Tag: rugged handheld

Partners in safety inspection and compliance

Over the years since the Modern Safety blog began posting, we’ve occasionally highlighted a few of Field ID’s hardware or manufacturer partners. We’ve always valued our partnerships with industry-leaders who can help us achieve our vision – to make safety and compliance as simple as possible for our users.

As we’ve blogged about topics relating to that vision, we’ve also followed the blogging efforts of our partners. We know the work that goes into blogging. And today, we’d just like to highlight a few partner blogs. These are just a few of the places you can go for insights into mobile devices, RFID and the industrial applications of great technology.

Holland 1916: Holland 1916 recently posted “RFID Improves Safety Inspection Processes for Lifting Industry.” The insights shared in this and past blog posts are a great for anyone interested in learning about RFID adoption, implementation and benefits. They have also published guest posts like this one for Field ID in the past. (http://blog.holland1916.com/)

Motorola Solutions: As many of our users know, Field ID celebrated Motorola Solutions validation in December, and rugged devices from Motorola have been a great way for many Field ID users to improve efficiencies and save time in the field. Motorola Solutions has a number of active blogs, and you can find some great information about safety and enterprise mobility here. (http://communities.motorola.com/blogs/)

Columbus McKinnon: We’ve been following CMCOlive.com for a while, and lately the blogging team at Columbus McKinnon has been posting some great visuals and asking “What’s wrong with this picture?” CMCOlive.com is a great place to go for regular posts on hoist inspections, overhead cranes, and a long list of topics related to material handling and equipment. (http://cmcolive.com/)

Psion: Psion is another device manufacturer with a team of contributing bloggers who have been active for several years. The community blog at Psion’s IngenuityWorking site focuses on modularity, customization and open innovation in rugged handhelds, and it’s a great place to keep up-to-date on what’s happening at Psion. (http://community.psion.com/blog/)

For more information on Field ID’s partners and our approach to partnership, check out our Partner page at FieldID.com.

 

iPad falls from space – so should it make the rugged handheld list?

Anyone who reads Modern Safety knows that the team at Field ID loves technology – everything from software to mobile devices and the web (all of the things that come together to make our industry-leading safety software). We love cool gadgets. And if you read some of my past posts about rugged handhelds, it wouldn’t take long to figure out that we love devices and “tech-ccessories” that help our devices survive harsher environments or circumstances than the average mobile.

So when a couple videos surfaced of an iPad case that can keep the device safe after a fall from space, we had to check it out. The case in question is The G-Form Extreme Sleeve 2. The G-Form case is made up of some proprietary materials that stiffen upon an impact and absorb about 90% of any potential damaging energy, thus saving your iPad from cracked screens or device death. The G-Form is also flexible, lightweight and water resistant.

About one week ago, the people at G-Form released a video titled “iPad Survives 100,000+ Foot Fall From Space Near Area 51.” Basically, they wrapped an iPad with their product, tied it to a balloon, and tracked the fall from the edge of space.

Now, I am a bit skeptical. We’ve seen a lot of videos about Apple products taking damage, including G-Form’s recent appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show, where they dropped bowling balls on an iPad wearing a G-Form Extreme Sleeve. But something about a device surviving a freefall from space just feels a little unbelievable – especially when you look at the damage that resulted when MSNBC Gadgetbox performed a drop test from the top of a three storey building (Warning: The link to that video leads to graphic images that may disturb some Apple fans). Gadgetbox noted that their jury is still out on whether the G-Form video is real or not, but they also said, “There’s clearly some weighted apparatus in place to ensure that the tablet lands cushion down and reasonably flat.”

Our Chief Technology Officer is one of the smartest guys I know, so I asked him what he thought about the fall from space. Here’s what he had to say: “I’m a little dubious as to the physics of it. I’d expect the terminal velocity of an object of that size to be pretty high, and I’d be pretty surprised if their case could dampen that enough to make it survivable. Also, the camera survived when it hit the ground. Was the camera in a similar case? Finally, the ride down was pretty stable. I would expect an unbalanced setup like that to tumble as it fell. What I think they did there is actually attached a drogue chute to the camera rig both to stabilize the descent for filming and make it a survivable impact.”

And there you have it.

The G-Form case looks like it could take the rigours of a shop, construction site or any other environment that demands rugged protection for a fragile device, but we’re not so sure about the fall from space in this case. And we wouldn’t consider the iPad to be a rugged handheld, but with the right case it might do the job – depending on your needs.

