Industrial PCs are being constantly redefined to meet customers requirements
By Nitasha Chawla
Friday, September 14, 2012:Industrial personal computers (PCs) are being used for multiple functions and are especially well suited to integrate the factory network with the enterprise network. They allow easy collection, analysis and distribution of data and ensure that accurate information is available at all levels of the organisation.
Some of the features that differentiate industrial PCs from consumer PCs include reliability, compatibility, expansion options and long term supply.
Features to suit various applications
The term ‘industrial PC’ refers to single board computers, embedded
computers, industrial chassis, keyboard and video monitor (KVM) drawer, LCD panels and industrial peripherals. Today, these industrial grade PCs more technologically advanced and are designed to operate in harsh environments in the industrial arena, either for outdoor operations or on the shop floor where high humidity, extreme temperatures and strong vibrations are the main challenges.
Says Don Yu, manager, product development, IEI Technology Corp, a leading industrial computer service provider from Taiwan, “Industrial PCs are used primarily for process control and data acquisition. In some cases, an industrial PC is simply used as a front end to another control computer in a distributed processing environment.” Thus, industrial PCs are more robust and capable of resisting adverse operating conditions. They can operate in ambient temperatures as high as 60°C and are provided with an additional cooling system. They are housed in an enclosure to make them free from reaching any dust particles, liquids or any other hazardous materials.
Industrial PCs are also being used in voice based activities. These include railway signalling systems and public
announcement systems, especially vital in cities which have local metro systems. For these systems, redundancies are crucial, which is ensured
by cards generating enough hot and cool air, and airflow management systems that balance temperature and prevent short circuits. Kiosks are essentially sleek PCs with a touch screen, and are used in railway stations, ATMs, malls, etc.
Types of industrial PCs
Industrial PCs come in various forms such as the standard 48.26 cm rack mounted, panel-mounted and wall mounted versions. All these are designed to provide superior protection from harsh industrial conditions.
The most commonly used industrial PCs are rack mounted systems and embedded systems. Rack mounted PCs are
available in the following sizes—1U, 2U, 4U and 6U where 1U= 4.45 cm. These are used in larger industrial setups like in the power industry in which communication regarding different processes is linked through different systems to a common system. Here, an application may simply require the I/O, such as the serial port offered by the motherboard. In other cases, expansion cards are installed to provide analogue and digital I/O, a specific machine interface, expanded communications ports, and so on, as required by the application.
Panel PCs are those in which a display, typically an LCD, is incorporated into the same enclosure as the motherboard and other electronics. They have a small board with a CPU, memory and I/O interfaces. These are typically panel mounted and often incorporate touch screens for user interaction.
The other category, embedded PCs are essentially small form factors used for wall mount or enclosed panel mount applications in open environment. Typical applications being kiosks, control panels in sub-stations (distribution and transmission), toll plazas and many more. Embedded computers cannot be used to develop software but only to run
and test the software developed on a separate system. Embedded computers always run a single program saved in its memory.
Informs Abhay Tandon, CEO, Technics, distributor of Advantech. “The rack mount computers have additional cards to perform an application based on I/O from the field. Many rack mount computers in one rack having one display and one keyboard can be accessed by using a KVM. On the other hand, embedded PCs are mainly used for a single application. They are mostly fan less whereas rack mount PCs could have a fan on the top of the CPU and one for the chassis as well. Embedded systems are commonly used in sectors like railways, in ATMs, post offices, etc.”
There are two types of motherboards in rack mounted computers. The first has all the slots for the CPU and I/Os in one board. The second is the single board, which is used by organisations when their slot requirement is higher. The advantage of using single board computers is that a new processor can be added on the same board as and when
users feel that they need more processing power.
The latest in the market
The players in this market offer a wide range of robust industrial PC products based on the latest processor technology.
Shares Steven Liu, vice president, AICSYS, “The latest industrial PCs have a RISC or Core2Duo processor packed into a large rack mount chassis or an embedded case no bigger than a disk drive. At AICSYS, we have embraced the state of the art chip sets as well as launched a line of embedded systems that are designed to be used in digital signage, and in military, medical or mobile applications.” AICSYS is a company based in Taiwan which deals in single board computers, industrial chassis, LCD and KVM products, servers and systems, OEM and ODM products. These products are also available in the Indian market.
The latest offering from AICSYS is the RCK-310MA 3U chassis, which is a powerhouse in a sleek yet rugged package. It is designed to maximise space while not cutting down on features, and supports a total of 10 drive bays, making it ideally suited for a media server application. It is paired with one of AICSYS’ motherboards—the MBC-6507, which supports the Intel i3/i5/i7 processors or dual display, a hot swap redundant power supply unit (PSU), and all drive bays populated.
