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

Jan. 20, 2010
Features Depend on the Application: While Harsh-Environment Protection Is Critical, Other Elements Can Be Equally Important
About the Author
Mike Bacidore is editor in chief for Plant Services. He is an award-winning columnist, earning a Gold Regional Award and a Silver National Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. Check out his .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."

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.

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
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
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
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.
GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms
Fan-less ePC-Series of industrial computers are available in 15-, 17- and 19-in. sizes, an Intel Atom N270 1.6 GHz processor, and removable SATA solid state drives or CompactFlash can replace the standard hard drive. These drives carry a five-year part warranty and are rated -30 to 85 °C and 150 G (11 msec) operation.
ValueLine industrial PCs with fan-less design, 15- or 17-in. TFT touchscreens, Core 2 Duo 1.5 GHz or Celeron M1.0 GHz CPUs, up to 4 GB DDR-RAM and 64 GB solid-state hard drive (SSHD) have dual, independent 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports. Extended temperature range models are available and optional PCI slots can be added for connectivity to an I/O fieldbus. The design provides access to the removable hard-drive chassis, two CF slots and real-time clock battery.
Phoenix Contact
With Intel Atom processors, C6915 IPCs have up to 1.6 GHz processing power and two independent Ethernet interfaces. Passive cooling is achieved through the PC's aluminum surface and enables operation at temperatures up to 55 °C. Solid state configuration features a flash disk.
Beckhoff Automation
The Simatic IPC427C compact Microbox PC now includes the Intel Core 2 Duo processor and is designed to operate at ambient temperatures of 0-50 °C. Measuring 262x134x47 mm, the Simatic IPC427C's main memory can be increased up to 4 gigabytes. Extended program storage is available on a hard disk drive with 32 gigabytes or up to two Compact Flash cards each with 8 gigabytes. The device features four USB 2.0 ports and two 10/100/1000 MBs Ethernet ports.
Siemens Industry
APL3000 industrial PCs have a 2 GHz Intel Core Duo CPU with expanded memory, up to 4 GB of RAM. A Factory Alert System monitors PC health and generates instant notifications about excessive heat exposure, impending hard drive or fan failure, CPU or power troubles. Advanced Data Protection uses hot-swappable hard drives and RAID-enabled redundancy to protect critical plant data.
Pro-face America
Uno-2171 embedded automation computer with Pentium M 1.4 GHz CPU includes two RS232 ports, two RS232/422/485 ports with automatic data flow control ports, two 10/100 Ethernet ports, two USB 2.0 ports, PC/104+ expansion and has an operating range of -20–65 °C. It supports Windows XP, XP Embedded OS and CE 5.0.
Advantech Industrial Automation Group
Bulletin 6181F and Bulletin 6181P standard models have a Celeron M 1.06 GHz processor and 512 MB of DDR2 memory. The 6181F standard version is a static computer with zero moving parts for robust applications. Performance models have a Core Duo 1.6 GHz processor and 1 GB of DDR2 and are available in stainless steel.
Rockwell Automation
Magelis iPC all-in-one industrial PC for stand-alone or distributed applications has four levels of processors and screen sizes. Smart is a pre-configured, all-in-one terminal for client and HMI applications. Compact iPC includes dual-Ethernet, multiple connectivity options and data storage options; Flex PC Box adds advanced features.
Schneider Electric
NSA-Series hardened industrial panel PCs with built-in touchscreen monitors and 4 GB storage have no spinning hard drive or fan, and self-monitoring circuit board and software that operates independently of the CPU to preserve system-status data in event of a CPU failure.
Omron Electronics
Visuex panel PC includes a touchscreen and an Ethernet network connection. This platform is designed for control and display panels with the visualization system of your choice, for software PLC systems, for client-server applications with a SCADA system or for Web terminals. It meets Cat. II 2G (Zone 1, 2) and II 2D (Zone 21, 22).
In-chassis industrial PC acts as a distributed data collection tool and provides audit trails and data flags for tracking modified, inserted or incomplete data. The PC56-Historian requires no software development or modifications to the processor program when used with local and remote ControlLogix platforms.
ProSoft Technology
The W406 is an embedded Linux or WinCE computer that features two software selectable RS-232/422/485 ports, one Ethernet port and GSM/GPRS/EDGE quad-band for cellular communication. It also comes with an SD socket, USB host and four digital input and four digital output channels. The W406 comes pre-installed with either Linux or WinCE 6.0 and integrates Rcore, a ready-to-run embedded software platform for industrial environments.
Moxa Americas
Stainless-steel, panel-mount PanelMagic PCs in 12-20 in. sizes have Celeron M, Pentium M and Core 2 Duo processing architectures with up to 4GB of RAM. Storage options include hard drives, solid-state drives or Compact Flash drives. Other options include resistive touchscreens, PCI expansion capability and custom bezel colors. Once installed, the PanelMagic PC series meets a NEMA 4/4X rating.
Kiss4U KTQ45 industrial server is based on an embedded KTQ45/ATXE motherboard with Intel 82Q45 Graphics and Memory Controller Hub and Intel I/O Controller Hub 10. With a front-side bus to 1.333 MHz and 8 GB DDR3 SDRAM, the device includes the Intel Core 2 Quad processor and the Intel Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2) offers hardware encryption of all transferred data. The  server is equipped with an 80+ class 500 W power supply unit.
Microbox 782AA-ACP fanless industrial thin-client terminal computer has an AMD LX800 processor running at 500 MHz. With 256 MB of DDR333, expandable to 1 GB, its I/O connections include dual 10/100 Mbps Ethernet, one LTP printer port, three RS232 COM ports, one RS232/422/585 COM port, four USB 2.0 ports, one VGA port, one CompactFlash memory slot and one KB/MS connection.

Everest industrial computer comes with IGEL or Fedora options for Linux operating systems. Designed for extremes of temperature, vibration, shock and/or moisture, it has a full-screen color display and touchscreen.
Glacier Computer

About the Author

Mike Bacidore | Editor in Chief

Mike Bacidore is chief editor of Control Design and has been an integral part of the Endeavor Business Media editorial team since 2007. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning multiple regional and national awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at [email protected] 

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