 

LiftEx 2011 – RFID for LOLER Record Keeping

This blog post is coming a little bit late but as the saying goes, better late than never! If you caught my first blog post a few weeks ago, then you know I recently represented Field ID at the second annual LiftEx conference in Leeds, England. LiftEx is a conference for the lifting and rigging industry that is held by LEEA. As you can see from the picture, our booth was not nearly as elaborate as other trade shows. That being said, even with the smaller booth we had plenty of traffic.

To get there, I took a plane from Toronto to London and then took a train to Leeds. I arrived in Leeds in the early evening and realized I needed a few supplies. Although I had a travel power adapter, it wasn’t working with my three prong plug for my MacBook. I also needed to print some literature for the show the next day. I made it to a Staples where they were able to help me with both, and I was set for LiftEx 2011.

RFID a Theme at LiftEx 2011

There were roughly six companies at LiftEx 2011 that were, in some way or another, supporting the use of mobile devices, RFID and the web to keep track of lifting equipment inspections and LOLER certifications. It’s clear that modern safety is becoming a global phenomenon, and it’s always exciting for us to have the opportunity to show Field ID off to organizations coming from different places, in this case from across Europe. We’re firm believers in RFID’s power when it comes to improving safety and efficiency, so we were glad to see so many organizations embracing it.

Field ID Presents

I also had the opportunity to give a presentation on applying modern safety techniques to the tracking and inspection of lifting equipment. The room was jam-packed of full people, and I believe the presentation received great response. I focused on using technology – including the web, RFID and several different handheld devices – for lifting equipment records. There were many questions about which mobile devices you can use when combining inspections with the web and RFID, and we covered a few different types and brands. I would say there was an equal amount of interest in new devices like the iPhone as in trusted rugged devices. I hope everyone enjoyed the presentation.

After many AWRF meetings and exhibits, it was a lot of fun to spend time with the LEEA group. LiftEx is still a young event, and we were very impressed at the amazing job LEEA did on organizing it. We look forward to participating with the association in the future.

Finally, with interest so high among the people we met at LiftEx, we’ve decided to host a webinar for anyone interested in learning more about using RFID for LOLER record keeping. It’s scheduled for December 14th and titled, “LEEA: Digitize your LOLER Inspections using RFID, Mobile Devices and the Web.” If you’re interested, visit www.fieldid.com/webinars to register.

Inspection devices: Samsung’s big, but do they work well in the field?

A powerful mobile device can make a big difference to a safety manager or worksite inspection who ties it to an inspection software system. As part of our day-to-day calls with users, we get a lot of questions about mobile inspection devices, and sometimes we even make recommendations on rugged handhelds based on customer needs.

With that in mind, we’re always on the lookout for cool new devices and news about the mobile industry in general. And we couldn’t help noticing that Samsung, in the third quarter of 2011, officially became the biggest smartphone (superphone) vendor in the world, with the Android operating system surpassing 50 per cent market share, according to Gartner Inc.’s market research.

They may be the biggest, but do they fare well in rugged environments? Here are a few thoughts on Samsung devices from the field inspection perspective.

– Many of our customers initially think Samsung device are “cheap,” since they’re often made with plastic and materials designed to make up a lightweight device. After using the device in the field, however, people find they can actually take quite a beating without showing signs of damage.

– Samsung has the best screens in the industry. The screens are quite large allowing more content to be displayed at once, and the resolution is quite high allowing for HD images and videos. We don’t want to disappoint any Apple fans who think the iPhone’s retinal display beats any other screen, but to our naked eye, a good Samsung display looks better, with richer colour and greater depth of blacks. Very sharp.

– Samsung phones, no matter what price point, tend to be the fastest on the market right now. Actual benchmarks have it outpacing the iPhone 4S in all categories, except graphic load times.

So what are our top picks from Samsung, as of today? Here are our Top 3:

  1. Samsung Galaxy Nexus (coming to Canada on Dec. 8)
  2. Samsung Galaxy S2 – any of its variations
  3. Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

As mentioned, the devices above can likely take a bigger beating than you’d think, based on the feel of each device. Still, we always recommend that you research and buy a good protective case for your mobile devices, especially when taking them into the field for inspections.

Motorola ES400 Review

At Field ID, we have long anticipated the Motorola ES400.  Motorola has dubbed this device as the first EDA (Enterprise Digital Assistant).  We originally unboxed the Motorola ES400 back in November, but now that we have had some time to test it in the field I decided it was time for a more thorough review.  We would consider this a “semi-rugged” device with an IP 42 rating which means it’s going to be tougher than your Blackberry and much more suited to harsh environments than your iPhone.  Motorola has really done a great job on this device and packed in a large number of features at a great price point.

