Innovation in Industrial PCs

Surf's Up: Users and Developers Are Keeping Their Heads Above the Incoming Waves of Innovation Driven by Smaller, Faster, Cheaper and Stronger Industrial PCs. Here's How They Stay Afloat

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For instance, iNOEX GmbH (www.inoex.de) in Bad Oeynhausen, Germany, is using Kontron's (www.kontron.com) Nano Client with Intel's Atom Z5xx processor, System Controller Hub US15W, and a stainless-steel housing as a visualization client and HMI for its new ECCO ultrasonic measurement system. Typically serving in extremely hot and dusty settings, ECCO is used by extruded plastic pipe manufacturers to achieve much faster pipe centering and optimum wall thickness. Its measurement technology for 10-in. pipes enables die-heads for producing large-sized and thick-walled pipes to be quickly centered, which greatly reduces start-up scrap and saves costs.

"Previously, there was no way to directly measure the wall thickness of a pipe in a vacuum tank during the extrusion process," says Martin Deters, iNOEX's technical director. "Pipes could only be measured after they were extruded and cooled, and only then could use make any necessary adjustment of the die-head. This process wasted a great deal of time and material, and users were not always sure whether the die was set precisely for the second attempt. This has now changed with the introduction of the new ECCO centering unit, which is suitable for pipes made of PE, PP and PVC, and can be used for pipe diameters starting at 90 mm and wall thicknesses from 1.8 mm to 120 mm."

Deters adds that much credit for ECCO's success goes to Nano Client and its Atom processor's 1.6-GHz CPU and maximum of 1024 MB of soldered RAM, which allow Nano Client to run even demanding web-based visualizations. "This processor technology fits perfectly into Java and Linux's software environments. Because it produces less heat, Atom enables more robust, fully enclosed system designs. Compared to previous x86 systems with similar performance, Atom has improved power dissipation, and so it runs much cooler, too. Also, Atom-based system designs can be flatter and more compact."

IPC Upstages DCS

Likewise, these and other advances are enabling IPCs and PC-based controls to take on jobs traditionally performed by programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and distributed control systems (DCSs).

For example, to maintain tight and consistent control of 76 control points on its 45 fermentation tanks that annually produce 74,000 barrels of 24 different brands of beer, Bell's Brewery (http://bellsbeer.com) in Kalamazoo, Mich., recently migrated from single-loop controls for each tank to Siemens Industry's (www.siemens.com) Braumat PCS 7 Compact control and automation system, which also was 20% less expensive than using single-loop controls. Braumat PCS 7 Box compresses the functions of a DCS into a compact industrial PC platform, which also includes an integrated, hardened controller that operates independently of the PC (Figure 1).

Bell's had been performing precision temperature control using single-loop controllers, but this method had drawbacks because it requires manually recording tank temperatures, which is very labor-intensive and prone to human error. "We were aware of the new brew-house controls that Siemens had released for small brewers," says John Mallett, Bell's production manager. "Initially, we were interested in its application to our fermentation process because it could centrally control the temperatures of all 76 tank temperature control points from one location. However, we soon recognized that it could achieve a much more precise level of temperature control than what we could ever achieve manually with single-loop controllers. Previously, we'd set our temperature parameters daily, and then manually check tank temperatures once or twice a day. The new Siemens system can record tank temperatures as frequently as every second and adjust the process automatically to maintain desired temperature profiles. This offered us a new level of precision in fermentation temperature control."

Braumat PCS 7 Compact consists of Siemens' Simatic PCS 7 Box integrated with its Braumat Compact library, which has all the functions for automation, monitoring, control and engineering a brewery. The Braumat Compact libraries for brewing were released to the craft brewery market in 2006. Also, PCS 7 Box is a hybrid PLC/DCS unit, providing the features of a PLC and DCS in a crossover application suitable for hybrid industries.

Consequently, Bell reports that its new fermentation control system has given it quicker throughput, reduced labor, and made its overall system easier to operate. "We considerably reduced our labor hours by putting in the new system," adds Mallett. "Doing one or two manual checks per day for each fermentation tank typically was a two- to three-person activity. Now, this is all controlled from one central location in a fraction of the time. These man hours are now being put to use on other activities in the brewery. With efficiencies like this, we will continue to systematically integrate our other brew-house functions into the system."
Extra Space, Future Places

Now, while everyone knows IPCs are getting smaller, it's less well known what developers and users are doing with the freedom of having a little more room to invent.

"A smaller computer lets us be more creative with its packaging, making it smaller and lighter, able to handle more extreme temperatures and allows more portable designs," says Hardaway. "We saw a void for IPCs that were even more rugged than Toughbooks, and so we designed ours to help with down-hole readings on off-shore oil rigs and then move quickly between different sites. Users couldn't bring PCs into many of these areas before because they weren't portable and weren't on non-incendive circuits, so they had to be in 'doghouses' or trailers, or users had to employ keyboard-video-mouse (KVM) boxes and cabling to extend lines into hazardous environments." Daisy Data's RigMate PCs are rated for Class 1, Div 2 or Zone 2 applications and have touchscreens, fanless cooling, WiFi and Bluetooth wireless and GPS capabilities for locating equipment.

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