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Ruggedized Systems in Commercial and Military Markets

January, 2004

The need for rack-mountable, portable, and man-packable ruggedized computers continues to grow. In recent years, $1.7 billion was generated from total ruggedized computer systems for the commercial and military markets combined. In fact, according to market research conducted by Frost & Sullivan, the total ruggedized computer market is forecast to experience a 9.7 percent compound annual growth rate through 2005.

Each type of ruggedized system serves a distinct and irreplaceable purpose in both the military and commercial markets. First, are rack-mounted ruggedized systems. Traditionally, the military dominated the total rack-mounted market. Rack-mounted systems were required to meet military specifications (MIL-SPEC) for many years, which enabled systems to perform in the most adverse conditions common to military operations. Within this market, rack-mounted systems served functions in ground, sea, and air transport applications, satellite tracking, and Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I).

Until recently, applications of rack-mounted computers in the commercial market have been limited to industrial settings, such as auto manufacturing plants or factory shop floors. Uses on factory floors include operator interfaces, data acquisition and monitoring, and programming of controllers. Many of these applications are in harsh environments and risk exposure to liquid splash, high levels of EMI/RFI exposure, high vibration and shock levels, high levels of airborne particulates, temperature extremes, and high humidity.

Because of increased system integration as well as recent technological advancements, rack-mounted computers have expanded to telecommunications and medical environments as well. Telephony is expected to utilize rack-mounted systems for multimedia, the telecommunications industry, and the voice-processing market. Emerging areas for telephony expansion include remote video conferencing through the Internet. Ruggedized systems in the medical industry give emergency medical workers access to charts, records, and emergency procedure instructions as well as meet the obvious necessity of having a highly dependable mobile unit in crisis situations.

Second, are portable ruggedized systems. In the new digitized battlefield envisioned by the military, it is of great importance to be connected and well informed in order to perform at an optimal level. The need for real-time data is imperative. Portable ruggedized systems allow for status updates and immediate access to information. And because of the mission-critical situations in which these computers are often used, computer manufacturers are striving to make them lighter and more compact.

There has recently been a greater realization and acceptance of benefits contributed by a ruggedized portable computer in a commercial setting, such as in maintenance and diagnostic testing within the transportation industry and for business personnel who frequently travel. More forestry, geology, and field workers have also made ruggedized portable computers an indispensable part of their resources. The ability for on-site data processing is invaluable, saving time while the gathered information is processed at the point of collection. In addition, a network of ruggedized portable computers can help personnel who respond to disasters or emergency situations coordinate their relief efforts, enabling them to access updated, relevant data concerning weather, maps, or building plans to aid communications.

Third, are man-packable ruggedized computers. Wearable computers have been successfully used in the military. In a recent Army demonstration, tank repairs performed with the assistance of wearable computers were completed at a much quicker pace and with greater accuracy than by the previous method of using physical manuals. The Marines are also using ruggedized wearable computer systems to conduct vehicle inspections. In the future, wearable computers may become customary on an Army soldier''s uniform. Soldiers on the battlefield would have instant access to all the information necessary to wage a successful campaign.

Commercial markets, such as manufacturing, use wearable ruggedized computers to keep their technicians trained and current on rapidly evolving technology. These systems deliver real-time, hands-free instruction at the work site, allowing the technician to receive immediate answers to questions, guidance, and step-by-step instructions. Employees on a plant floor commonly use these ruggedized computers to receive instructions, share diagrams or drawings, and keep track of inventories, all while keeping their hands free and eliminating hardcopies.

Wearable ruggedized PCs are also being used in the police force, with the obvious advantages of having access to information and resources for the officers, and having hands freed for other purposes. In addition, fewer officers are needed because no one has to wait by the car while database queries are processed.

Hand-held and pen-tablet ruggedized computers are being used in trucks for workers in the food and package delivery industries, for data gathering for retail businesses and grocery store inventory, and for quality control and operations management.

Future iterations of ruggedized computers are planned for use in the military, industrial, medical, communications, and consumer markets. These technology advancements will no doubt help continue their popularity.

Information excerpted from Frost & Sullivan’s "U.S. Commercial and Military Ruggedized Computer Markets."

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