In the second half of this year, IEI plans to release several products with its Ivy bridge desktop and mobile processor, including single board computers (SBCs), panel PCs and embedded systems that support triple independent display technology. For the Intel Atom
series of processors, IEI offers the latest third generation Atom (Cedar Trial) solution with SBCs, panel PCs and embedded systems products, providing customers a cost cutting and power saving green product.
Kontron Technology India has recently launched its third generation Intel Core processor based products. The company also offers the latest ARM processor based standard platforms. These ultra low power platforms with PC-like processing performance have already been launched on the Pico-ITX form factor with Nvidia Tegra 2 as well as on the Mini-ITX form factor with the Nvidia Tegra 3 processor. In addition to this, different ARM processors are also available on the new ULP-COM computer on modules form factor.
Shares Pradip Kulkarni, general manager, Kontron Technology India, “These products are very attractive for manufacturers of ultra mobile devices as well as small stationary devices to build new attractive graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and appliances—based on the user experience that we all have become familiar with by using smartphones and tablet computers. Massive graphics performance on small form factors is also delivered by the launch of our AMD G series based Pico-ITX, PC/104 and COM Express. Our customers can receive all these processor technologies with our application ready platforms on board or systems level—in the shape they require. Thus, we not only offer standard boards but also the services that customers require for specific field deployment.”
Kontron also offers M2M embedded systems, which are available for field deployment and which come with PTCRB certification as well as evaluation systems that can be implemented on nearly all the platforms it offers. Adds Pradip Kulkarni, “With offerings such as M2M solutions, we are addressing the increased demand to reduce costs to the minimum by providing OEM customers with reliable and already tested standard systems, as well as all the services needed to make the OEMs’ industrial PC appliance platforms a perfect fit for specific field deployment requirements.”
Advantech, the worlds largest industrial computer supplier has introduced rack mountable computers, UNO-4673A/UNO-4683, which comply to IEC-61850-3 standards, which is mainly desirable by the power and energy sector. These are based on the industry standard ATOM and Core i7 processors. These come with I/O rich features like multiple serial and LAN ports and an embedded operating system.
Nuvoton, a Taiwan based company, offers industrial ICs based on latest technologies to be used by industrial PC customers. Nuvoton’s latest offering is the Mini51 with up to 16 KB flash for entry level applications, M051 with up to 64 KB flash having the similar pin assignment as traditional 8051 for easy upgrade. Other new products include NUC100 with up to 128 KB flash for rich peripherals, NUC120 with USB applications, and NUC130/140 with CAN bus for industrial or automotive communication applications. Says Jason Lin, assistant vice president-Microcontroller Product Center, Nuvoton Technology Corporation, “The industrial MCUs belong to a multi-segment diversified market which means that they can be used for various applications, such as industrial control (PLC, automation, and communication), motor control, HMI (Human machine interface), etc.”
How to choose an industrial PC
Choosing the configuration for an industrial PC is based on the applications it will be required to perform. According to Pradip Kulkarni, “OEM vendors should choose an embedded PC vendor offering standards and service for a quick start into a most successful and long lasting field deployment. By doing this, they can concentrate on their application development to achieve the relevant competitive advantages, such as technology leadership as well as first to market benefits with the latest processor platforms.” However, to buy a rack mount server, it is preferable to have a system with standard motherboards inside or with modular backplane systems such as PICMG 1.3, CPCI or MicroTCA for industrial and communication applications, or VPX/VME for military applications.
The most important factor to consider about an industrial PC is the environment in which it will operate. Thus, based on conditions like temperature, humidity, altitude, shock and vibration, EMI/EMC (electro magnetic interference) and salinity, the companies provide a suitable configuration of the processor and motherboards to their customers. For example, in areas where there is movement that may result in vibrations, a standard hard drive is replaced by a solid state drive (SSD) which doesn’t move (unlike the standard drive). However, SSDs are costlier than the standard drives. Shares Abhay Tandon, “For SSDs, mean time between failure (MTBF) is high compared to standard drives. Customers have now started moving towards SSDs for most of the applications.”
Similarly, when there are humid conditions, a conformal coating on the PCB is given so that it becomes immune to condensation and the system is not hurt.
KEY INDUSTRIAL PC PLAYERS
|Adaptek Automation Technology||www.adaptektechnologies.com|
|CM Infotechnologies Pvt Ltd||www.cminfotechnologies.com|
|Electro Engineering Enterprises||www.eeesmps.com|
|E-Novas Control & Automation LLP||www.e-novas.net|
|IEI Technology Corp||www.ieiworld.com|
|Kontron Technology India Pvt Ltd||www.kontron.com|
|TechnoSys Embedded Systems (P) Ltd||www.technosysind.com|
|USART Technologies India Pvt Ltd||www.usartindia.com|
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