Reducing paper use is a green thing, but contractors at every level from residential to infrastructure are worried that saving a tree can cost them more than it seems to be worth. Why? Because these professionals often see the proliferation of handheld computers, smartphones, tablets, and other consumer gadgets that have an ‘I” in front of their name as being an investment that can double in cost very quickly. Drop one and there are few repairs available; everything is sealed and non-replaceable. In fact, construction sites are noted for being harsh environments where dropping a smartphone might be the least damaging thing that can happen to it.

In response, many computer and electronic companies have been pushing military-grade, hardened, or ruggedized tablets. For example, Panasonic, www.panasonic.com, Secaucus, N.J., recently unveiled the Toughpad family of Android-powered tablets that includes both 7-inch devices and 10-inch devices. Targeting highly mobile workers, these devices will be supported by an enterprise focused app store, peripherals, developer tools, deployment support, and more. Both devices have MIL-STD-810G ratings for drops as well as high protection ratings for resistance to dust and water. The 10-inch Toughpad is also rated for use in a wide range of temperatures.

That makes the Toughpad ideal for highly mobile outdoor workers in construction where exposure to extreme environments is a constant challenge and the consequence of a failure is significant. It can be used to optimize business processes as a cost effective pen / paper replacement. The 7-inch Toughpad B1 has similar attributes but is focused on users not as critical of the screen size but needing an even more portable device.

According to Panasonic, it wanted to deliver an Android-powered tablet that is radically different from the largely consumer-based devices on the market today. The Toughpad tablets were developed from the inside out to address the needs of business users. As a result, its customers get a rugged, reliable, and enterprise-appropriate tablet, helping to drive efficiency and productivity in ways that were never possible with paper.

To show its support of these green paper-replacers, Toughpad tablets will be backed by a support infrastructure that includes dedicated hot-line support, two-day or less service turn-time, and a field engineering staff ready to respond to your concerns.

While this certainly isn’t the only ruggedized tablet to come to market for construction, the Toughpad demonstrates a trend worth watching: connected devices tailored for construction. Imagine what might come next.

Mechanical contractor Shapiro & Duncan, www.shapiroandduncan.com, Rockville, Md., announced it will be launching a new service process that uses a HVAC service tablet. According to the company, this HVAC service tablet will be used by its services team to enable technicians to access failed equipment, see the history of the equipment, develop and update service tickets, and order parts, among other tasks. The device will also be useful for clients, allowing them to approve work at any time.

The use of such a device replaces the traditional method of having a technician manually assess the situation and conduct a paper-based process to resolve the issue. According to the company, the tablet will allow it to reduce turnaround time on projects, while also enhancing its ability to perform and deliver services.