Specifying and configuring a full-featured rack mount industrial PC system to meet your requirements is easy as long as you follow a few important guidelines. But what is meant by the term "Industrial PC" and how does this technology differs from desktop, lab or commercial PCs?

High quality industrial PCs are vital for applications subjected to harsh environments, high demands and/or 7 days x 24 hour mission critical operation. These conditions can markedly reduce the reliability and life of a standard PC. Also the added flexibility and optional extras of Industrial PCs is a key driving force for the increasing deployment of industrial strength PC solutions.

Protection from shock, vibration and temperature due to harsh operational environments

  • When operating computer systems in these environments, the lack of protection can lead to a complete product failure and/or intermittent fault conditions, such as vibrations inducing loose connections.
  • Some Industrial PCs have an unitised chassis design. This means all vibratory transfer functions between different parts of the system are held to a minimum, thereby avoiding disparate frequency ratios that can lead to out-of-phase vibrations.
  • Multiple fans and filters for positive pressurisation, resulting in better cooling of the CPU and other chassis hot spots; or a sealed embedded system that may be convection cooled.
  • EMI/RFI-resistant steel chassis instead of plastic housing.
    Secure mounting mechanisms to protect and stabilise multiple disk drives.
  • Shock and vibration dampening for drives and other fragile components.
  • Hold-down clamp(s) to secure cards and ensure firm board connections.
  • Strain-relief to keep tension off cords, cables and connections.
  • Locking connectors for critical connections such as power inputs.

More reliability for mission critical applications
One of the major advantages that often drives the use of industrial computing solutions is the ability to effectively run applications on a 7 day x 24 hour basis with downtime kept to a minimum.

  • Single-board, easy-to-replace plug-in CPU that has a higher MTBF (power on hours) than active backplane (motherboard) CPUs.
  • Watchdog timer that provides an automatic reset or alarm in the event of a systems lock-up.
  • Redundant power supplies in an N+1 configuration for fault tolerance.
  • Hot swap maintainability.
  • Safety approvals such as C-Tick, UL, c-IL, CE, and others to ensure that the system has met or exceeded minimum quality and safety requirements.
  • Lockable access to all control switches and keyboard/mouse ports to prevent unauthorised system entry.

Added flexibility and optional extras

  • A wider range of backplane options and configuration flexibility as compared with slot-constrained motherboard-based PCs.
  • Flexibility to configure the number and type of card slots required for your application.
  • Tailored power supply options that may include support for either standard AC operation or telecom-oriented 48VDC inputs.
  • 1U and 2U high chassis and optimised power and cooling allow densely-populated rack systems.

PICMG: Ensuring true Standards for Industrial PCs

One way to be more certain that the industrial PC you buy will meet your expectations is to purchase one that meets PICMG (PCI Industrial Computer Manufactures Group) specification. Before selecting an PCI/PCI-Express backplane, verify that the manufacturer is a member of the PICMG consortium. More and more companies are joining this group and following its specifications to ensure increased compatibility between manufacturers. This help to provide the Industrial passive backplane PC with a simple upgrade path. By replacing the Single Board Computer (SBC) a system can be easily upgraded to the latest technology without changing the slot configuration and peripheral cards.

Technology is always changing: Make sure you plan for it.

If you ignore the changing nature of technology in your designs, you could have problems later on in the life. Do not build your designs around the personal computer market as though it won't change. If anything, the technology is changing even faster than it was in the past. In particular the processor, chipset and operating system you specify today will change dramatically in two years time. Industrial Motherboards and Single Board Computers are and often designed and manufactured for a five year long-life cycle. This ensures that in the event of failure, replacement parts will be available.

Many industrial control engineers write software that is extremely hardware specific - even to the extent of communicating to specific registers of a particular chipset (the supporting ICs to the CPU). These engineers may have to rewrite their software if a chipset changes or becomes obsolete, and the replacement is not register-identical to that with which they were familiar. A change in chipset technology is usually the rule rather than the exception. The solution is to use higher-level programming languages to design chipset independent software applications and systems.

Important features to consider before purchase

One major advantage to the technology we are using today is the high degree of reliability and long life of the components. Check your environmental conditions such as heat dissipation of the CPU, and talk to your vendors' application engineers before making a purchase.

The following checklist is offered to help you consider all or most of the important features and options that your industrial PC may require. Some elements won't be needed, depending on your application;

  • Chassis: rack-mountable and slide mounting rails (Sometimes these rails can be removed for desktop applications). Sizes can range form 1U to 6U high.
  • CPU: passive backplane, plug-in card or motherboard (important consideration for mission critical applications, as this can effect reliability and maintenance).
  • Product Life-Cycles and the availability of replacement parts,
  • Software: operating system/networking/application;
  • Disk drives: SATA2/SATA3, RAID array and any specialized drive controllers.
  • Data integrity and backup.
  • Video/graphics adaptors.
  • Monitor and rack-mounting slides to suit the operating environment.
  • Keyboard (check environment for type of keyboard to use).
  • I/O interfaces such as: USB, Ethernet, Firewire, Serial, Parallel,
  • Specialized application specific plug-in cards
  • Remote I/O.
  • Termination boards and cables.
  • Watchdog timer

For More Information Contact Interworld Electronics

For More Information or to Request a Quote Contact Interworld Electronics