Feb 27, 2015 / Written by Woody Myers

The exploding popularity of tablet computers means they will likely find a niche in warehouse operations. While these devices may outwardly look similar to traditional forklift-mounted terminals, they should not be thought of as potential drop-in replacements.  There are several major differences between the product categories.

Ruggedness: One of the most-used measures of ruggedness is MIL-STD, a series of military standards that indicate the compliant device has successfully resisted shock and vibration in testing. MIL-STD 810G is a standard for composite wheeled vehicles. Several manufacturers of forklift-mounted and other industrial computers, test their products to this standard. Most tablet computers are not evaluated to this standard.

Protection From Dust & Water: Ingres Protection ratings, or IP ratings, are a scale of numbers which indicate how sealed the devices internal electrical components are in relation to particulates (Dust) and Liquids (Water). IPXX is the standard way of expressing this. The first X or number indicates Particulates and Liquid the second X or number.

The first number should be a minimum of 5, which is considered Dust Protected.  The highest level is 6: Dust Tight. The second number should be a minimum of 4, which is the equivalent of splashing water on all sides.  5 is similar to running tap water on all sides.  Items rated 6 can handle water on all sides from a power sprayer. Your forklift-mounted terminal does not need to function underwater so the second numbers of 7, 8, or 9 do not apply.

Keep in mind that heavy condensation from temperature changes and humidity changes will have an effect on the inner components of a device over the time it will be in used.

Mounting: If tablets are intended to be frequently taken off the forklift and used for operations on the floor, make sure the tablet can be removed and replaced conveniently and without risking damage to the connectors over the long-term.

Screen Blanking: Many OSHA or Union environments require screen blanking when the forklift is in motion for work place safety. That means when the Go Pedal is depressed, the screen on the terminal needs to be off or blank but must come back on when the forklift stops. This is not an option on commercial grade tablets but is a standard on many rugged enterprise forklift terminals.

Bar Code Scanners: To preserve well-established and productive work processes, tablets will need to support bar code scanners and possible other input devices (printers keyboards, voice, RFID) that are currently in use now or may be used in the future. Supporting various input devices means having adequate interface ports and being able to recognize and process the incoming data stream. Do not limit your device to just what is needed today but may be required tomorrow.

Power: Powering a computer on an electric forklift requires installing a DC converter box between the device and the battery. The converter box requires one cable from the forklift battery, and one to the Computer. It will need to be located somewhere safe and should provide power regulation and conditioning to protect the mounted device from electrical noise and power spikes. Do not forget to add this into the cost of a commercial grade tablet.

Diesel-powered forklifts do not require battery recharging (the battery is powered by the alternator), but pose other power-management challenges. The computer continues to draw a small charge from the forklift battery even when the computer and vehicle are turned off. Over a weekend, this draw can be enough to drain the battery to the point that the vehicle cannot start when work resumes on Monday morning.  Even if the tablet is turned off it will still draw power to charge.

Wireless Access: The forklift must travel quickly throughout the warehouse, which means roaming from wireless access point to access point reliably. If the signal is lost or compromised, the data collected or session maybe lost. The enterprise rugged device has a radio that is designed for this type of environment with specialized abilities offering the best internal antenna and hookups for external antenna.

The power requirement of the radio must also be taken into account. Enterprise forklift mounted computers are certified by the various wireless infrastructure providers.

Add-Ons & Accessories: To use a tablet on a forklift, it may be necessary to purchase accessories typically included in the price of a purpose-built forklift computer such as vehicle mount, DC-DC power converter and cables, battery chargers and extra or replacement batteries, specialized dock with required interface ports (serial, USB, power), and more.

Money: The final consideration (although it is often considered the most important) has nothing to do with the device itself. Administration of devices takes time and, of course, time is money. The ease of getting a broken unit repaired, updating existing drivers and software, availability and ability to access technical support are very important parts of uptime of a device. Examples of 3 day turnaround time, the ability to repair a unit without shipping to a repair facility, or technical assistance within an hour create huge time savings that can be measured in dollars.

If you are considering using tablet computers on forklifts, it is important to know these differences and how they may impact operations. Careful evaluation will highlight compromises in integration and everyday use.  For more questions about data collection devices on forklifts, contact a product specialist at 1-800-446-1991.