Scott Kortier, marketing, sales and communications manager at Pro-face America, adds, “We laugh when we hear that Dell is supposedly the most used industrial PC because some users may not be looking at their true costs of ownership and getting their PCs back up to speed. They can install a $400-$500 PC in an enclosure rated to only 30 °C to 35 °C. However, when it fails on the plant floor and it takes eight hours to get it and the application going again, then that downtime may cost a lot more than some users might think. If users don’t know the actual cost of their downtime, then they can’t make an informed decision about what kind of PC and protection they need.”
Self-Monitoring and the Future
Just as industrial PCs help monitor industrial processes, some innovative users are turning them around to periodically check the PCs own health. For example, Pro-face recently launched its Reliability, Availability, Serviceability (RAS) program to monitor the health of its industrial PCs locally or remotely. RAS will check a variety of operating parameters, including internal temperature, hard drive, fan speed and flat-panel backlight, and then output alerts or alarms from the PC to a stack light, pop-up message on another screen in a central control or elsewhere via the Internet.
IPCs aren’t likely to disappear in the future, but their forms and functions will be driven by users’ needs and whichever software and hardware solves these problems best. Some developers are finding ways, such as using USB ports, to reduce internal hardware and remove much of the bus wiring. “Boards are being extended further out to the edge of some PCs, which mean less wiring, but more solder,” explains Berryman. “So even if there are fewer PCs on the plant floor in the future, there will be more computing and data processing going on there.
Under Power, In the Mill, Up in the Air
Just as the hat makes the man, the appropriate housing may define the industrial PC. For example, National Instruments reports users are employing its PXI PC-based platform and LabView software in several unusual locations.
- Testing and certification organization, KEMA Netherlands B.V., synchronized PXI-6133 boards and PXI-5122 digitizers to develop a faster-acquiring transient recording system that measures three-phase AC currents and voltages when testing for faults up to 1,060 kV peak at 63 kA.
- Pitel Engineering developed a PAC-based gauge-monitoring system using PXI, Compact PXI and LabView software to check and control metal strip thicknesses in cold-rolling steel mills in Thane, Maharashtra, India. This new system provides micron-level deviation from setpoints as an analog input to the PXI hardware, which enables higher-precision monitoring, faster response times than PLCs and allows 24/7 operations.
- Boeing reports using PXI controllers and chassis, FPGA dynamic signal analyzers, and LabView to build a process data acquisition system (DAQ)—including 600 ground-based microphones—to test the effectiveness of designs for reducing commercial jetliner noise during takeoff, landing and sustained flight. Boeing’s new DAQ solution is distributed across multiple PXI chasses, synchronizes all channels, provides high channel count with full, simultaneous bandwidth and reduces required cable.