Hardware

ES400 Keyboard

The entire device measures in at 5.08 in. L x 2.38 in. W x 0.85 in. D. with the extended battery and slightly thinner with the regular battery.  For an enterprise, rugged field service device this is actually quite thin.  This device has a physical keyboard that can come in different flavors such as QWERTY, AZERTY, QWERTZ.  Along side the physical keyboard is a touch screen with haptic touch (it vibrates).  This touch screen allows for data entry with either your finger or a stylus which gives users many options.  Neat features include a biometric (finger swipe) to allow you to sign in with your fingerprint, speaker phone and a regular headphone jack.

Under the Hood

After quite a bit of testing, I can honestly say that the Motorola ES400 is the fastest device we have ever tested Field ID on.  Here are some specs

– 600 MHz ARM 11 processor

– 256MB RAM/1 GB Flash memory

– microSD slot  with support up to 32GB

– dual 3.5G broadband WAN connects to both GSM and CDMA networks

– 3.2 MP color camera that can capture photos, videos and barcodes

This device is definitely proof that you can’t measure performance by processor speed alone.  I am not sure what Motorola has done to make this device perform better than almost any other Windows Mobile device I have played with, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the ARM 11 processor.

Evotech Harness ES400 Camera

Phone

One of the goals of this device was to provide users with one device for all their mobile needs.  This means field force work as well as being your everyday phone.  The ES400 comes with some Motorola enhanced phone software that is an improvement over the out of the box Windows Mobile interface that helps the phone perform better on this device than other Windows Mobile devices.  The call quality was “good enough” when I tried out my Rogers sim card in it, but didn’t blow me away like the performance of the phone did.  The fact that this device can connect to almost any network is a big plus.  I do have to admit that I didn’t try the speakerphone, but there is one packed into this device as well.

Software

In a world of Android, iPhone and Blackberry Windows Mobile is definitely starting to look a bit out of date.  The good news is that with the latest iteration (Windows Mobile 6.5.3) the operating system is a little “cooler” than its predecessors.  You can use your finger for almost every action on the device.  Motorola has also customized the user interface a little bit to help make the out of the box Windows a little bit better as well.  The bottom line is that although it doesn’t quite compare to the latest slick-looking phones that run iOS or Android, it still looks pretty good for a Windows Mobile device.  We have an improved home screen with weather information from your city and you also have the ability to create different home screen panels.  On top of that, there is a quick launch option for applications that you use frequently.  The operating system is snappy enough to get around quickly and overall this is an improvement from Windows Mobile 6.1 for sure.

Conclusion

I can honestly say that Motorola has released a near perfect device for the targeted audience.  That is the key thing to remember when evaluating this device, who it is targeted at and is it good for them.  The truth is that many people who are in field service work, or perform a lot of data entry while on the road need a device like this.  Due to corporate policy, the need for barcode scanners, and a slew of software written specifically for Windows Mobile; this platform will still be supported and available for a while longer.  Motorola has seen the “iPhone envy”  so they have and spruced up Windows Mobile to make it a bit cooler, given it many of the hardware features found in newer smartphones and packed it into a small enough form factor that makes it suitable to be used as your every day phone.  It is also semi-rugged and comes in at a price point that works for small and large organizations alike.  It looks like the ES400 may actually be suitable named a true Enterprise Digital Assistant.

Let it Snow: Safety Compliance and the Weather

Good morning friends! I suppose I should mention that today, I am in quite the crabby mood. It’s really nothing personal, but the weather up in Toronto, Ontario has gotten severely unbearable. It’s about 12 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I think it might be just me, but I like to spend cold days curled up by a fireplace with a cup of warm cocoa and pretend like it’s just not happening. A cup of hot cocoa sure would be great right about now.  Never mind the fact that the amount of sugar in cocoa can probably drive me to super-productivity for about 15 minutes before collapsing on the floor. But my health and food choices are definitely not the topic of today’s blog (even though someday they may be).

Folks, the weather outside is terrible. But on the other hand, compared to London, Ontario, we actually don’t have it so bad. For those of you who don’t know, London was hit by a massive 100 cm of snow earlier this week. It was enough to practically shut down the whole city. There were over 300 accidents reported and people have been literally confined to their homes due to inability to travel. Although I wish every night that it would snow in Toronto, I have to admit 100cm is a little excessive.

How does this relate back to safety? Well, if you have ever experienced a snow storm like this, or tried to get your daily errands done in terrible weather, you actually might have something in common with safety inspectors. This type of weather really lets you get a feel for the different kinds of harsh environments they have to go through to perform their everyday duties. If you think about how hard it is to get around during bad weather, can you imagine how hard it is to be a safety inspector?

