Tips for Industrial PC Building from a Tier One IT Vendor



Why airflow evaluation tops the “must reckon with” list, avoiding signal degradation, and more.

Embedded computing is now everywhere. According to a Technavio study, the embedded systems market was valued at more than $11 billion in 2014 and is expected to reach $23.10 billion in 2019, growing at a CAGR of almost 15 percent. Falling component costs, improved power efficiencies, increasing business ROI needs, and demand from the IoT are fueling organic growth.

Machine builders have many things to consider when designing products and solutions for the plant floor. These considerations include:

  • Panel size and thickness
  • Storage and connectivity
  • Touch type IP class and safety certifications
  • Mounting
  • Power inputs
  • Reliability
  • Ease-of-use of the software

Following is a closer look at three of the above considerations.

First and foremost, machine builders must evaluate airflow—can you use a fanless PC? And, if so, how does the fanless PC live up to its full temperature range when installed in a static environment without airflow? Some Embedded PC manufacturers take liberties with their rating specs and take into consideration some nominal amount of airflow to achieve their desired specification.

Figure 1: Touch type IP class and safety certifications are among the considerations for machine builders targeting the plant floor.

Figure 1: Touch type IP class and safety certifications are among the considerations for machine builders targeting the plant floor.

Second, it’s important the enclosure is rated for the environment.  If used in a hazardous location, all entry and exit points need to either be in conduit or use special types of cables rated for no conduit use.  Energy and power traveling through cables, and not in a conduit, need to meet another set of controlled specifications.

Third, due to the advancement of electronics in terms of compute power and efficiency, it is possible now, more than ever, to achieve higher levels of performance in these environments.  With the shrinking size and smaller footprint of today’s compute engines, it can be tempting to simply throw more things into the enclosure along with the computer. However, careful attention should be paid to the devices installed along with the computer, as they can lead to excess heat buildup or even electronic noise in the enclosure.

New Challenges

The demand for higher-speed connections and increased modularity has created new challenges as well. When taking a modular approach and utilizing high-speed connections, it is especially important to stick with devices that use standard input/output (I/O) protocols and connectors. Also, using high quality cables with good connectors (and locking if possible) can help eliminate potential problems caused by electrical noise interference or degradation of signal integrity between devices. Low quality connections have the potential to corrode over time due to normal oxidation processes and can be especially problematic for high-speed signal transmission.

Everything you can include inside the “compute box engine” requires less external connection and can be better controlled. For example, installing your WWAN radio inside an embedded PC eliminates the need to connect to an external WWAN modem, therefore creating one less likely failure point. The same can be said for external CAN transceiver modules, GPIO, WiFi, storage and so on.

What other tips would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments.

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Joe_Bastulli_webJoe Bastulli is a Business Development Manager for Dell. His education includes a BSEET and an MBA from Cleveland State.  Joe and his family reside in Chesterland, Ohio just outside of Cleveland’s East side.  Joe has 30 years of experience in the electronics industry spanning research, design, service, sales and business development with a focus on semiconductor and embedded systems.  Joe loves to help his customers achieve their goals and make the world a better place through the use of technology.

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