As we celebrate the final month of Control Design's 15th anniversary, it's interesting to take a look back at how the industrial PC developed over that period. We've been discussing the pros and cons of industrial PCs for more than a decade. In fact, we reprised a PLC vs. PC article just a few months ago that originally ran in 2001. Similar debates raged then as do now.
It wasn't until 2008 that we added industrial PCs to our annual rotation of Product Roundup topics, but they've been appearing in our December issue ever since. That first PC Roundup noted that today you can find an industrial PC in almost every corner of the factory.
SEE ALSO: Industrial PC Basics
And yet the battle continues as to whether the PC is a worthy opponent of the PLC. Over the years, one of the key arguments against PCs on the plant floor has been concern about them standing up to the environment. It's hardly a surprise, then, that suppliers have made a point of indicating the rugged nature of their units. In last December's Product Roundup, we noted the high ranking that our readers gave to characteristics that help PCs stand up to the elements: Some 86% said harsh environment capability was important or very important, 81% said an enhanced operating temperature range was important or very important, and 77% ranked shock/vibration tolerance at those levels.
We got similar results in this year's survey of machine builders; if anything, they're placing even more importance on the ruggedization of their PCs: About 87% said it's important or very important to have harsh/dirty environment capability, and that their PCs are shock/vibration-tolerant. The importance of an enhanced operating temperature range rose to more than 89%.
As Editor in Chief Joe Feeley noted earlier this year in a Machine Builder Forum post, the very first issue of Control Design, in 1997, talked of cutting-edge industrial PCs with 200 MHz Pentium processors, 512 MB RAM, and Windows NT operating systems. Looking at the latest products in this month's Roundup, not only do suppliers continue to espouse the benefits of ruggedization, many of the PCs sport multicore processors, some faster than 2 GHz; memory in the multi-gigabyte range; and Windows XP or Windows 7.
PS4000 industrial PC has diskless operation, Windows XP Pro and Windows 7 Ultimate operating systems, Core Duo processors, and PCI Express expansion. WinGP and GP-Pro EX HMI Development software provide connectivity and the ability to create HMI screens and logic programming.
Uno-2184G embedded controller for applications that need a lot of graphical processing power comes with an Intel Core i7-2655LE processor. It supports up to 16 GB DDR3 RAM, has a dedicated Intel HD graphics processor, and fanless operating range -10 to 60 °C. It supports AMT 7.0 hardware for remotely managing and securing PCs.
Advantech Industrial Automation
APC820 integrates a PC into the Acoposmulti drive. On Core 2 Duo processors, Windows XP and the RTOS run in parallel on separate cores. Integrated Smart Display Link connection enables four automation panels to be linked over a distance of up to 160 m.
B&R Industrial Automation
Rigmate PCs use COM Express modules to plug into custom-made, application-specific carrier boards. The modules include generic functions such as video, audio, Ethernet, storage interfaces and USB ports.
Daisy Data Displays
CX2000 embedded PCs use Intel multicore processors from the second-generation 32 nm series; power-saving Celeron variants are available for fanless options. The unit combines a metallic, basic housing with front panels made of a special screening plastic, and can handle temperatures from -25 to 60 °C. The basic CPU module has one DVI port, four USB ports and two independent Ethernet ports. A factory-configurable internal slot can optionally perform the functions of a wide range of interfaces.
iPC-Series of industrial computers with Intel i-Series Core embedded processors include 12, 15, 17 and 19 in. LCD versions, with LED backlighting. All are available with five-wire, analog-resistive touchscreens and NEMA-sealed, panel-mount front panels, or as a non-display node computer for mounting in constrained spaces.
VL BPC 1000 uses Intel Atom N455 1.6 GHz CPU and is powered with 24 Vdc. It is fanless and DIN-rail-mountable, and comes with four USB ports, two gigabit LAN ports, three serial ports, and a VGA port for visualization.
Panel-mount workstation VisuNet PC8215 has a 15 in. TFT display with optional touchscreen, is Class I/Div. 2, Class II/Div. 2 and ATEX/IECEx Zone 2 approved, is shock- and vibration-resistant, and has an extended temperature range. It's powered by a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor or 1.5 GHz Core 2 Duo with 80 GB SSD and 2 GB RAM.
