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Why Utility Workers Need Rugged Mobile Devices Ready for Just About Anything

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It’s rare these days to see a utility line worker on the job without some type of mobile handheld device. Utilities across the board—electric, water, oil, gas, and telecommunications—are outfitting field workers with these devices for everything from communicating with headquarters, completing and transmitting work orders, and undertaking safety audits to dispatching and routing.

According to Chartwell, a utilities research company, tablet use among utilities doubled between 2014 and 2015, while the use of rugged laptops grew from 62 to 68 percent. And these numbers have continued to grow over time.

Mobility Needs of Utility Workers

Mobility is critical for utilities today. Utility line workers are outside the majority of their day and often deal with extreme weather and work in standing water, underground, or on ladders. And they are under pressure to complete jobs on time to maintain their companies’ productivity and customer satisfaction goals.

That’s why so many utilities are choosing to outfit their line workers with rugged mobile devices—devices that can withstand extreme temperatures, sand and dirt, drops, direct sunlight, moisture, and even interaction with chemicals. Today, field workers use their rugged mobile devices for nearly every task on the job, whether it’s inspecting the field, navigating to a site, or submitting work orders and reports at the end of the day.

In a typical day, for example, a line worker can use a rugged mobile device to receive work instructions, review utility and infrastructure maps, communicate with headquarters, display information to customers, take and transmit photos, monitor and diagnose problems, complete safety audits and compliance reports, locate the site of the next job, and schedule needed repairs.

While these daily tasks and requirements are critical to all utilities, it’s the hazardous, difficult and extreme weather situations where rugged mobile devices really shine, including:

  • Use on job sites requiring extra safety precautions or hazard protection
  • Exposure to water
  • Exposure to dust, dirt and sand
  • Exposure to extreme temperatures
  • Exposure to extreme humidity
  • Exposure to chemicals or chemical residue
  • Use in direct sunlight
  • Use from high heights or high altitudes
  • Use under strong pressure or vibrations
  • Use in areas with highelectromagnetic interference

Any or all of these issues can make it difficult for field workers to use mobile devices easily, and can cause the devices themselves to malfunction or fail. That’s why it’s so important to consider rugged mobile devices—especially those that have been rigorously tested against the most demanding industry standards. In most cases, the toughest standards come from the U.S. military. MIL-STD 810G, for example, requires stringent testing against many of these challenges. Choosing rugged mobile units that are tested to meet the MIL-STD 810G and have an independent third party validate the testing helps ensure consistency and productivity on the job.  

How to Choose the Right Rugged Devices for Utility Workers

Not all devices are appropriate for all field situations. Make sure to choose rugged devices that meet or exceed your requirements in the most vulnerable areas for your field workers. For example, if your workers routinely must work in direct sunlight, choose devices with very bright, high-definition displays. If workers routinely come in contact with moisture, make sure units are watertight. For exposure to dust, dirt or sand, choose units with sealed ports, connectors, hinges, keyboards and LCD panels. If workers must work on high ladders or rooftops, choose units with magnesium alloy cases, rounded and reinforced corners, internal components designed to withstand impact and absorb shock, raised bezels and shock mounts.

Of course, all rugged mobile devices should have the basics: the ability to be used with gloved hands, powerful processors, long battery life with hot-swappable batteries, offer highly secure enterprise-grade security, and a full range of connectivity options.

Today’s utility workers have more choices than ever before when it comes to using the right rugged mobile devices for the job. That’s why it pays to do the research and choose the most durable, rigorously tested devices available—devices that won’t stop workers from getting the job done.

Learn more about Panasonic’s rugged solutions for utilities here.