Computers are cropping up in all different applications. However the traditional desktop or laptop PC are not suitable for applications where environmental conditions impact on the suitability of an office grade computer. As a result, industrial PCs have evolved and taken on many shapes and sizes from an embedded CPU board to 6RU rack mount system. Choosing the right form factor for the application is critical to PC’s performance in the field and its effective total cost of ownership.

Environmental vs Computational Specifications

In many industrial processes a number of environmental factors play an important part in determining the shape, size and type of computer that is to be used whilst maintain the integrity of the computational and interface requirements of the industrial PC for the particular application.

These environmental constraints include:

  • Operating temperature – typically industrial PCs are rated 0 to 50 or 60 deg C; sometimes a wider range of –20 to +70 deg C is required
  • Cooling requirements – active or passive cooling
  • Dust and water protection – generally industrial PCs are well protected from dust ingress, however a number of applications require water protection on one side, 5 sides or to be totally sealed to IP65 or IP67
  • Shock and vibration levels
  • Size and mounting considerations – rack, panel, wall, DINrail, bench and VESA mount
  • Corrosion – such as sea spray in marine applications, or requiring stainless steel housing for food processing applications
  • Cleanability – for example, some medical and laboratory environments have requirements to clean their equipment with hospital grade disinfectants

In addition to this, the normal electronic and computing requirements of the industrial PC needs to be considered:

  • CPU speed and type
  • What peripherals are required – things such as monitor, keyboard, USB, serial, Ethernet ports
  • AC or DC power
  • Memory requirements
  • Disk storage space, type of disk – SSD or mechanical, RAID array
  • Spare slots for specialised interface cards; both type and number of slots – PCI 3.3 or 5V, PCI-e x1/4/8/16
  • Life cycle of PC – typically industrial PCs have a 5+ year life cycle
  • Ability to modify BIOS
  • Ability to run 24x7 365 days a year
  • Operating system – Windows or Linux, embedded OS

Types of Industrial PCs

Industrial PCs come in many shapes and sizes; generally the application and location of the computer helps define the form factor required. A range of embedded CPU boards exist – PC/104, Computer on Module COM Express/XTX/ETX modules, 3.5inch and 5.25 inch compact boards, mini-ITX, microATX, ATX/EATX motherboards and plug in SBC boards– where the processor board is small enough to allow integration into the machine it is controlling.

Using these building blocks a range of turnkey industrial PCs have been built to provide off the shelf solutions for applications where stand alone PCs are required. This has spurned a series of industrial PC form factors where the PC and its housing is inherently designed and built to meet the level of ruggedness needed:

  • Fanless Box or Embedded Control PCs (different vendors will use different names) where the case itself is the heatsink
  • All in one HMI or PanelPCs with or without touchscreen and varies from just the front panel being IP65 to the complete unit being IP65 or IP67
  • Rack mount industrial PCs – 1RU through to 6RU
  • Rugged tablet/laptop/hand held PCs

Criteria to Consider in Selecting Appropriate Form Factor

Often the processing capabilities required for the application and then environmental requirements are at odds with each other; generally some give and take is required to match these to provide a workable solution. This is usually where consultation with your industrial PC supplier is invaluable in coming up with an appropriate solution.

The following list is guide to selecting the most suitable form factor. At times you might need to go through more than iteration:

  • Define the PC specifications noting clearly what are Have to Have and what are Nice to Have requirements
  • Define the environmental conditions relating to water, dust and corrosion protection, as well as shock and vibration
  • Placement of PC as well as monitor and keyboard if required, dimensions of space available and preferred mounting requirements

In Conclusion

Clearly defining the environmental specifications is an integral part of defining the overall PC specification and should not be an afterthought.

For More Information Contact Interworld Electronics