Osaka

Osaka: Inside The Toughbook Facility -Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Kobe Japan-


  The new PLASMA Japan Facility working on highly guarded 3D Laptop Technology. Panasonic chose to build this plant in Japan where Labor Prices and Land are high end...but so are the products.  Learn all about your USED Panasonic cf-29 Toughbook and what it endured prior to landing on your desk.

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Panasonic’s ToughBook range in many models and configurations. The ToughBooks differ from most other notebooks by being... well,... tough. Panasonic has built a reputation for itself by creating notebooks that can function in the most inhospitable environments, Land, Sea and Air.

Panasonic applies a rigorous testing regime that goes on at the R&D facility in Osaka and at the ToughBook factory in Kobe.  There’s nothing quite like seeing something first hand.  Take a tour, Jump at the chance to go over to Japan and see Panasonic’s setup in person.

Panasonic manufactures all of its notebooks (bar the CF-51) at its plant in Kobe, Japan. Unlike the vast majority of notebook vendors, Panasonic doesn’t buy base hardware from manufacturers in Taiwan. Instead each ToughBook is created from scratch at the Kobe plant, allowing Panasonic to maintain its exacting quality control. It’s this quality control that makes the ToughBooks harder than your average notebook. In fact,  between the R&D and Q/A departments, over 1,000 ToughBooks are damaged every year in Panasonic’s quest for the near indestructible notebook!



The ToughBook line is split into two sections – Fully Rugged and Semi-Rugged, or as the guys out in Japan referred to them, Field Mobile and Business Mobile. The fully rugged notebooks are pretty hardcore devices that can work virtually anywhere, like the CF-29 and the CF-19.  These machines can take an excessive amount of abuse and keep coming back for more. The semi-rugged notebooks are very different – these can take a few knocks and bashes, but can’t withstand the serious abuse of their big brothers. Machines like the CF-W5 fall into this category and used to come under the ToughBook Light umbrella, but this branding has now changed to the ToughBook Executive line.


Panasonic was keen to show off some of the custom parts that go into making the ToughBook line. Once of the most important components in a notebook is the hard drive, where the data stored within can be worth more than the whole notebook itself. Unlike many so called shockproof hard disk enclosures, the ones inside the fully rugged ToughBooks aren’t made from rubber, which can in fact amplify vibration. Instead, the hard disks inside ToughBooks are suspended in dense foam. The foam shrouded drive is then inserted into a solid metal caddy, making it even more robust, while the flexible drive connector ensures that even under stress, the connector won’t break.





But the drive enclosure isn’t just about shock resistance, it also ensures that the hard disk can operate in Arctic conditions. On either side of the enclosure are heating elements which will warm the drive before boot-up, ensuring that the fluid bearings are not frozen. Of course Panasonic is looking at the possibility of using solid state disks in ToughBooks which will remove the only mechanical part in the notebook.


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All of the fully rugged ToughBooks are fanless too, thus removing another point of failure from the equation. Custom built heatpipe assemblies transmit the heat away from the internal components and out to the casing for dissipation into the atmosphere.

Even the main PCB is designed for maximum resilience, with all of the I/O connectors located off the main board, so if there is a failure in a connector, only the daughter board has to be replaced rather than the main board.


Keyboards are also designed to withstand the elements. The CF-Y5 for instance is designed to allow water to pass directly through it and out of the bottom of the notebook. This was demonstrated at the R&D facility in Osaka, but don't test this yourself. Basically the main board in the CF-Y5 is completely sealed and there are gullies underneath the keyboard that pipe water out of the case. Of course this won’t stop your keyboard getting sticky if you spill a cup of coffee over it, but it does mean that your notebook won’t just die.



Being that the ToughBooks are built to customer requirements, there are a number of keyboard options offered. Some are built to be completely waterproof, made of rubber with no gaps between the keys. Some are semi-waterproof with a slightly more traditional feel, while others are like standard notebook keyboards with ergonomics being the prime focus. Some of the keyboards are backlit to ensure that machines can be used at night as well as in the pouring rain.







Panasonic also showed off the CF-R6 which is an ultra-portable notebook, weighing in at under 1kg. There’s no definite plan to launch the R6. Not only is this machine thin and light, but one of the engineers demonstrated it being dropped from 76cm while open and operational! So you wouldn’t have to worry about knocking an R6 off a desk, even if it was switched on at the time.








Behind locked doors at Panasonic’s Osaka and Kobe facilities poor ToughBooks are thrashed to within an inch of their lives. It’s not all shock punishment either, some of the damage is cumulative over a tortuously long period of time. below is a very sorry looking CF-29 strapped to a rack, being poked with metal spikes. The spikes were simulating key presses, with the most heavily used keys being hammered, to ensure that the keyboard can go the distance and not fail when the user most needs it.



Below the torture rack was a counter showing that the keys had been pressed over 15,000 times, which was a drop in the ocean considering that the duty cycle of the test was 5,000,000 presses! the keyboard can last five million key strokes, it’s not likely to fail during the lifetime of the notebook.



But it’s not just whole keyboards that receive the punishment. Single keys are being repeatedly hammered by a metal poker, this time to ensure that the lettering on the key would not wear off after excessive use. During a key test, a little key only has to suffer 50,000 attacks before it crawls into a corner to cry.






