Rugged Mobile Devices 101: Environmental Sealant and Military Drop Protection

Today we’re excited to kick off our newest blog series, which explores the emerging market of rugged smartphone devices. This post will explain what we mean by “rugged”, including an explanation of the effect of ingress protection and military drop protection ratings. Next week we’ll build on this foundational post by looking at how individual usage scenarios across industries require different levels of device ruggedness.

Rugged What?

So what do we mean by a “rugged” device? There is an entire spectrum of standards, most notably ingress protection (IP) and military drop protection, which specify the level to which a device is rugged. For the purposes of our conversation, we’ll use the following definitions of ruggedness as defined by the trusted VDC mobile hardware TCO study from 2007:

– Fully-Rugged: Designed to meet at least MIL-STD 810-G and IP54 standards

– Semi-Rugged: Designed to meet IP54 standards (but not MIL-STD 810-G)

– Durable: Mobile hardware without military drop or environmental sealant ratings but with features such as shock-mounted hard drives; accelerometers; spill-proof keyboards; etc.

– Non-Rugged/Consumer Grade: Mobile computers with no enhanced durability or ruggedness designed into device

So what do these IP and military drop protection ratings really mean? Let us break it down for you.

Ingress Protection Ratings (IP Ratings)

IP ratings are developed by the IEC, and measure how well a piece of electronic hardware is protected from environmental elements such as dirt, dust and water. They evaluate protection against solids and liquids on a scale from 1 to 6 or 1 to 8 respectively, with the first number representing protection from solids and the second number representing protection from liquids. For example, the highest IP rating of 68 would mean that an electronic device was completely dust and waterproof (see Figure 1). IP ratings are particularly important and are used internationally. Figure 1 provides a more detailed breakdown of the system, including definitions of the different protection levels:

Figure 1 – Ingress Protection Explanation

Military Drop Protection

The other popular rating system that relates to device ruggedness is military drop protection, a system developed by the US Department of Defense which evaluates a devices ability to resist shocks, shaking and repetitive drops. The most common military drop protection rating MIL-STD-810G (an updated version of MIL-STD-810F), which measures how well an object or device holds up to conditions while being used, transported and stored. These ratings involve dozens of tests (see Figure 2), measuring variables such as temperature, impact, vibration, humidity, and more. Here’s a list of most of the tests involved:

FIgure 2 – Military Drop Protection Tests

As a US Military DoD standard, manufacturers have traditionally produced products for the US army that met these standards. Over the years the ecosystem has changed and are now these standards are also used to measure the durability of rugged mobile devices within the enterprise.

The Next Step: Usage Scenarios and Total Cost of Ownership

With an understanding of ingress protection and military drop protection ratings under our belt, we’re ready to move deeper into the conversation to explore how these durability standards relate to different requirements of usage scenarios across industries. Our next post will discuss these varied requirements, and how device ruggedness can affect total cost of ownership. Stay tuned!