Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Testing a Toughbook's Mettle: the story behind the certifications

Toughbook CF-31 certifications
Somehow I found myself in the middle of an 800-something page government document, reading up on something called "Method 511.5, Procedure I — Explosive Atmosphere." I was investigating the parameters for evaluating the ability of a test item to be operated in a fuel vapor environment without causing ignition, and it was just as exciting as it sounds. I checked out a bunch of other methods and procedures as well, things like "Method 507.5, Procedure II — Humidity" and Method 514.6, Procedure I — Vibration: General Vibration," But I chose to lead with Explosive Atmosphere because it seemed like the sexiest of the testing procedures. That's the one where a test item sits in a room full of gas and, if all goes well, nothing happens. These tests are part of the MIL-STD-810G, a U.S. Military standard developed by the Department of Defense. It's used to make sure equipment is up to snuff for military applications. It's one of the many standards for which Panasonic Toughbooks are tested.

You were probably already aware — or at least you've assumed — that Toughbooks undergo a bunch of testing to make sure that they're, you know, tough. You might have seen a list of certifications they've earned, things like the aforementioned MIL-STD-810G, MIL-STD-461F, IP65, RoHS Compliance, and so on. You might have even seen some vague explanations attached to them: this little emblem means it's rugged, this one means it won't cause deadly explosions, whatever. I was curious. What specifically, did the Toughbook have to go through to get each of those little badges on its spec sheet? I went pretty deep in my research, most of which consisted of reading appropriately dry research reports and documents, but I'll spare you the minutiae and give you the Cliff's Notes version. (If you really need to know the exact conditions under which water droplets should be observed landing on a a test item, or if you just can't move forward without finding out where the guy who signed off on a test went to college, I'll provide the necessary tools you to look it up.)

To learn what all the Toughbook certifications really mean, check out my article at

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