Industrial Computers Need a Variety of Features, Depending on the Use

Features Depend on the Application: While Harsh-Environment Protection Is Critical, Other Elements Can Be Equally Important

By Mike Bacidore

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The most important feature to look for in an industrial computer is dependent upon the application, says Ed Boutilier, president and CEO of Stealth.com. "An application may require protection from a harsh or dirty environment, or it may require advanced temperature, shock and vibration specifications," he says.

It could also be a situation where size and packaging of the industrial PC are important, depending on where it's to be deployed, he explains. Many variables must be considered, and some will be more important to the end user than others. "Overall, the best feature is reliability — knowing that your industrial PC can be counted on for long-term operation," says Boutilier.

Charles Chen, embedded business development manager at Moxa Americas, agrees that reliability is the key. "An industrial computer is being used in a 24-7, mission-critical environment, with no down time, and a rugged and solidly designed computer becomes the most significant feature to have over programmability , performance or functionality," he says.

"Only picking one feature is tough, but I would say the availability of rugged mass storage devices, such as solid-state hard drives, is the most important feature to look for in an industrial computer," says Bjoern Falke, product marketing senior specialist, automation, Phoenix Contact. "These are designed to withstand challenges such a shock or vibration in an industrial environment. In the past, these solid-state drives were not available in the large sizes being offered today. In addition, the price of these drives has come down to a point where it makes them suitable and affordable to use in industrial PCs."

Corey McAtee, product manager at Beckhoff Automation, believes scalability is key. "When engineers are concerned with finding that controller sweet spot and balance performance with budget, it's invaluable to have a deep portfolio of controllers to choose from," he says. "Of course, that bull's-eye isn't going to stay put forever, so it's equally important to have the ability to move one way or the other over time as applications evolve and new markets are entered."

 Fanless Computer

WATERPROOF
WPC-500F waterproof, small-footprint, fanless computer meets IP67/NEMA 6 environmental specifications. The aluminum chassis acts as a heat sink to dissipate internal heat and provide noise-free operation. It uses Intel's Atom processor, has power, video, serial and USB connections coupled through water-tight, locking bayonet-style connectors, and operates 10-30 Vdc. Systems are compatible with Microsoft Vista/XP and Linux and can be custom-configured.
Stealth.com
888/stealth

 Relio RELIABLE RELIO
The Relio R9 is based on the Atmel 200MIPS ARM9 RISC processor and features LCD and backlight controller, resistive touchscreen controller, one USB device and two USB host ports, CAN bus 2.0B interface and Windows CD 6.0 BSP Binary. Operating temperature ranges from  -40 °C to +85 °C. Available with up to 256MB RAM and 256MB Flash memory, the standard I/O features Ethernet, serial, USB, CAN Bus, digital and analog interface.
Sealevel Systems
864/843-4343
 Controller INDUSTRIAL CONTROL
NI 3110 industrial controller with an Intel SL9JT L2400 1.66 GHz Core Duoprocessor, and NI 3100 industrial controller with an Intel 1.06 GHz Celeron M 423 processor are configured with the Windows XP operating system and designed for rugged applications that require fanless cooling and a wide range of connectivity to external devices through USB, cabled MXI Express, Ethernet and PCI or PCI Express.
National Instruments
800/258-7022
 PC FAN-FREE OPERATION
The housing of Automation PC 620 and Panel PC 700 provides for fan-free operation and includes Intel Atom N270 1.6 GHz processor optimized for small size and minimum power consumption. The new Atom generation can be equipped with up to 2 GB SDRAM, which can result in twice as much memory.
B&R Industrial Automation
770/772-0400
 PC MODULE AND MOTHERBOARD
bCOM2-L8000 COM Express module and mITX-945S-ED motherboard based on the 1.6 GHz version of the Intel Atom processor has one Gigabit Ethernet port, two Serial ATA interfaces, support for two IDE devices and eight USB 2.0 ports. mITX-945S-ED has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, PCI Express and PCI expansion slots, a COM port, two Serial ATA ports, support for up to two IDE devices and four USB 2.0 ports.

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