Field inspectors and auditors are often required to visit some of the most hostile locations on the planet. Their goal is to determine if the equipment and processes are fit for purpose. With complex working environments and complex business problems, having the right tools for the job is essential. Acquiring a way of recording their findings without having to resort to paper and pencil is critical.
Paper and pencil reporting is simply a more time-consuming endeavour. A requirement to manually re-enter data when back at the main office is inefficient. It also has a greater likelihood of having errors that can invalidate the whole inspection.
Another issue is that paper forms are simply harder to keep current and updated with changing government and municipal regulations. Electronic forms on laptops, tablets, and smartphones are a much more productive way forward.
Tablets Versus Smartphone
A common question that is asked is if a smartphone is as useful as a tablet? Answering this question is not simple. It very much depends on the complexity of the inspection being performed.
If there are a limited number of items being inspected, a smartphone might be suitable. It is important to understand and consider the smaller screen size. Limited screen real estate can impact efficiency.
At the other extreme is a laptop device. Here a 15” or larger screen allows easy data entry for all but the most complex inspections. Unfortunately, laptops are not as easy to use in the field and in most cases are not as rugged.
A happy middle ground between these two is the tablet. It offers the best of both options, with a touch screen interface and smart pen support. Tablets can bridge the gap for inspectors.
Rugged Versus Non-Rugged
In general parlance, rugged implies a device capable of dealing with rough handling and on-the-job accidents. Making this choice very much depends on the locations being inspected and the overall environment. This includes the temperature but also the area in general as cold climates by themselves do not warrant a rugged solution.
When choosing a rugged tablet, be aware of the overall cost. Rugged tablets are generally more expensive than their non-rugged counterparts. There are several reasons to consider rugged solutions from an IT management perspective, however:
- Battery life – rugged units are generally designed with longer-lasting batteries as the expectation is that they will be used and utilized in areas with limited power options. This lets inspectors and auditors work longer without having to worry about power issues in the field.
- Standardization – as rugged units have a longer production cycle, accessories like chargers and docks can be standardized across the fleet. With a single device type used, IT support is generally significantly easier and hot standbys can be stored for easy replacement.
- Customization – while they are standard in type, they can actually be customized as a solution so that they better meet your requirements. This includes the addition of separate cameras, scanners, RFID options and more.
- Lower Total Cost of Ownership – while upfront costs for rugged devices are often higher, in the longer term, they are quite cost-effective as they are generally used for 3-5 years. In addition to the actual device cost, TCO must also include lost employee productivity. This could be due to the failure of their non-rugged device.
Android, iOS, or Windows Tablets
The right operating system (OS) is a concern that you need to consider. Choosing the right platform is a question of cost and capabilities.
Consumer-grade devices from Apple, Windows or the Android family are extremely popular based on the apps and add-ons that are available. However, the App Store is not really a consideration when it comes to rugged tablets. They are designed to perform a specific function. This often means that they have custom software that communicates with your own internal network. Based on the software created and the language used, alternative options are available.
Generally speaking, Android tablets are the most cost-effective. However, there are various levels of quality with Android, so care must be taken to ensure the components used are of high quality.
Both commercial and rugged tablets share some similarities, such as the specifications that they are measured on. The critical areas to look at are:
- The speed of the processor,
- The quality of the camera,
- The quality and resolution of the screen,
- Bluetooth capabilities to allow pairing with input devices,
- Touchscreen capabilities
- The amount of memory,
- The overall screen size, and
- The weight
Each of these different factors plays a part in the overall price of the tablet. They also impact performance in the field. For example, an area often ignored is the on-board memory and whether or not this can be expanded.
Inspections are often conducted in remote locations or places with limited data access and connectivity. In many of these locations, internet access is not available. Uploading files and data in real-time is simply not a possibility. If the inspections require a significant amount of video or photographic evidence, it is important to ensure that the device has sufficient memory.
Field Eagle inspection software is used by some of the largest companies in the world. Offering a robust suite of inspection software features that can be incorporated and installed on any Windows, iOS, or Android device. Field Eagle is built to handle the rigours of the Mining, Construction and Heavy Equipment fields. Offering real-time communication capabilities, Field Eagle is the premier inspection software solution for Inspectors and Auditors. Try our 15-day free trial today.