By Jim Dempsey
Electric linemen work in hazardous conditions on a regular basis. The high voltage lines they service are located in difficult to reach areas, and combined with inhospitable terrain, variations in weather conditions, and the need to access areas far from population centers make their choices of equipment critical. With so much depending on the lineman’s ability to perform their duties safely and reliably in all locations and conditions, these five features are the most important criteria for selecting mobile devices for use in the field.
The majority of the work a lineman does is outdoors and needs to be accomplished regardless of the weather conditions. Bad weather can interfere with the use of handheld and laptop computers because consumer grade equipment is not designed to withstand contact with water and dirt. Rain often keeps linemen from even using their tablets, and dirt can make screens unreadable until the dirt is washed away. But bright sunlight on a beautiful day can be the most common deterrent to readability because consumer oriented tablets are simply unviewable. Linemen must have tablets and laptops they can see and use in all kinds of weather.
2. Shock and Drop Durability
Anyone working outdoors is likely to encounter rough work conditions, but electric linemen have an additional set of hazards to consider. They often work high above the ground and in close proximity to electric towers and live power lines. There is always a possibility they may drop equipment, and if they drop their tablet and it is damaged, they face the possibility of having to interrupt their work day to get a replacement. Consumer grade tablets encased in ruggedized housings are only partial answers to drop survival because the device’s internal components have not been ruggedized. Linemen need to have tablets and laptops that have been fully ruggedized internally to prevent damage and ensure there’s no downtime for improved productivity.
3. Long Battery Life
Electric linemen don’t always have time to recharge their tablet’s battery when they are working in the field for long hours. Consumer oriented tablets and notebooks are optimized to deliver acceptable battery life in favor of other design considerations such as battery capacity. Rugged portables are powered for long work hours by providing longer battery life, swappable batteries, and quick charge capabilities so linemen can do their work without interruption.
4. Integrated Mounts
Electric line maintenance can require both hands to safely work with live power lines. Mounting their tablet securely so it can be seen while they use both hands requires more than simply leaning the tablet against a rail and hoping it doesn’t get bumped and fall to the ground. While there are many options for third-party mounting systems, they are not always secure in rugged work environments. Linemen need to be able to count on mounting systems that have been designed by the tablet manufacturer and provide secure mounting.
5. Robust Communication Ability
Electric lines can interfere with radio signals that linemen rely on to connect their tablets to remote resources such as documentation and scheduling services. That communication is critical to completing their work because it allows them to access equipment history, real time status updates, and remote expertise when necessary. Consumer grade tablets created for non-industrial environments are not designed to avoid radio frequency interference (RFI) and may lose connectivity when working in close proximity to high voltage lines. Linemen need to be able to count on connectivity at all times and in all locations by having tablets designed with specialized antennae that can cope with interference for streamlined efficiency.
Each of these factors is important to effective and continuous use and keeping linemen productive and able to complete their work on time while keeping them out of potentially dangerous situations.
Source: Jim Dempsey, Panasonic Mobility Computers & Tablets, Field Services, Mobile Computing, Utilities.