Rugged device testing – the truth!

Rugged device testing often isn’t all that it seems. You see all the right terms on the spec sheet, like MIL-STD and IP68, but is the rugged device you want to buy really rugged? We expose a few truths of the ruggedness market and tell you how to get round them.

So you’ve just spent months doing all the rugged device testing that you can, finding and testing out the next wave of rugged devices you’re going to roll out for your business. Rugged mobile technology is complicated at the best of times so it takes a lot of thought, testing and planning. The rollout of new mobile technology is often fraught with teething problems but ruggedness at least is something that you don’t have to worry about… Or is it?

The spec sheet has lots of certifications on it and that should be that, however, this blog delves a little deeper into the world of testing and what it really involves.

The issue with rugged device testing

The main problem with ruggedness testing is that there is actually no true “certification”. Contrary to belief, there’s actually no industry standard you have to meet and there’s no governing body policing the spec sheets you see.  Add to this, there are a number of ways suppliers can trick and pull the wool over your eyes and we’ve seen this from some of the biggest names in the mobile market.

I’ll burst your bubble right now with some examples:

Firstly, we see all the latest smartphones coming out now with IP68 waterproofing, however, the IP testing also tests for dust/particle ingress. Any device that does not have a cover for its USB connector will only ever attain a 3 or 4 in the dust category.  So your shiny Samsung smartphone may well be waterproof but it’s not IP68, its IP48 at best.

Secondly, we see the abuse of IP ratings confusing customers into thinking something is rugged. If I told you something was IP43, you’d think that it had some level of ruggedness, right? Well, actually no. IP43 is about the level of dust and water ingress protection pretty much any gadget would have, unyet we’ve seen mobile devices from reputable brands come out with this mush on the spec sheet. I was there, trying to resell this equipment and I can tell you just how much customers we confused.

This USB-C connector is not IP68!

This USB-C connector is not IP68!

You can add drop testing to steel or wood or even lino and carpet covered flooring, mould testing that doesn’t mean a thing and loads more.

Enter MIL-STD

MIL-STD basically is a set of guidelines the US military came up with and shared with potential suppliers. It’s designed to ensure a standard of durability to all products potentially being supplied into the military and it includes anything from missiles, to vehicles and more. There’s a small set of pages applicable to mobile devices and in the absence of anything else, this has been adopted by the rugged mobile market. MIL-STD does set out tests and how it thinks they should be done. It is useful and a rugged supplier should be able to recite the pages by heart. It’s also all we have but it was written decades ago and you don’t have to follow it to make rugged device testing claims on a spec sheet.

The problem

The truth is, I can put anything on the spec sheet of a rugged device and I’m not effectively breaking any laws.  Of course, if I say something is waterproof and you buy 100 and all 100 fail in the rain, then there’s going to be a potential trading standards issue there, however trying to prove the issues is another thing.

In the old days, there were only a few suppliers of rugged equipment, the customer types were also pretty unique so we all knew where we stood. Loyal resellers would carry out due diligence and we all knew what was rugged and what wasn’t. However today, everyone is mobile, businesses all have mobile strategies and there is now a raft of suppliers and brands to choose from. So just how do you work your way around this issue?

Our top tips for rugged device testing

It doesn’t matter in my view what the brand is, you get good and bad £1500 devices, you get good and bad £300 devices. However, if the spec sheet can’t be trusted, then what do you do?

Ask the right questions

Ask the supplier about ruggedness device testing and see what they say. Do they know through and through, can they personally vouch for testing of the brands they sell or is the answer wishy-washy or saying what you already read yourself?  A lot can be gathered through some simple questions.

Do they test, how do they test?

How do they test?

Does the supplier share video or images of testing?  Are the overt about testing or is it literally just on the spec sheet. We live in an age of transparency, just how transparent are they about rugged device testing?

Raptor C5 freeze test to -30C

Raptor C5 freeze test to -30C

Also just how honest are they?  The above picture shows a Raptor C5 that’s undergoing a Raptor test. We submerge in 10CM of water for 24 hours, then freeze to -10, -20 and -30 C. We then heat rapidly to 40C to test against condensation and then heat to 50/60/70 until failure. We do this with the same device to mimic real-life.  We don’t swap the device at all.

Business background

Does a potential supplier actually stand for something other than selling to you? What ethics, purpose and mission do they have? What’s their after sales like? If you have an issue with anything at Raptor you can talk to us, whether via the chat, email, by logging a case via the support portal or by talking to your account manager.

What I’m, trying to say is that we’re not just some tinpot business importing from China and not really that bothered about after sales.

Case studies/recommendations

Does the supplier or the device have a history of happy customers?  If you can go to the supplier website and see a whole bunch of case studies in your sector then chances are you’re good.

I hope this article finds as many people as possible because I’m passionate about making sure businesses buy the best they can but at the same time don’t overpay. Whilst, just like every industry, there seems to be an increasing amount of rubbish to sift through, we still maintain if you do your homework then there’s still plenty of great products out there that will serve you well.

Posted by "Durable" Dave

My background is web/mobile software, mobile hardware, where I worked with some of the earliest PDA's on the market from HP and Microsoft and data capture where i've sold all of the main brands of rugged kit you'll find!

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