Of course a big part of the ToughBook appeal is its ability to function in the most extreme environments, including excessive hot or cold operational exposure. The Heat Shock test will roast a ToughBook at 200 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes, before dropping the temperature down to a teeth chattering -70 degrees. With ToughBooks surviving this kind of test it’s fair to say that in extreme temperature situations, the user will fail before the notebook.





The Combined Environment Test subjects the ToughBooks to temperatures varying from -40 to 150 degrees Celsius, along with humidity ranging from 20 – 95 per cent. To make things more interesting, the platform on which the notebook resides in the chamber will vibrate at rates between 3 and 2,500Hz.





The waterproof nature of ToughBooks is also highly regarded, so the machines have to undertake a fair amount of wet work as part of the testing regime. The water resistance test has a water sprinkler arcing over an operational ToughBook dousing it with water.



This poor old CF-29 that is in the water resistance chamber is being subjected to a full hour of sprinkler treatment.



In another water resistance chamber, four ToughBooks huddled together in a vain attempt to share body heat, and somehow stay warm.





ToughBooks are famous for their shock resistance as well as their water resistance. Panasonic undertakes a significant amount of drop testing as part of the ToughBook quality assurance procedure. The drop testing machine that’s located at the Osaka R&D facility is one of only eight in the world.



Basically that huge metal platform is raised as high as required then dropped down, allowing gravity to do the hard work. Various stands and caddies are employed to allow the notebook to be positioned in a number of angles when dropped.

At the Kobe facility there’s another less impressive looking drop test machine, but very interesting. The notebook is placed on a platform which can be adjusted to the desired height. Then, at the press of a button the platform drops and the notebook plummets to the ground. Again the ToughBook can be positioned in any number of angles to simulate every possible drop scenario.



Despite the ToughBook's obvious resitance to the forces of gravity, the Panasonic technician couldn't hide his look of panic when the machine bounced off the wooden base onto the concrete floor!

What's most impressive at the Panasonic’s facility was the huge Anechoic chamber at Kobe. This one is large as the example in Kobe. Measuring approximately 10m square, this chamber is used to measure the electromagnetic radiation produced by notebooks. The walls of the chamber are lined with ferrite and then covered with anechoic projections to ensure that there is no reflection of radio waves.



At one end of the chamber is a table mounted on a revolving platform. On the table is a notebook with every possible accessory attached to it, ensuring that the maximum amount of electromagnetic radio waves were produced. At the other end of the chamber is an antenna that measures the radio wave output from the equipment on the table. Because the chamber is completely isolated from the kind of electromagnetic interference that surrounds us every day, Panasonic can measure exactly how much electromagnetic radiation its notebooks are producing.



In another sealed room adjacent to the chamber, the operator will monitor the radio waves and log the data. This kind of research is paramount, since electronics manufacturers have to adhere to strict electromagnetic radiation emissions standards around the globe.



To give you an idea of scale, an Engineer at Panasonic stands next to the antenna. As you can see, this really is a huge room where even a big Sumo looks tiny. The shot from the outside shows just how large the building that houses the chamber is, especially since there is nothing in there apart from the anechoic chamber and the small control room.





Because Panasonic manufactures its notebooks in-house from start to finish, any important findings from research like this can easily be implemented into the production cycle.


On the production floor, the whole production process starts with a blank circuit board. This is inserted into Panasonic’s proprietary mounting machines, which will automatically mount all the components and then solder them to the board.



It’s impressive seeing whole rolls of components just waiting for the automated mounting machine to pick them up and plonk them down on the circuit board. There are Intel chipsets housed in plastic rolls and being fed into the machines in Kobe.



After the circuit boards are finished, they move onto the production lines where a plethora of workers start the arduous task of actually building the ToughBooks. Panasonic employs both assembly line and cell based building methods. The cell based building method has one individual building machines from start to finish, rather than doing a single job and passing it onto the next person. This is very rare in any kind of factory these days, but it would appear that Panasonic isn’t scared of doing things a bit differently.





To finish things off you can add a splash of colour to the ToughBook Executive line. Panasonic has started offering colour options for the lids for customers ordering from its website. This option will be rolled out to UK customers very soon, when the ToughBook online shop goes live.





We have personalized your Machine with the BLACK aircraft anti-glair UH-60 coating. They are rare, painted correctly and HOLD THEIR VALUE. See Below



Sales Support is very important to Panasonic. Panasonic stores thousands of spare parts for its products, ensuring that customers can keep a favoured platform going, even if the actual models are no longer available as a whole. CF-29 Run and Run Long after Man.



Even though it can be more cost effective to replace older, defective notebooks with new ones, Panasonic understands that some users, especially corporates, want to maintain a platform for a number of years. Therefore, spare parts for products well over ten years old are stored in this warehouse.

The whole process from beginning to end, is a customer buying one from Japan's Biggest Electronics Superstore, Yodobashi Camera in Osaka. A gargantuan electronics superstore that sells just about anything that runs on mains or battery power!  Here, the Panasonic notebooks are displayed at retail, and here is a customer spotted who actually bought one, thus completing the circle of life for the ToughBook. Thanks.




See the Unique line of BLACK and BLACK II  CF-29's on eBay.  Perhaps the best and most sought after used Toughbook CF-29's for sale. 

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