Computing Backbone

It is mind boggling to think today of how ubiquitous the computer is interwoven into the daily activities of today. Today the term ubiquitous computing is used to describe how information processing has been integrated into everyday life and ongoing business activities. The modern computer of today is billions of times more capable than earlier machines at a fraction of cubic space they occupy.

The focus of this section is towards the use of the industrial computer or industrial PC towards the applications of automation and industrial control and simulation.

Industrial PCs are used primarily to manage a process, control a process, act as a discrete controller to OEM equipment, and distribute information across a network, as a control system for applied vision systems and a thin client. There are other uses certainly, the before mentioned list was to provide a flavor of the permutations of uses of the industrial computer. Industrial PCs offer features different from consumer PCs in terms of reliability, compatibility, expansion options and long-term supply.

Common categories of industrial PC are the rack mount form factor and the fanless industrial PC. These systems typically cost considerably more than their commercially available cousins found at your computer store. While the majority of industrial computing systems are built with COTS (Commercially Off The Shelf) hardware today, they are built in lower quantity and as a result, the cost structure is different.

Another detail which differs the industrial pc from the commercial grade is they are classified as rugged or ruggedized computers. The term hardened computer is also used interchangeably. This term indicates they are designed to operate in a non office environment and in conditions which reduce the likelihood of survival. Design considerations include vibrations, temperature, power, EMI and wet or dusty conditions. When qualifying an industrial PC, it may be required to undergo test procedures at a lab to ensure it meets the application criteria. If a rugged computer comes with a rating standard, one should always ask for the certificate of compliance.

The Panel PC is a subset of the industrial PC sector. These come in a host of configurations and IP or Nema ratings. The entry class is the IP54 rating and certifications will progress to IP67, explosion proof and military grade. The cousin to the panel PC is the HMI controller. The HMI controller offers smaller screen sizes which can reduce the cost of the OEM or integrator in their metal work fabrication costs.

Considerations when selecting an industrial computer include:
-Mission critical or not
-Type of Enclosure (dictated by the environment and survivability)
-Ingress Protection
-Form Factor
-Power and Cooling requirements
-CPU load
-Communication (I/O, TCP.IP, fieldbus)
-Expansion slot
-Connector types
-EMI filtering & Power surges