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In pictures: How Dell Technologies tests its rugged kit

A sneak peak into the lab where the sole purpose is to get things to break.
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Topic: Innovation
Dell Technologies Summit
1 of 6 Ryan Coursey/Dell Technologies

Dell Technologies Extreme Computing Test Lab

Dell Technologies recently invited media into its Parmer Campus, providing insight into how the tech giant solves customer challenges through innovation.

The Rugged Lab tests product to failure, and then determines how to make them more robust.

"In the product development process, we sit down, design the product in 3D CAD, make tools, shoot the product, assemble the product, and then we're going to bring it in here, and Gary is going to tear it up," Dell Technologies senior engineering manager Anthony Bundrant explained. "The hard part is figuring out how to make it better."

Changes are made, the product is re-tooled, and it's brought back into the Rugged Lab to have it tested all over again.

The rugged team have a window of about a year to test the product as if it were being used for an entire lifetime.

"Rugged products are under the same constraints and the same pressures as all of electronics … now I'm not suggesting that a rugged product is going to look like an XPS product, it's not … but they're smaller than they were when I started this 11 years ago," Bundrant said. "But they don't want to sacrifice rugged, so the trick is trying to find the happy medium of both."

Dell Technologies Summit
2 of 6 Ryan Coursey/Dell Technologies

Hinge testing

This tests how capable the hinges are sustaining themselves based on a lot of "open and close" actions.

"For a fully-rugged product, we'll put 150,000 cycles on here," Bundrant said.

This still takes 19 days, running 24/7 to get the full amount of cycles.

"I go on and look at that data over the whole 150,000 cycles and I make sure that I don't see the torque dive off at the end. And from that data, I can then say with confidence, 'Yes, you get the same experience four years in'. In fact, probably much longer than that, because no one's going to actually do 150,000 cycles," he said.

150,000 cycles averages out to 84 per day -- above and beyond what a customer would reasonably do.

Dell Technologies Summit
3 of 6 Ryan Coursey/Dell Technologies

Thermal testing

The use case for this test is if the device is left on the dash in a hot climate and a user such as a first responder is required to use their device ASAP.

The Thermotron is set to 145 degrees Fahrenheit -- 63 degrees Celsius.

"It can actually get hotter," Bundrant said of the inside of a vehicle used by Dell's Rugged customers.

The lab sends the device through thermal shock testing.

"We'll take one unit down to negative 60 Fahrenheit, and we'll take the other unit up to 160 Fahrenheit," he explained.

"We'll put the unit in one, we leave it in there for four hours, and then we immediately take it out, [then we throw] it in the oven, it immediately goes from negative 60 to 160 -- that's a pretty broad temperature swing."

The team is looking for thermal expansion.

"All materials expand and contract at different rates when you change your temperature. There are a lot of materials in a computer -- we want to make sure we don't have anything in there that's mounted against something else and they're not good neighbours, one of them wants to tear the other one up," Bundrant said.

Dell Technologies Summit
4 of 6 Ryan Coursey/Dell Technologies

Impact testing

This is where the device is truly knocked around.

Regulation requires the device to be dropped onto a 2-inch thick piece of plywood, but the lab takes this further and drops the laptop onto steel plate and concrete.

"Much more indicative kind of environments that we see in real life," Bundrant said.

26 drops at each height, from every orientation -- top, bottom, sides corners, top edges, etc. On and off, too.

"You would think we would be celebrating not breaking [the device], but in this lab, we celebrate the break, because that means we can stop and move on to the part that's interesting to us, which is how are we going to make this better," he said.

Dell Technologies Summit
5 of 6 Ryan Coursey/Dell Technologies

IP dust testing

Any dust at all is a fail.

"What I have to do is drill a hole in the bottom of the chassis, hook a vacuum tube to it, and actually have to pull the vacuum on the electronic compartment," Bundrant said.

"We've got a mechanical seal around this electric compartment, pulling a negative pressure in there, so I'm literally trying to send this super finely pulverised pulp through my mechanical seal. And I'm doing this from anywhere from two to eight hours depending on the level of vacuum."

With IP testing dust and water go hand in hand. The device is also sprayed with water from every direction to test IP 1, 2, 3, and 4 before the real water testing is done.

Dell Technologies Summit
6 of 6 Ryan Coursey/Dell Technologies

Water testing

Macy Bayern from ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic got to try her hand at the lab's "stress relief" test.

In a waterproof room with a drain, a high-pressure hose is pointed at the laptop's screen and keyboard. The hose shoots around 12.5 litres of water per minute, from a distance of two to three metres.

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