Our panel of eight industry experts weigh in on how hardware and software advancements are driving the future of industrial PCs.
How has the convergence between industrial PCs and electronic OI been impacted by the rush for greater software capabilities and more powerful CPUs?
Kim Hartman, TenAsys: Advances in real-time OS technology have enabled the consolidation of multiple processing workloads, such as process and machine control and the operator interface functions. The key is to support the human-directed functionality of HMIs and SCADA/enterprise/Internet interfacing, without losing the ability to respond to real-time events. It’s not just faster/more powerful CPUs that are needed, but a software platform that can offer fully deterministic response to programs that need it.
Kim Hartman is VP of sales and marketing at TenAsys
Mark Lovell, Pepperl+Fuchs: The need to duplicate what is seen in the control room to the factory floor is common. In many cases, the screen on the factory floor will end up being slightly smaller than what is in the control room. Having touchscreens that are durable, with repeated use, is required. Resistive touchscreens tend to allow users with gloves to operate them easily without issue. In many cases the computing power is kept in the control room and thin-client technology is used on the factory floor. This allows for easier updates and repairs should something get damaged or need to be replaced. Higher-power CPUs are found on standalone machines that run independently from other processes. Thin client and KVM technology is more popular with remote stations that need to be integrated and controlled from a larger control system.
Mark Lovell is proposals manager at Pepperl+Fuchs
Tim Stone, Advantech: Simply put, software is king. Proprietary languages will someday be a thing of the past. Less and less hardware dependence will be driven by more and more capable software. Whereas hardware complexity has risen less and less every year, higher-performing, more-complex software is advancing at an unparalleled pace. Additions of vision, gesture user interface and other advanced features will drive the hardware dependency out of the design. So as the software performance ever increases the CPU, memory and all the other performance determining—SSD and bus speed network, for example—components will need to improve for an ever performance-hungry application suite.
Tim Stone is HMI product sales manager at Advantech
Chris Mason, Rockwell Automation: It’s an iterative cycle. Faster CPUs, increased memory and better overall hardware allow larger and more complex applications to be installed. In turn, the growing desire to do more within an application requires continuously evolving and improved hardware. Enhanced graphic packages and multi-touch applications continue to be a point of focus. EOI and industrial PCs are both advancing in these areas. In the near term, we see EOI continuing to dominate in the overall industrial control space. However, open-platform industrial PCs are becoming more attractive as they continue their march toward more robust and reliable designs while offering the opportunity for the installation of third-party software packages.
Chris Mason is product manager, industrial computers, at Rockwell Automation
Steve Sullivan, Rittal: Greater power density and stronger CPU cooling becomes increasingly critical. Most equipment failures are due to high temperatures. More than 35% of applications require cooling. Traditional cooling methods—the use of larger enclosures, heat sinks, fans—often are not sufficient. Equipment life is cut in half for each 10 °C temperature increase above the optimum temperature (35-40 °C). Drives will last eight to 10 years at 35 °C (95 °F), but only two to three years at 65 °C (149 °F) without downtime. High-efficiency systems such as the Blue e+ use active and passive cooling to deliver cooling where it’s needed but uses 75% less energy.
Steve Sullivan is training supervisor at Rittal
Aaron Severa, Pepperl+Fuchs: As software advances have been made, the need for more powerful CPUs and other advanced features is becoming a requirement from many customers. Often, the software being developed now supports things such as multi-touch, swipe and other features we have become accustomed to within our daily lives on smart phones and tablets. These same requirements are now pouring into the industrial-PC world, and suppliers are reacting by adding these same features to their HMIs.
Aaron Severa is product manager, HMI/fieldbus, at Pepperl+Fuchs
Eric Reiner, Beckhoff Automation: The convergence of automation technology and information technology—AT + IT—continues to accelerate more than ever, even as machine builders demand improved software and hardware capability that also adheres to common standards. Smart Factory connectivity and IoT are certainly terms on the minds of many manufacturing executives, and industrial PCs are ideally suited to enable these trends. IPCs have facilitated advanced connectivity and remote monitoring for decades, back when clouds had more to do with meteorology and nothing to do with manufacturing technology. In addition, these connectivity functions are accomplished in software, with no need for additional hardware beyond what’s included in typical PC-based control hardware. While standards such as OPC UA have been utilized for years, newer standards such as MQTT and AMQP are very quickly integrated into PC-based control architectures.
The increased use of wearables, or wearable HMIs, for process monitoring, remote connections via your tablet or smart phone, and new concepts for better condition monitoring and predictive maintenance each show a trend that is fast becoming commonplace in today’s industrial operations. These will continue to grow as the demand for more production data and closer integration with manufacturing processes rise from the companies who have recognized the untapped potential from practical implementation of Smart Factory and Industry 4.0 concepts.
Eric Reiner is industrial PC market specialist at Beckhoff Automation
John Kowal, B&R Industrial Automation: Consider that our low-end processor is an Atom and our top processors are currently multi-core i7 CPUs, and, given Moore’s Law, there are fewer constraints in terms of cost, size and environmental conditions. So, harnessing the power of mainstream computing has enabled convergence, as have standards replacing de facto standards, the big ones being Web-based operator interfaces and OPC UA.
John Kowal is director of business development at B&R Industrial Automation
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