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Types of Industrial PCs Used in Industrial Automation

The industrial sector is increasingly experiencing the impact of the Industry 4.0 concept. Whether you are looking to optimize the workflow, increase production or savings in maintenance, or explore new automation opportunities, there are many ways industrial automation and the underlying technology can boost your operations.

Industrial automation is the automation of technical processes using computer and information technologies. It gains importance as the underlying technologies evolve rapidly, infiltrating more spheres of our working lives. The term industrial automation is used when devices, machines or technical plants work automatically with the help of electrical, pneumatic, hydraulic or mechanical equipment. The machine equipment replaces the human actions. The system, in this case, consists of three constituents [source]:

  • A technical plant or machines that perform a technical process, such as transformation, manufacturing, conversion or transport of material or energy.
  • A computer or a communication system that processes information from the machines. It acquires, calculates and presents data about the technical events. It also provides the necessary interface for the personnel to control the technical processes.
  • The control personnel that observes, controls and influences the technical processes through the corresponding interfaces and adjusts the process in case any disturbances arise.

The aim is to replace as much as possible human labor intervention and hazardous assembly processes with automated machine labor.

In an industrial environment, a wide number of factors influence the choice of the computer for the industrial automation, such as ruggedness, shock, vibration, temperature, pressure, distance, humidity, exposure to liquid, dust, and many other ambient variables.

Mini Rugged PCs

These are versatile, customizable industrial computers that allow adding almost unlimited functionality via full-size and mini PCI Express slots, USB ports, mSATA, RS232 ports. Ruggedness ensures shock and vibration protection, durability, while IP65 sealed waterproof and dustproof build ensures ingress protection from liquids and hard particles, as well as temperature fluctuations. Mini rugged PCs come with military-class high-performance processors that minimize power consumption and maintenance costs. They are compatible with virtually any existing peripherals, and any device in an industrial setting. The multiple PCI Express slots enable it to be configured for nearly any industrial automation functionality. Since many builds are fanless, their cooling system is passive, and thus the PC consumes less power and produces significantly less heat than traditional computers.

Of special benefit is the terminal block feature, which allows the PC to be turned off remotely, so locating it in an enclosure and being able to power on and off the computer makes it more flexible as to where you can mount it.

Mini rugged PCs have many applications in industrial automation:

  • Data collection.
  • Control card for equipment.
  • Industrial imaging and other applications requiring high-speed data.
  • Controller in machine vision applications to automate quality control systems.
  • Automatic inspection, measurement, verification, flaw detection.
  • Direct equipment, for example, robots.
  • Video surveillance and analytics requiring HD image capturing, facial recognition, real-time detection, and post analytics.
  • Any application that requires removable drive bays for swappable hard drives for easy data backup.
  • As embedded computers.

Industrial Open Frame Panel PCs

Industrial panel PCs support industrial communication protocols and accommodate the needs of many industrial applications that allow operators to monitor, control and adjust industrial automation processes. Serial ports and dual NICs allow its use with legacy devices and peripherals, so integrating new equipment and still use the older devices creates saving opportunities.

Open frame panel PCs are designed for seamless installation in industrial environments and integration into an existing architecture of a production chain – in control cabinets, machines, kiosks, etc. They are widely used for Human Machine Interface, as its resistive touch screen and ruggedness ensure easy data access and durability under harsh environments. Open frame panel PCs are widely used for:

  • Original equipment manufacturer machinery, OEM.
  • Human-Machine Interface, HMI.
  • Machine-Machine Interface, MMI.
  • Internet-of-Things control and data aggregation.
  • Vision systems.
  • Factory automation systems.
  • Material handling.

Industrial Tablets, Forklift Tablets

Companies see the wisdom in deploying industrial tablets on the manufacturing floor for a variety of applications:

  • Human-Machine Interface – instant access to critical data with notifications from industrial automation systems, status information, machine vision system notifications.
  • Instant remote control of industrial processes.
  • Any application that relies on the cloud-based platforms and machine-learning monitoring systems that detect anomalies in automation systems and enable predictive maintenance of industrial equipment.
  • HMI-hosting web servers host large volumes of data about production statistics, maintenance and diagnostics. Since industrial tablets pull the data from the cloud, employees do not need to plug in (as with laptops) and can change parameters remotely.
  • Numerous warehouse and inventory tasks automation with embedded barcode reader or RFID reader for quality control, items tracking and security, for example for scanning barcodes on raw materials and finished goods.
  • Forklift tablets are popular due to their ruggedness, easy yet reliable mounting, hot-swap batteries and versatility. Forklift tablets are used in HMI, MMI, barcode scanning and inventory management, processes control and monitoring. They ensure 24/7 uptime and withstand shock, vibration and other harsh conditions.
  • Industrial tablets are widely used for assembly line balancing.
  • Linux and Windows-powered rugged tablets are used for embedded systems, factory automation, tracking and tracing, eliminating paperwork, capturing signatures.

Benefits of Industrial Automation

  • Increase labor productivity – get greater output without losing accuracy.
  • Improve product quality, reduce defect rate, increase conformity and uniformity of the quality.
  • Reduce production cost, labor cost, increase ROI.
  • Reduce routine manual tasks such as variables monitoring.
  • Improve safety by locating the human worker outside the hazard zone, thus preventing accidents and injuries.
  • Advance remote performance monitoring, diagnostics, set point computations, startup and shutdown operations, critical notifications, reporting and remote control of automated processes.