Safety inspections have to take place periodically and it has to be done rain or shine, literally. From high communication towers to mines to sewage systems, inspectors have to climb up and down these harsh environments to make sure that everything is functioning properly and that it is safe to use. And they don’t just get into the car, walk 5 meters to the grocery store, and then go home. They actually have to walk around in these conditions to conduct their inspections. Having to deal with bad weather once in a blue moon, is just another way that you can experience the hardships of being an inspector. But they do this everyday and most of them are still using pen and paper.

Imagine yourself in this snowstorm, and having to pull out a pen and paper to record information: Not only will your hands be freezing, but you also have to protect the paper from getting wet, and ruining all your information. If you drop your clipboard in a puddle of water, that’s it. You have to start all over. For those of you who aren’t in the safety compliance industry, this imaginary situation is exactly what it is like to rely on paper-based inspections in such a terrible environment. With inspection software and rugged devices, you don’t have to worry about dropping your device and you don’t have to worry about frostbites, you do your inspections with a stylus, “click, click ,click” and you’re done. No pen necessary and you get to keep your gloves on.

We should be extremely thankful that even in the worst of times, our inspectors are able to perform their daily duties and put their best foot forward. Next time you’re trying to walk around in a rain storm or in extremely cold weather, remember that these are the working conditions of the people who ensure our safety.

Android Catching iOS and Blackberry – Fast

Last week, all of the technology blogs I read were writing about how fast the Google Android operating system was gaining market share on RIM’s Blackberry and Apple’s iOS.  This information was posted by comScore and focuses on smartphone usage from July 2nd to October of this year.  The quarter before this Android had 4% growth, and this report had Android with 6.5% growth.  That is really fast.

Field ID Mobile is currently available for Windows Mobile 5 and 6 and is big part of our total solution.  While the iPhone and the brand new Google phone get all the headlines, there are thousands upon thousands of Windows Mobile devices scanning barcodes and RFID tags, getting dropped to the ground and stepped on, and running offline where no Internet signal makes it.  The truth is, the cool devices that you use in your personal life, are not suited all that well for field service work.  That being said, things are slowly starting to change.

I am a Phone Geek

I admit it, I am a big time phone geek.  There are at least 4 other people at Field ID that are really into phones, and probably more.  There isn’t a single day that goes by where the words Blackberry, iPhone or Android isn’t mentioned.  As you can imagine, this sparks some friendly debate about the merits of all these different platforms. Our ultimate goal at Field ID is to make our product available on as many different devices as possible.  But what platform, if any, will give Windows Mobile a run for its money in these rugged, field service-oriented devices?

Android is Well Positioned

Android is clearly making huge gains in the true smartphone market, but Android is also starting to make some appearances in traditional Windows Mobile places as well.  Both Bluebird Pidion and Trimble advertise Android working on their devices.  I have also read about Android in some partner forums I get involved in.  In the places where Field ID is used, Android seems like a possible competitor to Windows Mobile.  It’s open source, so it should be easier and faster to write drivers for barcode scanners and RFID scanners.  It doesn’t look like Research in Motion or Apple will be licensing their operating systems any time soon.  This really only brings one true competitor to the space – Android.  We will keep a watchful eye on all these different platforms as they continue to evolve.

Your Best Reason to Why Inspection Software is Not For You

There are some moments in life, where you just look at someone else, and you can’t for the love of you, figure out WHY they would do what they are doing. I look down the street, to see one of my friends using a green-screen phone and I think to myself “Why are you STILL using a green screen phone when you can get a smartphone for almost no money these days?” It just doesn’t make sense. Then I spend hours personally being frazzled up over the issue. Sometimes, I would spend hours trying to convince them that it is the dumbest idea. True Story.

In a similar situation, I couldn’t for the love of me, understand why people still use paper to do safety inspections. It boggled my mind, until I finally discovered the most common and ultimate reason for why people refuse to switch to a paperless solution for safety inspections: “What we use right now, works for us.

Now we’re not here to say that paper doesn’t work. The green screen phone maybe missing some key functionalities but of course it still functions as a phone. It still dials in and out, it can show you who’s calling, and you can probably receive text messages too. But what are you missing out on? Maybe you’re missing out on wireless headsets, and with the new driving laws, you can’t phone anyone when you’re driving. Maybe you’re missing out on a QWERTY keyboard for text messaging that could save you time. Maybe its as simple as you’re missing out on a phone that could also function as a camera or a multimedia player. You never cared that you carried an MP3 player, a camera, and a phone all separately, but maybe it’s because you don’t realize that one smartphone can be all three devices.

