Why the mobile IT workplace deserves more attention – especially in construction
For a successful digitisation project in demanding environments, such as in the construction industry, there are special requirements for the mobile IT infrastructure. So, it's worth taking a closer look. Besides the questions, “Do we need rugged IT?” and “What really distinguishes it?”, the battery life and reliable connectivity are very important.
Digitisation on Construction sites – BIM offers opportunities
Roughly speaking, the overall costs of a property can be divided into two major blocks: planning and construction costs along with the costs of operating and maintaining the building. Managing the data generated during the planning phase in a standardised manner over the entire duration of the construction project and sharing this data with everyone involved is therefore an obvious part of a good digitalisation concept. With the modern BIM (Building Information Modelling) approach, this is possible, even if learning phases, some of which may be intensive, need to be included during initial projects.
Digitalisation also means as many people as possible involved in the construction and maintenance sector having access to suitable tools, instead of paper rolls and ring binders, as was the case in the past. When it comes to planning, this has already been implemented in a number of areas: a civil engineer carries out structural engineering calculations at their workstation, the draughtsman produces the construction plans on their CAD computer and the machine in prefabrication is controlled directly by CAM data.
However, the digitalised work environment is an interesting challenge for the “last mile” too, i.e. at the construction site and later for the maintenance. Conventional office equipment cannot always provide a positive user experience here. It is therefore worth looking in detail at the requirements as regards the mobile IT infrastructure.
When used outdoors, notebooks and tablets can be exposed to harsh environmental conditions. Dust and moisture can cause significant damage. Even with extra protective covers, ordinary consumer devices are still not suitable for outdoor use. Rugged IT devices built and tested for outdoor applications are a much more reliable solution. Perhaps surprisingly, even office devices do not break down that often during outdoor use when they are newly introduced. One reason for this is that workers treat their new device particularly carefully during the initial phase. But when it comes to failure rates, rugged MIL-STD 810G-certified devices fare much better when observed over a number of years. These devices are used for on average three years. Generally speaking, the extra costs when purchasing them are easily recouped.
Computing equipment used outdoors must hold out for at least a full shift before being connected to a power supply again. Compared to a built-in battery, a good battery concept with hot swapping (replacing batteries without having to shut down the device) is beneficial because in real life the way in which a battery discharges can differ considerably from the device’s nominal specification. In sunny weather, the LCD backlighting uses much more battery power, while in cold weather the battery capacity is massively reduced. Devices such as the TOUGHBOOK 55 offer battery capacities of up to 20 hours with the standard battery as well as hot-swap batteries.
When working outdoors, e.g. on a construction site, an LCD display with a luminance of around 800 cd/m2 (nits) or more is a sensible option to ensure that scale drawings and plans can be interpreted correctly even in sunny conditions.
Touch operation and precise pen input are essential for editing plans and for handwritten documentation. Maintenance workers often work in gloves for safety reasons. If work instructions are stored on a tablet in the form of a checklist, a “glove mode” when operating the touchscreen saves workers having to take off their protective gloves and put them on again.
Online 24/7 via wireless data networks
To work effectively, IT devices on a digitalised construction site must offer excellent connectivity. At mobile workstations, WLAN as well as 3G/4G LTE data connections are essential in order to retrieve documents and provide operating data, which can then be uploaded to the cloud for further processing. Unfortunately, the conditions for wireless networks on site are not always ideal. In the case of “greenbelt” construction projects, the LTE signals available may be weak. In basements which usually house technical systems for buildings, the strength of radio signals can cause problems in certain cases. Because transmission and reception performance in wireless networks is narrowly defined, a mobile device’s antenna characteristics are particularly important. Office devices often neglect antenna performance and focus on stylish design because they are made for office use where WLAN is always available. However, professional devices for outdoor use are fully optimised in this respect and achieve a much higher data throughput even under difficult wireless conditions.
Solutions are on the horizon!
In the challenging situations described above, a requirement profile for mobile IT in IT-adverse environments can now be created. However, it is even more important to involve the workers who will use the mobile devices and software in their work. The test phase will then show whether productivity and the user experience can be improved on a permanent basis.
With professional computing solutions, e.g. Panasonic TOUGHBOOK, the construction, maintenance and support sectors will find the right equipment.
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