Benefits of Industrial Computers and Rugged Tablets

  • Rugged builds, water- and dustproof, IP65 sealed, shock, vibration and temperature fluctuations resistant.
  • Military-class computation power.
  • Power-efficient.
  • Fanless, passive cooling.
  • Hot-swap drives in panel PCs –  perfect for data backups.
  • Hot-swap batteries in tablets for 24/7 uptime.
  • MIL-STD components, 5+ years lifespan, low fail rates, extended warranties, customized builds.
  • Integrated peripherals – barcode, RFID, CAC, Smart Card, biometric.
  • Ease of mounting with VESA.
  • Ease of integration with legacy ports, support for industrial protocols and Windows or Linux OS.

Flexible Open Frame Panel PC – Advantages, Market Segments, and Important Features

Flexible open frame panel PCs are built from ground up to be easily integrated into custom solutions. The open frame means a device is mainly placed in a metal enclosure and does not have a bezel. Instead, it is typically shipped with various mounting options or options that allow it to be easily integrated or embedded into the existing ecosystem. Electronic components such as display controller, harnessing, or internal power supply in the flexible open frame panel PCs are fastened to the inside of the robust metal chassis.

Advantages of Flexible Open Frame Panel PCs

Open frame panel PCs offer unprecedented flexibility due to their design. It allows them to be configured for many applications and integrated into any custom product design using its mounting system. A powerful combination of an industrial-grade display and an industrial-grade PC creates a robust all-in-one fully integrated solution.

Flexible open frame panels PCs significantly simplify installation. They remove the need for additional cabling, or multiple mounting points for various peripherals and components (as opposed to the case with the mouse and keyboard PCs with back-end computer to conceal).

The open frame panel PCs are specifically designed for those cases when a customer wishes to integrate them into an existing system and customize it, for example, with a branded front bezel, or uses as an embedded computer.

Additionally, the majority of industrial grade panel PCs can be panel mounted, which means the front of the unit needs to be protected and withstand harsh industrial environments such as temperature, humidity, and can be washed. Units that need to be VESA-mounted have an all round solid and liquid ingress protection, perfect for rugged industrial environments.

Market Segments and Applications

Industrial flexible open frame panel PCs are widely used in a large variety of applications across numerous commercial and industrial market segments:

  • Point-of-sale terminals in restaurants and retail stores
  • Food and processing industry in production floors with high temperatures, humidity and often grease
  • Digital signage in wholesale warehouses, supermarkets, train stations, departments stores, in logistics
  • Medical imaging
  • Fitness and sports solutions
  • Information Kiosk for hotels, hospitals, libraries
  • Self-serve Kiosk for airports, supermarkets, movie rentals, ATM terminals for self-ticketing or self-checkout purposes
  • Avionics applications
  • Vending and gaming machines
  • Machine control
  • Process control
  • Industrial manufacturing
  • Human Machine Interface use cases in industrial automation for industrial communication protocols that allow users to monitor and control automated processes
  • With the advent of Technology 4.0 and IoT, many industries are adding the connectivity features to their legacy equipment through embedded systems

… and many other use cases.

Important Features of Flexible Open Frame Panel PCs

  • Industrial open frame panel PCs must be designed to withstand harsh manufacturing conditions. They must be dust and moisture-proof, and be easy to clean.
  • They must be manufactured and assembled using military-grade, high-quality components to ensure the long MTBF of discreet parts, long product life cycle of 5+ years, and feature a low overall failure rate of less than 2%.
  • Of note: the overall failure rate, product life cycle, and MTBF must be accounted for based on the 24/7 use of the computers, which is their regular industrial work cycle.
  • A fanless design is not only about the reduction of noise, but also about increasing the durability of the PC, since a fanless PC has less moving parts prone to failure. The passive cooling system in fanless PCs also means significantly lower power consumption, which in its turn means cost reduction.
  • Industrial-grade components must be high voltage to endure extreme industrial conditions.
  • The touchscreen technology must be industrial-grade, with antiglare coating for flawless imaging in any lighting conditions, and when viewed from any angle.
  • The industrial open frame panel PC must be highly customizable to meet your specific demands and needs. If a base configuration features any certificates, inquire whether your custom configuration will have these certifications, too. Mounting options like platform or VESA must be customizable. You must be able to choose the memory, processor, and other options.
  • Of special note is the availability of serial ports that would allow for the integration of the open frame panel PC into an ecosystem with legacy external devices and peripherals.
  • Some environments call for ingress protection with all round solid and liquid ingress protection, and waterproof I/O connectors. The IP64 certification reduces the maintenance costs, extends the life of the PC and averts mechanical failures.
  • Open frame panel PCs apt for industrial use must withstand variable temperatures – look for the temperature rating of up to 70°C / 158°F.
  • In industrial environments, a panel PC must have a resistive touch technology to allow users wear gloves while using it. Some environments call for stylus support.

The end product must be easily integrated into any industrial system with the aesthetics and functionality meeting rugged design, ease of use and affordability, as well as low maintenance costs and the overall TCO.

Industrial environments everywhere are harnessing the benefits of flexible open frame panel PCs, which allow them to connect the legacy and new equipment and form a connected, smart environment. The flexible open frame panel form factor has an immense application and an even bigger potential with the advent of the Technology 4.0.