Computer for a harsh environment

By MC_User ·
I am looking to purchase some computers to be used in our college's automotive training center. They will be out on the shop floor and in dirty environments. They will be used to look up data such as schematics and parts lists light duty web browsing. They will not be connected to any kind of diagnostic equipment. Does anyone have experience with any type of "toughbook" that they can make a recommendation for? I most concerned with damage to the PC being caused by oil, dirt, grease, metal shavings, etc.

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Panasonic Toughbooks

by JamesRL In reply to Computer for a harsh envi ... what is used in many dealers today.

But an even better idea is this.

Tablet PCs for the techs, who connect to a Terminal server through RDP. The benefits are that you never expose valuable data to the harsh environment, the tablets can be interchangeable. I know one manufacturer who has implemented this. You can get toughened tablets.


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In my experience it's generally a waste of money

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Computer for a harsh envi ...

from heavy industry. People charging us ?600 for a membrane keyboard in an aluminium case, ?150 to repair it after a years use. Cheap *** key board what ?6?, and we could rescue some of them our selves.

Stick the pc in a cabinet in the nearest clean place you can, then buy extra long cables, and stick the cheapest monitor keyboard (and trakball) out in the shop.

Keyboard and mouse getting dirty, and crap being sucked in the vents of the case are you main issues.

Worst case make a box, stick a reasonable sized fan behind a filter.

You can mnake the design and build a project for your students...

You can also buy plastic covers that sleeve over a key board. Makes keying a bit more difficult, but I doubt your guys are going to be battering a way at an epic.

Super hardened guaranteed to survive on Venus, should be a last resort.

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Of you would be better off with a Fanless Case

by OH Smeg In reply to In my experience it's gen ...

Zalman use to make these I'm not sure if they still do but I did use a couple for Servers in Site Offices for Road Construction companies and instead of having a expected life of 6 months or so after 3 years they where still running without missing a beat. We changed cheap Keyboards, Mice/Track Balls out on a regular basis but the actual computer never had an issue.


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Some the places I worked at were

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Of you would be better of ...

hot, as in like two tonnes of steel as 1200 C, just behind your elbow, some cooling was necessary. Dust, carbon and metal could be a real problem though. A number of managers over my time there got a free lunch and a so called hardened PC woukld turn up to solve all our problems. OK they were better than a standard case, but not the five or six times better the price implied at a minimum.

We came to the conclusion that boys out on the shop floor took toughened PCs as a challenge. If you gave them something sensitive and fragile though, they took care with it.

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That could be true Tony however Earthmover's are not

by OH Smeg In reply to Some the places I worked ...

Known to be overly Sensitive to Fragile Computers, from my experience they seem to treat everything that they touch like a Bulldozer and call it Crap when it breaks.

The Site Offices that I used the Fan Less Cases in where on Highway construction where the Computer was only expected to last the fife of that particular contract generally around 6 months and then be junk. They always had a Spare handy when the started a new job so that when their old one broke they didn't have to spend hours with no work being done. Though it did save the companies money in Fuel not being burnt and lots of it it was just far cheaper to have a spare available for when the old one died.

I've also used these in CAM Plants before things on the IH&S Rules got so tough and one placed made Dog Spikes for the Railways so there was no AC and Red Hot metal was dumped in the Paint to Anneal it. This left a thickening layer of Dust from the Process and paint all through the plant including the offices everything was coated in it even the Bare Metal before it got attacked by any of the machinery and no doubt things like Lathe & Milling Tools and this was stripped off when these tools where first used only to be replaced when they where pulled out of the Machines when that Job was finished. The Metal used to make the Dog Spikes was Bright Red Hot when it went into the paint and the Liquid Proof Keyboards very quickly became impossible to read with the junk soon covering them but they worked perfectly.

