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Laptop computers

The laptop has become an essential tool for technicians and owner/operators alike. It's estimated that more than 60% of owner/operators own a laptop, and heavy-duty shops are trending away from propri...


The laptop has become an essential tool for technicians and owner/operators alike. It’s estimated that more than 60% of owner/operators own a laptop, and heavy-duty shops are trending away from proprietary-based diagnostic systems in favour of open architecture PC-based tools, according to Bill Presler, senior manager, market development with Panasonic.

However, the challenge to date has been the inability of most laptop computers to survive the harsh working environment of a maintenance shop or a truck cab. To that end, Panasonic has developed a line of “rugged” mobile PCs, and it’s eyeing the transportation industry as one of its key target markets.

We caught up with Panasonic at the 2008 Technology and Maintenance Council meetings earlier this year. Presler demonstrated the toughness of the company’s “Toughbook”line of laptops by dropping one on the floor from about three feet off the ground. It seemed none the worse for wear when he picked it back up.

The Toughbook computers are protected by a magnesium alloy case and feature shock-mounted hard drives. They’re designed to take a three-foot fall without incurring any damage. Alternatively, you can drop a 2-lb steel ball on the tempered glass screen without breaking it, Presler said. The screens come with a replaceable film that protects it from grease and grime.

“This is a tool designed for the technician,” stressed Presler. The transportation industry is beginning to take notice.

Notebooks offer added functionality and versatility when compared to the dedicated “point solution” systems that are widely used in the industry, Presler said. They also have the potential to improve productivity, as their comparatively low cost allows shops to equip each service bay with a notebook, reducing the foot travel and wait times faced by technicians forced to share a common system.

International Truck and Engine has been an early adopter, equipping nearly 1,000 dealerships with Panasonic’s Toughbooks. The computers are used on the shop floor to diagnose mechanical problems. The Toughbooks have built-in wireless capabilities so the company can instantly access all the data it requires, improving efficiency in the shop.

But Presler said rugged notebook computers are equally valuable as an in-cab solution. Some forward-thinking fleets are using them to improve driver morale and productivity. While there hasn’t yet been a huge adoption by owner/operators, Presler pointed out that rugged PCs are ideally-suited to life in the cab.

There are varying levels of ruggedness available in Panasonic’s Toughbook series. For more information, visit: www.panasonic.com.

James Menzies is the executive editor of sister publications Truck News and Truck West. He holds a commercial drivers’ licence and has test driven trucks all over Canada, the US, Asia and Europe. An award-winning writer, he has also co-authored a book about trucks from around the world.


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