Sep 10 2009

Ruggedized Computers and Cell Phones: Testing Product Durability

In an age of continual computing evolution, users often take for granted the usability and durability of their computers and devices. If a consumer drops a cell phone, they anticipate it will survive the fall. If a laptop is left in a sweltering car all day, it’s expected to continue to function properly. Increasingly electronic devices are utilized in environments not normally conducive to the sustained operation of electronic gadgetry: police duty, on the construction job site, combat environments, at sea and in climatic extremes of hot and cold. The sector of devices designed to deal with these extremes is referred to as ruggedized devices.

From cell phones, to GPS devices and laptops the sector is growing as users demand uncompromised performance from their devices in any condition. The delivery of uncompromised performance cannot be left to chance. There are many device tests used to push products to the limit, testing their sustained usability and durability.

Independent test labs like Allion can test computers and devices during the development stage to ensure they’ll operate appropriately, even in the harshest conditions. You can check out some of the ruggedized testing performed at Allion Test Labs in the Panasonic Toughbook video.

One common test is a temperature test that can simulate extreme climates and determine if devices continue to function in brutally hot, cold or wet environments. A static compression test can also be performed to determine a product’s response to extreme compression – an everyday example might be stepping on a device or accidentally driving over it.

Specific equipment allows labs to test battery life and simulate dropping devices from a variety of heights. Drop tests entail lifting the product to pre-determined heights and then releasing the product to hit the ground. If a product consistently functions properly after such a fall, it can be certified at a specific drop level. Common failures in a drop test range from display screens, hard disk drives, or the failure of a devices housing. All failures provide designers with valuable insights that they can use to further reinforce the device from impact.

Device testing enables consumers and those tasked with purchasing rugged devices a set of common specifications to review and ensure the device they intend to purchase will stand-up to even the worst abuse in the field. As future generations of ruggedized electronic devices appear in the market, durability should improve to meet customer demand for go-anywhere electronics.