The Zalman Cases make the entire Case the heat-sink and while they did get hot they never suffered any Dust or other Air Borne Contamination though they would get surface dust on the outside of the cases. Ball Mice where a waste of time and we always used Optical Mice which just lasted longer. One of these cases was mounted on the Dog Spike Machine which took 7 Meter Lengths of metal in one end first cut it to length then heated it Bright Red stamped the Hitting end and formed the Pointed end in the One operation and then dumped the newly formed Red Hot Dog Spikes onto a conveyor system which ran thought he Annealing process. This was a Home Brew Machine about 40 meters long and made up from several smaller machines to do the job better faster and cheaper. I got lumbered with the rebuilding the Computer Controller Elements after the first several years of attempting the conversion didn't produce a unit that lasted longer than several months and after the previous suppliers had given up attempting to help this crowd.

I'd like to say that Money was no object but really they just wanted something that would last a year and could be replaced at the Christmas Shutdown and site overhaul. I had 3 Zalman Cases built into the machine over a 6 year period of time and I'll swear that the ones that I pulled out where as good as the day that I put them in from a functional point of view but after 2 years of faultless service they wanted them replaced mainly because they didn't want to find out just how long these things would run before they broke. Though to be fair the cases needed to be dug out from under the coating of Paint, Metal Shavings and God only knows what else was covering them. It was sort of a Thick Brown/Black sticky substance that stuck to everything that it touched and was piratically impossible to remove without sandblasting. After those 6 years they bought several new machines that had been made by a company who looked at their Home Brew unit and improved on that. They made their own Fan less Cases and I believe that these worked well. Unfortunately the computers had to be mounted close to the Hot Part of this unit to prevent the Sensors and Controllers from getting any Interference and malfunctioning. They are still using this type of unit now 10 years latter and they just work without problems.

At both places they would replace Mice & keyboards regularly but the computers never missed a beat which I was amazed with considering all the Noise on the Mains which should have caused some problems. The CAM place was nasty by at least it was on the Power grid quite often the Road work Site Offices where on their own generated Power which was anything but good. On the really hot days in the Site Offices they would point a fan at the case and hope that the Overworked AC was cool enough to keep it cool enough to keep working. So we had Site Offices in 40C heat with small Window Type AC units air leaks everywhere and most times the doors left wide open for easy access and no problems though I was told more than once that they where thinking about using the Computer Case to fry eggs or brew coffee on. These guys used to say that these where as good as their favorite bit of Plant which just keep working regardless of what was thrown at it. I on the other hand wasn't all that hopeful when I first suggest this solution.


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Waterproof Keyboards and Optical Mice

by TheChas In reply to Computer for a harsh envi ...

In an automotive shop environment, your 2 worst issues are spraying chemicals and greasy fingers. You need to protect the PC from being in the direct path of any fluids, and prepared to replace or clean keyboards and mice on a regular basis.

This is not anywhere near as tough an environment as a metal working shop. Or even a wood shop.

The best I can add here is that you may not need to be as concerned about the PC itself as you might think.

Consider an integrated PC and monitor and mount these above the workbench / toolbox behind plexiglass shields that extend to at least cover the sides and top.

So long as the work stations are far enough apart, consider a wireless keyboard and optical mouse combo.

Several manufactures make fully sealed inexpensive keyboards that would work great for this.

If you don't want to go with the integrated monitor PC system, consider a BTX class system. They are small enough that you should be able to find a reasonable place to stick the PC. Even a large drawer in a tool chest should work.


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Wireless is tough in automotive repair areas

by JamesRL In reply to Waterproof Keyboards and ...

The project I mentioned with wireless tablets suffered from a steep learning curve because the contractors didn't have the experience in the electrically noisy repair shop environment.

They did eventually make it work, but I would avoid wireless if possible.


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Maybe thin clients?

by gah In reply to Computer for a harsh envi ...

No fans / moving parts / hard drives to worry about.

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Actually that thought crossed my mind...

by MC_User In reply to Maybe thin clients?

My network manager is pressing me to go wireless. But I felt this was a bad location for it. The building houses all sorts of mechanical equipment (such as the H VAC classroom) in addition to the auto shop environment. A netbook or a tablet is a good fit for the task because the only purpose is to look up data online. Does this shift the conversation into what is a good wireless hub?

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I still like the toughbooks

by shhite In reply to Computer for a harsh envi ...

We are in the repossession busines and use the CF-52 series which is semi tough and handles all kinds of grease and abuse. For a shop i would recommend the fully rugged which is suppose to be liquid spill proof.

Here is the link.

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