Product advice on tough industrial PCs

Next-generation industrial PCs (IPCs) that are genuinely industrial-grade are foundational for successful edge computing and analytics applications, according to a company with a Control Engineering Engineers’ Choice Award product. See seven attributes of a good IPC design.

By Nishita Palkar February 24, 2022
Courtesy: Emerson

 

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the 7 attributes of a good industrial PC design.
  • See how uptime matters in IPC applications.
  • Explore the 3 advantages of integrated IPC software.

The case for selecting industrial PCs (IPCs) instead of standard PCs for industrial and mission-critical edge applications is well known by original equipment manufacturers, systems integrators, and end users. However, while many vendors may tout their offerings as IPCs, end users have often discovered some conflicting results.

Digital transformation, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and industrial visualization projects benefit from computing capability located at the edge for reduced latency between data sources and analytics, and to deliver the required analytical performance. However, the industrial edge often subjects the IPC to environmental extremes of shock, vibration, contaminants, and temperature. Heat is a particular foe of reliability.

A “real” IPC for industrial service must offer consistent and reliable computing performance, provide flexible options in a compact and ruggedized enclosure, and be backed by comprehensive support. It should be designed by experts with broad industrial experience, built to ensure a long lifecycle, and tested rigorously.

7 attributes of a good industrial PC design

A good IPC design should include some fundamental options so users can make the most of their purchase, and specify an IPC configuration that fits the intended role:

  1. A selection of CPUs and graphics interfaces, architected on a modular platform for flexible sizing and easy upgrades in the future
  2. Expandability via PCIe slots
  3. An appropriate amount of error correcting code (ECC) memory
  4. Solid state drives (SSDs) for reliable storage
  5. Multiple 10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet ports and USB ports
  6. No moving parts, for minimized maintenance
  7. Specific thermal management technologies for longer field life, and continuous, uninterrupted operation.

Uptime matters in IPC applications

Greater uptime is ensured with an IPC built from high-quality industrial components with patented thermal monitoring technology and sophisticated passive cooling techniques. These are essential for enabling the highest performance in a platform that can operate throughout extended temperature ranges, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Designers should look for IPCs designed to meet stated thermal ratings with the CPU at 100% performance. Some IPCs may achieve their ratings only by throttling CPU operation or with supplemental external airflow, but neither of these options is acceptable for real-world use. Instead, careful design and implementation of heat sinks and thermal conductive paths result in the IPC running up to 10 deg C cooler than typical IPCs might experience, thus resulting in increased life expectancy.

The Emerson PACSystems RXi2-BP Industrial PC offers powerful, reliable, and ruggedized computing, making it the ideal computing platform for a wide range of industrial control, visualization, IIoT connectivity, and analytics applications. (Emerson’s PACSystems RXi2-BP industrial PC (IPC) was announced as the Control Engineering 2022 Engineers’ Choice Awards winner for the “Industrial PCs” category on Feb. 7.) Courtesy: Emerson

The Emerson PACSystems RXi2-BP Industrial PC offers powerful, reliable, and ruggedized computing, making it the ideal computing platform for a wide range of industrial control, visualization, IIoT connectivity, and analytics applications. (Emerson’s PACSystems RXi2-BP industrial PC (IPC) was announced as the Control Engineering 2022 Engineers’ Choice Awards winner for the “Industrial PCs” category on Feb. 7.) Courtesy: Emerson

3 advantages of integrated IPC software

Another part of the story involves software. IPCs may be integrated with software to help with:

  1. Visualization for local, remote, and/or mobile users
  2. IIoT data connectivity, and gateway to higher-level systems and cloud resources
  3. Comprehensive plant-wide analytics and associated dashboards for overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), key performance indicators (KPIs) and more.

One vendor, able to offer IPCs with software suites supporting these roles, will improve application interoperability, while reducing risks and development costs. An IPC pre-loaded with tightly integrated software platforms provides the most reliable overall solution.

There is an increasing need to design edge computing into automated machines and systems to deliver advanced control, visualization, connectivity, and analytics – regardless of industry, and of whether the implementor is an original equipment manufacturer, systems integrator, or other end user.

IPCs are often the best platform for delivering IIoT benefits, but not all IPCs are what they seem. End users should find an IPC supplier with strong industrial experience along with the ability to preload their own software suites for the best performance and results.

Nishita Palkar is senior product manager of the industrial PC portfolio for Emerson’s machine automation solutions business. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS: Industrial PC advice, Engineers’ Choice Awards

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Nishita Palkar
Author Bio: Nishita Palkar is senior product manager of the industrial PC portfolio for Emerson’s machine automation solutions business. In this role, she leads the global product portfolio and product strategy for Emerson's Industrial PCs. Palkar has a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Mechanical Engineering from Mumbai University, and a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School.