We’ve written a lot here at the SmartVan about the benefits to field service pros of adopting consumer computer tablets like the iPad. But we kept coming back to the same concern: Is it tough enough?

Certainly there are a lot of field service jobs out that call for something a little more “rugged” than the iPad. But for your more typical indoor uses, is the iPad tough enough to stand up to the day-in, day-out usage that field service workers require? We asked Kevin Wright, a field service engineer for pharmaceutical device manufacturer Parata Systems in Michigan, how he’s gotten on with his new iPad.

“It’s been fantastic,” Wright said. “I love it. I’ve got all my service manuals on it — all my PDFs — and I can just search to find the phrase I need, and I’m directed to the page I need to go to.”

Cool new tools

Wright, who’s worked in field service for over 25 years, said he hasn’t yet totally abandoned his earlier tools: He still carries a BlackBerry cell phone and a laptop on most calls. Typically Wright responds to either emergency calls or routine maintenance visits to service machines that automate prescription-filling orders (the machines are like robot-prescription dispensers) around Michigan, Northern Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

In addition to filling work orders and looking up information on parts, Wright says he’s been able to use his iPad to use Salesforce.com’s online application — allowing him to very quickly pull up a client’s repair history.

“I think it’s completely revolutionizing the way we can do this service,” he said. “Through our previous software, we could also look this stuff up, but we didn’t have that fast, easy access. With the iPads, it’s instant-on. Five, 10, 30 seconds — and I’m looking at all the information about a site I’m going to. ”

As for the iPad’s rugged credentials, Wright acknowledges that it’s a pretty delicate machine for field service use. His company has mandated that all service techs outfit theirs with a rubber and hard-plastic case made by OtterBox.“I’ve only dropped it once,” Wright said. “I think it fell out of my bag or something, but I’ve got this case, and it was undamaged. So of course, like with anything, this is a $500 piece of equipment — you’ve got to be careful. You can’t set it on the edge of the sink or something. But overall, that hasn’t been a problem at all.”

ABOUT Ian Stewart

Avatar photoIan is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.