Ruggedized Industrial Computers

So you're interested in industrial computers and want to learn a little more before you buy one? Or maybe you just want to know what a "ruggedized" industrial computer is or what conditions can it really handle. If you've ever worked in an industrial environment, you know that a typical computer won't last long. Unlike a computer you might find in an office environment, a computer on the factory floor has to withstand all kinds of things from shocks and vibrations, to humidity, dust, mist, and splashing water. To meet this challenge, a number of manufacturers claim to offer industrial or ruggedized computers that can withstand any industrial environment. But what exactly is an industrial computer and what makes it a ruggedized computer? Learn more about our WL7000.

The ruggedization of an industrial computer is not only restricted to the exterior housing, but also includes all the internal components, i.e., internal connectors and electronic devices. Understanding the difference between a ruggedized computer and a standard design should begin with an examination of the specifications. Ignoring these specifications can lead to a poor buying decision that can cost you a lot in the long run.

Ruggedized Industrial Computers

Ingress Protection or IP Rating

For a computer to be industrial, it has satisfy a certain standard of "ruggedness". Many manufacturers claim that their computers are ruggedized. But just because a computer has a tough metal exterior of some kind, or is located in an industrial environment doesn't mean its an industrial computer. At the very least, it has to pass a standard of ruggedization or what is more commonly known as an IP Rating. An IP Rating or Ingress Protection rating is standard for electrical closures. This rating refers to a devices's ability to prevent solids and liquids from entering the computer’s exterior housing. A typical IP Rating is a two digit number where the first number designates protection from solids, while the second number designates protection from liquids. For a computer to be truly classified as an industrial computer, it has to come with an IP Rating.

Ruggedized Industrial Computers

1. IP Rating of 55 or Higher

For a computer to be used in a dusty and wet environment, at the very least, it must have an IP Rating of 55 or higher or you can assume that it will not be able to resist any dust or moisture. Any computer rated for use in an industrial environment should specify its IP rating. This tells you how well that computer is protected from dust and liquids, which can cause major problems to internal computer components. Even if a device is not used in an industrial environment, it can become exposed to levels of dust and moisture that will eventually cause the computer to fail. A Perma Shell cover design is considered an industry standard.

IP Rating Table
Solids (First Number) Liquids (Second Number)
0 No Protection 0 No Protection
1 Protected Against Objects > 50mm (hands) 1 Protected Against Dripping Water or Condensation
2 Protected Against Objects > 12mm (fingers) 2 Protected Against Sprays of Water 15º From Vertical
3 Protected Against Objects > 2.5mm (tools/wires) 3 Protected Against Sprays of Water 60º From Vertical
4 Protected Against Objects > 1 mm (small tools) 4 Protected Against Water Sprayed From All Directions
5 Protected Against dust, limited ingress 5 Protected Against Low Pressure Jets of Water
6 Totally protected against dust 6 Protected Against Heavy Seas
7 N/A 7 Protected Against the Effects of Immersion
8 N/A 8 Protected Against Submersion
An IP Rating of IP 68 Would Indicate a dust tight device that can withstand total submersion in water.

2. Nema Rating of 4

For a computer to be ruggedized, it should offer a NEMA rating. A NEMA rating is a standard for determining the types of environments in which an electrical enclosure can be used. Most industrial computers for use in an outdoor environment will have a NEMA 4 rating. This rating ensures that the computer for indoor or outdoor use will be able to handle windblown dust and rain, splashing water, hose-directed water and damage from external ice formation.

3. Operating Temperature and Humidity

If a computer is not capable of surviving cold temperatures, then it probably isn't an industrial computer. All industrial computers should specify its operating and storage temperature. Ruggedized computers are designed to be used in extremely cold temperatures, i.e., outside or in a cold storage freezer. Reliable operation in a cold environment requires at the very least that a device can function in -30°C (-22°F) temperatures. While its one thing to operate in a cold environment, its much harder on a computer when it is exposed to extreme fluctuations of temperature. Exposure to warm and cold conditions can create condensation which can cause a computer screen to fog up, keyboards to stick, and internal components to corrode. Screen or internal onboard heaters are one possible solution.

4. Display: Touch Screen Or Not?

An important consideration concerns the matter of touch screens. In many industrial workplaces you will often find a someone entering data using an external keyboard and mouse. Touch screens eliminate the need for any external peripherals and wires, and put everything inside an enclosure where it is protected from dust and water. As the name suggests, industrial computers are touch screen displays or monitors controlled by touching the screen with your finger or a stylus pen. Touch screen technology is basically a method of entering data into a computer by touching a screen or monitor and displaying that data on on the same screen. Also called touchscreens, touch screens, touch panels or touchscreen panels. While the standard screen size should be no less than 17”, bigger screens are available but not required for most applications. Another important consideration is whether or not the screen uses a proven infrared technology called LCD. LCD can handle the rugged and harsh conditions of most industrial environments while at the same time being extremely sensitive to touch input. With the LCD mounting system and onboard heater, an industrial computer can even be used in refrigerated environments or outdoors, even in winter.

5. Mounting System

An important issue for many industrial computers is the scalability of their mounting system, i.e., how long it will take before they are obsolete. The mounting system pertains to the inner main board and whether or not it is proprietary. Check to make sure that the the main computer components, i.e., the motherboard, are upgradable. If you don't want your computer to become obsolete, try to choose an open source mounting system that can be easily upgraded as technology and software advance. This ensures that your investment will show returns for many years to come.

6. Other Technologies

The durability of an industrial computer depends on some unique technologies usually only found in ruggedized computers. Onboard heaters can protect the inner components of the computer in cold conditions. Venting systems where the cooling fan blows in to the case instead of out, creates positive pressure within the housing that keeps dust from entering any seams or openings. A Baffle Chamber allows exhaust from the unit to leave the system while keeping water out.


Look for the following features in an industrial or "ruggedized" computer:

1. IP Rating - at least a 55 rating for protection against dust and low pressure jets of water.
2. Nema Rating - at least a rating of 4.
3. Operating Temperature - at least - 30°C or -22F.
4. Touch Screen - eliminates need for keyboards. Get at a 17" LCD screen.
5. Mounting System - open source mounting ensures unlimited scalability.
6. Other Technologies - onboard heater and a venting system for eliminating condensation and dust.

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