WinCPU industrial PC mounts directly to the back plane of company's iQ-Series controller, and is powered by a 1.66 GHz Atom processor with a solid-state drive. It includes two Ethernet channels, USB and standard CompactFlash card slot for external storage.
Mitsubishi Electric Automation
V Panel Express family of panel PCs now includes the Intel Core i7-2655 dual-core processor with 2.2 GHz (2.9 GHz in turbo mode) and up to 8 GB DDR3 memory. It supports Windows XP, Windows 7 and Linux Embedded. It runs fanless, and operates as a combined real-time control and visualization system for industrial imaging. Front panels are made of stainless steel, offer IP65 protection, and are scalable from 12.1 to 19 in.
Atom processor-based Simatic IPC227D Nanobox PCs can operate without a fan at ambient temperatures to 50 °C. They have the option of one PCIe slot, three additional serial interfaces or four digital inputs and outputs (24 Vdc), and have four status LEDs, three of which are fully programmable. Diagnostic software is pre-installed to provide comprehensive analysis.
TPC-2206 and TPC-2212 touch panel computers are 1.33 GHz Intel Atom processor-based, low-power, fanless devices with a -20 to 60 °C operating range, 4 GB solid-state drives and Windows Embedded OS, along with 1 GB RAM, two Gigabit Ethernet ports and LED backlight technology.
Magelis Smart+ iPC runs Windows XP Pro with no hard disk or fan. It includes Type 4X (IP65) touchscreen, Intel Celeron M 1 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, two Ethernet ports, and solid-state drive. It has been certified to UL 508 for industrial control equipment and UL and ATEX for hazardous locations.
Relio R1420 rugged embedded computer operates without moving parts, and standard I/O includes dual Gigabit Ethernet, six USB 2.0 ports, four serial ports, 8-bit GPIO, audio output and VGA video. Powered by a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N450 CPU, it has 2 GB RAM, offers low power consumption, and operates fanless to 50 °C ambient.
Seppala-T panel PC for HMI applications can connect with installed PLCs and automation systems. In 10, 12 and 15 in. models with a touchscreen and built on Intel Atom technology, it uses solid-state drives and a fanless configuration. The front panel is IP65-compliant and designed to meet NEMA 4/4X standards. It is available pre-loaded with InduSoft Web Studio HMI software.
Wolverine III rugged flat-panel computer has a resistive, 15 in., antiglare, scratch-resistant touchscreen readable in direct sunlight. The computing platform is a COM Express module and carrier board with an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.26 GHz processor and 4 GB DDR3 memory, along with a 32 GB solid-state drive. Housed in a NEMA 4 sealed enclosure, an optional heater allows an operating temperature range of -40 to 60 °C.
GE Intelligent Platforms
I/O Server industrial PC with UL certification for Class I, Div. 2 Group A, B, C, D hazardous locations with volatile substances has an Intel Atom or AMD Geode CPU and an integrated carrier card for up to four plug-in I/O modules. More than 20 I/O modules provide high-density A/D, D/A, discrete-level control, counter/timer and serial communication functions. CANbus, Mil-Std-1553 and configurable FPGA modules offer advanced control capabilities.
LPC-125LPM small form PC for embedded applications operates in extreme temperatures and draws less than 20 W of power. It's 4.0x6.1x1.45 in., operates on 10–26 Vdc power, and has Gigabit LAN, three USB, two serial, video, audio in/out, two PS/2 ports and one external express card slot.
Guardian Series of 7, 8 and 10 in. tablets include Mil-Spec IP65, Mil-Std 810F and Mil-Std 461E standards, daylight-viewable options, and a range of communication options and expansion slots for specific requirements.
Mupac 760 Series small form factor embedded computer has IP67 and IP50, NEMA-rated versions that operate at -10 to 60 °C, have Intel Core i3/i5/i7 multicore processors with up to 4 GB RAM, and standard I/O includes dual DVI display, Gigabit Ethernet port, eight USB 2.0 ports, two RS-232 ports, two SATA 3 Gbps with RAID 0, 1 support, and one six-pin header for KB/MS with Realtek ALC888 HD supported audio.