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Industrial Flexibility: Tablet as Vehicle Mount Terminal and Rugged Portable

A Fortune 500 manufacturing retailer has been using wireless vehicle mounts in their distribution centers for many years.  They have always prided themselves on being state of the art in technology and operations.

However, after years of service, some of the equipment has become dated.   Also, new locations were scheduled to be opened that needed new equipment.  They turned to their trusted advisor, Quest Solution, to analyze their requirements and determine an appropriate solution.

Quest Solution and the customer had good experience with a number of systems from a variety of manufacturers, both well-known and less known.  Each provided some advantages and unique characteristics, but the customer had some new requirements that needed to be met:

  • An industrial-grade state of the art computing device to work as a fixed-mounted device on a vehicle, yet be able to be removed and used as a tablet
  • Work with a rugged industrial scanner; when mounted, use either tethered or wireless scanner; when portable as a tablet, use a wireless scanner
  • Use in a very rugged distribution center, with rough floors that required vibration and shock protection while on the vehicles.
  • When used in and out of the centers, to be protected against periodic rain and cold and hot temperatures
  • To be compatible with the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, yet capable of supporting the latest standards
  • To have outstanding quality for service and support
  • And the kicker:  run their proprietary Linux kernel OS and applications without modification, with all necessary security lock-downs and management tools
  • Last, but not least, ship for deployment to multiple locations in a very short timeframe

This called for a complex solution and collaboration from a number of vendors.  Quest Solution was up to the task and reviewed many technologies from many vendors before proposing the winning solution.

Although there were a number of very capable vehicle mount terminals (VMT), there were few tablets that could be used as a VMT.  The Panasonic G1 stood out because it supplied all the necessary capabilities:

  • The ruggedness was clearly within the expectations, and was even verified by on-site analysis from Panasonic engineers to ensure the extreme conditions could all be met
  • The Wi-Fi coverage was tested and performed better than any of the other candidates
  • Quest Solution, Panasonic, and the customer worked together to ensure the custom boot logic of the G1 could be used to launch the existing Linux kernel
  • The customer validated all their applications, including security lockdown and management, with complete compatibility
  • Panasonic’s history of high quality and reliability also figured well into the decision

Quest Solution also worked with other vendors to supply the rest of the components of the complete solution:

  • Lind power supplies to protect against spikes, brown-outs and other power conditions from a variety of forklift charging/operating environments
  • Precision docks to securely lock the tablet while on the vehicle, yet still allow the tablet to be removed for portable use, even including some customization of the locking mechanisms to match the customers’ operational needs
  • iKey industrial keypad – so operators can use the same familiar keyboard interface, if desired
  • RAM mounting, for shock mounting and rugged flexibility
  • Motorola (now Zebra) industrial wireless scanners for use when mounted

The customer and Quest Solution worked closely to make sure each component and the entire integrated solution performed as desired.  Then came the logistics:  coordinate all the components from a variety of manufacturers, including some customizations to the docking station and Panasonic boot load image.  Quest Solution handled all of the coordination with the vendors to ensure all the various components could be received as ordered at the various locations, with the necessary customizations, and in the necessary timeframe.

The initial rollout met and exceeded expectations.  The equipment arrived, integrated, and performed exactly as needed with very high quality.  The operators were very comfortable with the new devices, which provided familiarity with the existing applications and interface, but were also ready for new applications and operations as needed.  The customer’s support organization was also very pleased with the lack of out-of-box failure calls or usage confusion.

The customer chose Quest Solution as the integrator because of its history of diligently striving to understand the customer’s needs from technical, operations and logistics perspectives and being directly involved with all aspects of integration and testing.  While a number of combinations might have been somewhat acceptable, the team worked together to find the optimal mix for a solution that delivered on all the objectives.

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