It may be obvious to some, but this general question comes up often enough that I thought it would be appropriate to summarize in detail.
Industrial computers are defined by three characteristics:
- Industrial computers are designed with specific form-factors and mounting options that are required in factory automation, food processing, and other industrial automation applications.
- Industrial computers are rugged solutions to meet demanding environmental requirements such as protection from liquids and dust, extreme temperatures, and high shock and vibration.
- Industrial computers are long life cycle solutions that are available for several years.
1. Industrial Computer Form-Factors and Mounting
Industrial panel PCs, industrial box PCs, and industrial monitors are designed specifically for deployment in areas such as factory automation, food manufacturing, production floors, kiosks, and other industrial applications. Industrial touchscreen panel PCs and industrial monitors can be panel mounted into a cutout in an enclosure, so the touchscreen area is flush with the surface. Industrial panel mount touchscreen computers are often required when mounting in a Hoffman enclosure, pelican case, or cabinet door. Industrial box PCs and fanless embedded systems are specifically designed for use in automation computing in factory environments. Industrial box PCs include mounting brackets, so they can be fastened to walls or other surfaces for permanent installation. Many fanless industrial computers include DIN rail mounting, which is necessary for many factory computer applications. These mounting options are not available on consumer or business class computers.
2. Industrial Computer Environmental Requirements
Many industrial automation applications require computers that can withstand harsh environmental conditions. Some examples include requirements for dust-proof computers, wide temperature computers, and waterproof computers.
When selecting a computer for use in a dusty environment, a fanless industrial computer is the best choice. Computers with fans are subject to failure and decreased performance from dust contamination. Computers with fans suck in dust which collects on internal components and impedes necessary airflow. When systems are affected by dust contamination, their cooling capabilities are degraded. When Intel processors are improperly cooled, a built-in protection mechanism called thermal throttling is initiated. Thermal throttling reduces the clock speed of the CPU to protect it from overheating, and this reduces the performance of the system. If a system is operating in these conditions for a prolonged period of time, the internal components that are stressed are subject to early failure. Many of Teguar’s industrial computers have enhanced dust protection. These industrial computers are not only fanless, but they have a unique thermal design with die-cast aluminum or stainless steel enclosures without ventilation holes, so there is no threat of dust contamination. An industrial fanless computer is recommended for applications in dusty environments.
Many computer applications such as food processing, food manufacturing, and clean rooms require the ability to wash down the computer with water jets or chemicals. Teguar offers many industrial touchscreen panel PCs that can be deployed in these environments. If the computer is frequently washed down or cleaned with chemicals, stainless steel is recommended to prevent rust and corrosion. Teguar offers stainless steel panel PCs and stainless steel industrial monitors that are IP66, IP67, or IP69K protected on all sides for protection from water jets. These models are available in screen sizes ranging from 10” up to 22”. Teguar also offers panel mount computers with IP66, IP67, and IP69K front panels. When these panel PCs are mounted into a cutout in an enclosure, they provide a water tight seal, where the front bezel is protected from water. These panel mount models are available in screen sizes ranging from 7” to 32”, and they include aluminum or stainless steel front bezels. Stand-alone waterproof box PCs and fanless embedded systems are available for headless applications where a monitor is not required. If the computer will be exposed to liquids, a waterproof industrial panel PC or waterproof embedded system is definitely required.
Many industrial applications require a wide operating temperature. Some examples include outdoor kiosks, foundry computers, vehicle PCs, and remote deployments where temperature is not controlled. In these cases, it is important to choose a solution with a high ambient operating temperature. If wide temperature computers are not used in these environments, they are subject to performance degradation and early failure. A qualified industrial computer with wide temperature memory and wide temperature solid state drive ensure perfect operation and durability in these environments. Teguar’s wide temperature panel PCs and wide temperature box PCs are tested to meet the requirements of these extreme conditions.
3. Product Life Cycle and Long Term Availability
Perhaps the most important difference between industrial computers and the consumer alternatives is the life cycle support. Most consumer and business class computers offer a very limited procurement life cycle. Unless specifically stated by the manufacturer, these types of computers are typically subject to discontinuation in six to twelve months. This can pose a problem for industrial applications. When computer components change, there are often unwanted side effects. Software that was proven to work on one system may not operate correctly on new hardware iterations. Many industrial computer IT professionals prefer to lock down an operating system image to deploy on all systems in the field. When hardware components change, the operating system image is no longer compatible, and this requires a new software image to be created when hardware changes take place. Managing different software deployments on multiple hardware platforms complicates IT infrastructure and is never desirable. In addition to motherboard and internal component changes, consumer and business class computers are also subject to form-factor changes. The PC cases and touchscreen form-factors of consumer computers are subject to frequent change, so the consumer computer available six months from now may no longer be a mechanical fit for the application.
Teguar’s industrial computers were designed with long life cycle components and use CPUs on the Intel Embedded Roadmap. Intel selects specific CPUs from their product line to be designated as “Embedded”. When a CPU is designated as embedded, it is guaranteed to be available from Intel for at least seven years from the release date. Teguar Computers include Intel embedded processors. The life cycle and availability of industrial computers follow the life cycle of the Intel embedded processor. When the time comes and the Intel CPU is discontinued, Teguar’s next generation product utilizes the same enclosure and similar I/O ports, so the replacement model is a drop-in replacement. Selecting a Teguar industrial computer is the safest choice for applications that require consistency and long-term availability. There is no need for concern about computer hardware changes or form factor changes.
About the author
Cory Hovanetz is a Senior Account Manager at Teguar. He has 16 years of experience in the industrial computer hardware industry, half spent in engineering and half in sales. Cory has a Master’s Degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Minnesota and is enthusiastic about sharing industry knowledge…even with Green Bay Packers fans.