Paper works, of course. I mean, safety compliance was still an issue 30 years ago, and they used paper. So it should function just fine. Paper (like a green screen phone) can also provide the basic functionalities: It can record the inspection and be filed in big filing cabinets for traceability. If you need to find a report, you would be able to, but it would take time. But also like a green screen phone, you have to ask: what are you missing out on?

Where a smart phone can save you time in providing you a QWERTY keyboard, safety inspection software can save you time by providing you with instant traceability. Any records can be instantly accessible through software, rather than spending hours in filing cabinets. Maybe you’re missing out on the mobility of safety inspection software and rugged devices; You can’t guarantee the safe return of a paper-based inspection checklist in a harsh environment. But you can have such a guarantee using a rugged device to perform inspections.

And finally, maybe it’s just as simple as missing out on some extra features of an inspection software that paper reports just don’t provide as an option. What if you actually needed to take a picture of a deficiency? You don’t want to have to carry a camera, take a picture, develop the film, then attach it to your paper-based report. Since the process is so long and difficult, maybe you don’t take any pictures. But since safety inspection mobile software can allow you to take pictures with your inspections, now pictures are a perfect new feature to add to your records.

So yes, paper may work for you. Maybe you don’t want to disrupt your current workflow. But have you ever wondered what the advantages of safety inspection software could provide? What exactly are you missing out on?

A Rugged Notepad for Safety Inspections

Mesa, Juniper Rugged Notepad

Today I got an email from Juniper Systems, letting me know that they now have a “Rugged Notepad” available called the Mesa.  I must say Juniper really appears to have come up with device that would work very well with Field ID.  We have had customers asking for a device like this for quite some time now.

The reason I like the look of this device so much is because it is a tablet-style computer with a camera, an 800 mhz processor and most importantly, runs a Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system – which means Field ID will run offline.  Although it seems that everyone has a phone connected the Internet, there continues to be many areas where there is no signal, so having a work-offline mode remains an important feature.

You can easily connect a Bluetooth RFID reader to scan RFID tags in a fall arrest harness or hanging off of a fire extinguisher for inspection.  There are so many software applications out there running Windows Mobile 6.5, and since Windows Phone 7 was announced, we have all been wondering what will happen with Windows Mobile;  as long as devices like the Mesa keep coming out, I will be happy.

This is a truly rugged device with an IP67 rating meaning it is completely sealed for dust and protected for punctures as well as completely immersible in water up to 1 meter.  The innovative dual-battery setup should also keep your field team working for an entire shift.  Finally, an optional 3G cellular connection means you are always connected to the web for the most up-to-date safety management data.  We will try to get our hands on one to test Field ID with.

3 Reasons to use a Rugged Case on your Non-Rugged Handheld Device for your Field Inspections

I recently posted an article about how the iPad is going to change the way we do inspections and manage safety.   I received a couple comments:

“There is no way we can use the iPad, it’s not rugged enough for field work!”

“We need an indestructible case for the iPad to be effective!”

These comments are absolutely right.  There are many devices out there that are great to use and ideal for inspections, but just aren’t rugged enough to withstand the environment.  Our customers conduct field and safety inspections in mines, oil fields, offshore oil rigs, etc.  So if you don’t have a rugged device, what can you do?

Rugged Cases for your Handheld Device

So you have an iPad and you want to use it to conduct your inspections.  What do you do?  Rugged cases have been around for a while.  A company that sticks out is Otterbox.  They’ve made rugged cases for just about every commercial smart phone out there.  They about to release an iPad case and I think it  looks great.

OtterBox iPad Rugged Case

3 Reasons why we need to use Rugged Cases

So why do we even need rugged cases for our handhelds?  Why not just buy a rugged device to begin with.  With our experience with Field ID, there are basically 3 reasons.

1. You already have Handheld devices

Many organizations have deployed 100s of handhelds to their workforce.  People already have a handheld device such as a Blackberry.  For these types of organizations, it really doesn’t make sense to go out and buy a whole new set of handhelds.

2. Cost

Realistically speaking, the cost of a rugged device is usually much greater than, for example, an iPad and a rugged case.  Everyone is cost conscious, and using a rugged case is a  much more cost-effective solution.

3. You like your iPad!

Let’s face it, some people just like using consumer handheld devices.  People love using their iPhones, iPads and Blackberry devices and are used to using them.  People are comfortable typing on them, doing work on them and to have to use another device just doesn’t sit well.  For these people, using a rugged case is the only solution.

Bringing it back to Safety…

Our goal is to get people to modernize their inspection and safety compliance management process.  Using rugged cases is just another great way to enable people to conduct electronic field and safety inspections!