Tough Enough? How Panasonic Tests Its TOUGHBOOK Devices

When we send our quality assurance engineers into the field to research how TOUGHBOOK devices stand up to our customers’ demanding work environments, we don’t just visit an office and take notes. Instead, we want to see the device in action—it’s a philosophy that underpins our entire QA process.

This job requirement makes our days more than a little exciting. I’ve ridden in ambulances to study how emergency personnel use TOUGHBOOK rugged devices and our team has bumped down dirt roads in utility trucks. No matter the location, we always have the same goal: Understanding exactly how our customers use TOUGHBOOK devices so that we can make them even more durable and reliable

We combine real-life research with rigorous laboratory tests that go far beyond industry standards. And the result has certainly been worth it: A suite of devices and accessories designed to function in the world’s most extreme working environments.

When it comes to the QA process, it’s not business as usual 

For our TOUGHBOOK customers, work is rarely just another day at the office. Military personnel rely on our devices when working in mission-critical situations, as do logistics companies when delivering goods across the globe, first responders when deployed to emergencies, and many more.

Because of scenarios like these and so many others, it’s important for the TOUGHBOOK to live up to its name. The environments can vary from the hottest desert to usage on a Navy ship—our devices need to operate in any situation, anywhere.

To achieve that, our team of seasoned engineers mandates that TOUGHBOOK survive—and remain operational—through all manner of tests. Many of these tests we’ve developed after learning how and where customers use our devices and other of our tests are modeled after strict military specifications.

Some of our tests occur in a laboratory, with our QA professionals intentionally creating unduly harsh environments and circumstances.  For example, our engineers drop devices from outstanding heights, douse them with blasts of water, dirt, and sand, and subject them to high altitudes. Our intensive testing process also includes temperature-shocking devices by rapidly moving them from extreme high temperatures to extreme low temperatures. In all cases, we want the devices to remain operational and continue to work as if it was just resting on a desk in a perfectly comfortable office.

Beyond the lab 

While the lab testing can undoubtedly prove the device durability, we believe it’s essential to go beyond t laboratory and machine testing. For instance, when it comes to docking a device in a vehicle, we’ve seen through our field research that a customer may not always be able to dock devices as intended due to a vehicle’s tight setup. The docks are not always mounted in a manner to allow the customer to dock/undock ergonomically. They may be coming in sideways as they handle an emergency or docking while the car or truck is in motion. Understanding this means we need to test for that and multiple other potential real-life circumstances. We’ll do thousands of cycles to make sure we get it right. 

After that, the real fun starts. That’s when our engineers head into the field. It’s always insightful. For example, I previously mentioned I had ridden in an ambulance with emergency service professionals to get a complete sense of the demands of their job. I quickly realized that space was tight, and the paramedics were holding the TOUGHBOOK for a lot of their shifts.

With the stress of the situation, it becomes cumbersome to have the laptop in your hands all the time. We used this observation to spur the development of vertical brackets, which allow the paramedics to dock their laptops on the wall inside the vehicle. This helped staff to focus on the important tasks while ensuring the safety of everyone.

The best part: we changed it for one customer, but it was an improvement that ended up helping many more. 

The end goal—constant innovation  

Panasonic’s QA process is ever-changing—our team gathers new information, learns more about customers, and adapts tests to reflect what they know. We’re constantly looking for new certification standards and ways to enhance testing and be more reflective of real-world usage.
For instance, our QA team performs an explosive atmosphere test to confirm the fully rugged TOUGHBOOK products don’t spark in a highly explosive environment, such as in chemical plants, mining, or natural gas operations.

Also, I think it’s important that our customers know that our testing isn’t limited to only Panasonic devices. Our QA team also tests the accessories that customers use, from wireless devices to carrying cases to vehicle docks, to meet the same strict criteria. Our TOUGHBOOK-certified programs ensure that our products are compatible with our vendors’ and helps protect the customer’s investment.
At the end of the day, the tests for Panasonic devices and vendors’ yield something more than information; they lead to innovation. That’s why our TOUGHBOOK products include features such as hot-swappable batteries that allow the device to keep running without powering down. There are shock-absorbing connections that protect the device’s internal components from drops, and touchscreens that work with gloves in the pouring rain.

Our goal is to not just test but deliver real solutions that make our customers’ lives easier. 

The biggest reward 

For Panasonic’s TOUGHBOOK customers, work is far more than a job. The same goes for me and the energy and effort my team puts into certifying the ruggedness and safety of TOUGHBOOK products.
In engineering life, there’s the potential for the work and the reward to be less than thrilling. But not here at Panasonic. Helping the customers analyze their problems and then providing them with solutions is the biggest reward you can ever imagine.