-house R&D, design and production capability, our in-house testing is able to replicate the outside world, including extreme temperatures such as those in mine sites,” Sohoni tells Australian Mining.

“Whether that be through moisture, multiple drops or extremely hot or cold temperature, this testing replicates how the device will be potentially used in the real world.”

The Toughbook is now proven to withstand temperatures that range from below zero up to 60 degrees Celsius.

It has been engineered to an extreme level, and in some cases is intrinsically safe for use in harsh environments, ensuring that devices are not the cause of any unwanted electrical faults, explosions or fires.

In some cases, the device’s optional rubberised keyboard also prevents fine dust settling between the keys, one of the major benefits often being sought after in mining.

“These are driven by pure customer needs to maintain on-site safety. Our outcome-based approach ensures that we’re introducing technology that will last for a long period of time according to user expectations,” Sohoni says.

“Some rugged handheld tablet models even feature dual SIM, where users can retrieve data from their company’s private network, and then jump on the public network for external access.”

Panasonic has also trumped the challenge of operating in large, iron ore laden mine sites, while still having access to wireless networks.

The Toughbook is purpose built with the latest wireless antennas, tuned specifically for Australian wireless networks, ensuring connectivity in remote locations and future proofing with the development of 5G capability in the future.

Panasonic recognises the importance of a product isn’t just about the product itself, but about how it is supported and integrated within a customer’s existing IT infrastructure, according to Sohoni.

“Our customers could have the best on-site infrastructure in the world worth multi-millions of dollars, but it has to be able to be used in the way they want and work well with the devices they use,” Sohoni adds.

“Even though we have R&D capability overseas, what we have here in Australia is a local specialised engineering team that can help tailor solutions for businesses.”

This is supported by pre-sales engineers who go to customer sites to build a specific solution, and after-sales service engineers who could take care of the initiatives after being deployed.

Though one could wonder what issues they will face, seeing the Toughbook ticks many boxes.

This article also appears in the October edition of Australian Mining. 

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