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Panasonic Toughpad gets down and dirty on the farm

A forward-looking Waikato veterinary practice has put Panasonic’s Android-based Toughbook to good use in a demanding agribusiness setting.

VetFocus takes the Toughpad FZ-A1 on visits to cowsheds to collect pregnancy testing and other data in the field. Despite the dirty environment, the Toughpads have proven their mettle over the course of a full season, saving time, preventing sore arms and becoming a vet's first choice for farm technology.

Established in 1942, veterinary practice VetFocus has a board of directors made up of Waikato farmers involved in dairying, sheep and beef breeding, and dry stock farming. Headquartered in Te Awamutu, the practice has four branches and employs some 58 staff.

Situation:

Thanks to the introduction of software from owner Zoetis, veterinarian Phillip Brown says the process of field testing for bovine pregnancy was considerably improved. "In the past, pregnancy testing was paper-based. With nothing more sophisticated than a sheet of paper, there was not much analysis that could be done on-site," says Brown.

Things were also a little slow, he adds, because there was a double entry of information. "First, you'd scribble on paper, then punch that data into a computer in the office."

Zoetis' InfoVet software addresses this problem and when VetFocus chose it several years ago, Panasonic Toughbook was the first choice for rugged hardware.

That's because the environment in which the information is gathered was the last place you'd want to take a computer. "There's plenty of cows around and that means the environment you're facing has a lot of dirt and water. You need something which is resistant to both, which is why we chose Toughbooks some three years ago," explains Brown.

However, while he says the fully rugged Panasonic Toughbook CF19s have proven their mettle in the most trying of circumstances, they are a little on the heavy side.

"There aren't any desks and chairs in a cowshed and the job of pregnancy testing takes two to three hours. Over that course of time, a fully rugged laptop gets pretty hard on the arms," he says.

Just like the rest of the world that is going 'tablet crazy', VetFocus' veterinarians wanted in on the action with lighter, more mobile and easier-to-use computing. But it had to be tough enough, too. "When something a lot lighter came along under the Panasonic brand, we jumped at the chance," says Brown.

In addition, the availability of a tough Android device is an advantage for software developer Zoetis, confirms account manager Nicola Wilson. "While it was something of a learning curve to adapt InfoVet to a touchscreen device, tablets offer a less expensive, more convenient way for vets and other field workers to get the job done. There aren't too many tough tablets out there, so developing for the Panasonic Toughpad is a value proposition that really stacks up."

Solution:

Panasonic's Toughpad FZ-A1, says Brown, offers an ideal extension to VetFocus' use of tough technology. "One of the key factors which supported the introduction of the Android-powered Toughpads was Zoetis' willingness to update the software side of things to perform appropriately on the devices," he notes.

The fact that the assessments involve data entry - typing in numbers - means the Toughpad's 'soft' keyboard is ideal, continues Brown. "With the updated Zoetis application, it is not only lighter than the Toughbook, but in many ways easier to use, too."

Just what kind of environment do the Toughpads encounter?

"Well, to put it bluntly, they get covered in cowshit," says Brown.

The devices accompany vets into cowsheds, with all the muck associated with intensive stock farming operations. "We take the Toughpad right alongside cows when conducting pregnancy testing," he continues. "Information on each animal is accessed on the device, while we enter data into the Zoetis app as various tests are taken. We don't have to worry if they get muddy, wet, or covered in cowdung - which they do."

Results:

Over the course of three years, Brown says the Toughbooks haven't missed a beat. "They certainly do the job all right. We've had no problems with reliability or anything like that."

But how have the Toughpads fared against a proven 'tough' precedent?

With a full season of using the Toughpad behind him, Brown says it is by far the preferred device for field trips.  "Having had ample opportunity putting the device to the test, it is quite up to doing the job. While we haven't had any incidences of dropping it, the Toughpads do regularly get covered in cowdung and are constantly used by people with properly dirty fingers; that's where being waterproof is a major advantage, as we can clean it easily afterwards."

A tough device also means peace of mind. "You could try a normal tablet for this task, but you'd have to be very careful with it. That would mean changing the way we work, which would undoubtedly add time to the job. More than that,  if something did happen to the device, you could lose up to three hours of work," Brown explains.

With the Toughpads tried and tested in this demanding agricultural application, he says there is further headroom for future use. "We're looking at generating invoices on site, for example, but software is still under development. However, in future, there is potential as more applications become available."

As for the Toughbooks? "As fully-rugged, complete Windows computers, these are still being used three years on, redeployed to where their greater flexibility makes sense within the business, ably complemented by the Toughpads where mobile ruggedness is a priority," Brown concludes.