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Industrial Computers. Why do I need one?

Computers are electronic machines that receive information (Data), process it according to a specific instruction, and deliver new information as a result. Simple like that. Is that so?

Today we have a wide range of products available on the market. Some need to be installed in cabinets, refrigerated environment and with clean and controlled power to be able to carry out their tasks with guarantee; others are so compact that they can be installed inside a light mirror in your home, without any ventilation, except for that little breeze of air that runs through the ducts on your wall. Some need to be protected in sealed packages as they work on the light pole, on the boardwalk of a beach where the average temperature is 35°C and the sea air is present 24 hours a day. Others do not even have encapsulation, and are installed inside large LED panels in a shopping center, with temperature controlled 24 hours a day.

That computer that everyone knows, Desktop or Notebook type, that we have at home or at work, is not always (or almost never) indicated for a more severe professional application, a different use environment from the one it was designed for; a well-ventilated, quiet place, often with good air conditioning. An environment suitable for us, its users, and that does not demand too much from them.

However, some so-called “professional” or “industrial” applications demand a different product, with its own characteristics to support that specific environment and that usage regime. Your brand new Notebook or that Desktop PC with the latest generation processor may not be (and is not) the most suitable for applications that escape an office or residential environment, even that model with a 36-month warranty from a renowned brand. global. It’s certainly an excellent Personal Computer, but not the most suitable for controlling that parking lot at the mall, which works 24 hours non-stop, under the heat and humidity of a tropical country. It was not designed or thought of for that purpose.

For applications in hostile environments, such as an industry, a mining company, an oil platform; for an application in Digital Signage controlling screens in elevators or built into columns in a shopping mall; for use in toll plazas, activating the ticket gate and counting the money 24 hours a day, come rain, shine or a humid fog. For an ICU environment, monitoring a patient’s vital data or in a life support system, your Personal Computer is certainly not suitable. It can be the most modern, the most current, the best configured; absolutely certainly not designed for these applications.

Today, we have available in the world market, including Canada, the most appropriate solutions for all kinds of professional demands. We call these computers generically Industrial Computers – IPC (Industrial PCs). This does not indicate that they are large equipment, almost always perceived as having high added value. There are compact, simple models, often cheaper than your Personal Computer; most suitable, even “perfect”, for your application, for your project.

Industrial Computers have in their “DNA” extra characteristics that personal computers do not have. These characteristics can make a big difference, improving your ROI and protecting your investment. Not only in financial terms, but also in brand image and perceived quality of your product. Equipment that works well, without interruptions, without unexpected technical problems, adds value to your product/project and the image of your company.

Industrial Computers. After all, what's different?

Industrial Computers, or simply “IPCs” are robust by nature. They were conceived, designed, to deliver more robustness than conventional ones. A set of technical, constructive details, which can be used in non-conventional, professional applications.

Here are the main differences:

– “Industrial Grade” electronic components.

Few know, but electronic components are divided into two categories. The “Commercial Grade” and the “Industrial Grade”. Basically, the difference is in the supported temperature (both positive and negative) and consequently its durability (called MTBF). While the same transistor model, “Commercial Grade” type, supports an average of 40°C in its operation, its “Industrial Grade” version can withstand 85°C or more. Same product, but in different versions. This goes for the vast majority of electronic components. An IPC typically has at least 80% of its components from that industrial version.

– Higher MTBF.

The higher the MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) value, the better the quality of your product, the greater its reliability, as it indicates that it will have a lower number of failures during its lifetime. A Commercial Computer has an average of 35,000 hours of MTBF, while an industrial computer usually goes beyond 100,000 hours and can reach 500,000.

– Lower MTTR.

The lower the MTTR (Meam Time To Repair) the better. The design of an IPC must take into account the possibility of simple and fast maintenance. The machine stopped means loss for the customer, so the faster your repair, the better.

– Withstand Extended Temperatures.

Depending on the environment, city, location where the product is installed, the supported temperature range can be crucial. A Personal Computer is normally designed to withstand environments that a human being would withstand, usually ranging from 0~40°C. We have IPCs that support from -40~70°C or even 85°C, which can be applied both in a transmission tower at 2000m high on a mountain, or on the seaside in an advertising display.

– Fan Less Projects.

Many IPCs are “Fan Less”. Its construction, its design, provides for thermal solutions for heat dissipation that eliminate the need for forced ventilation, generally through heat exchange with the ambient air, either by conduction (heat exchange with the cabinet) or by convection (through “ heat pipes” – small ducts, usually copper, filled with liquids that continually evaporate and condense, thus conducting heat from hot areas to cold areas).

Another advantage of Fan Less systems is that they don’t pull dust inside because they don’t have fans.

– Differentiated mechanical construction.

Its cabinet and internal construction are designed to avoid the use of screws and other removable components as much as possible, which provides the set with greater resistance to shock and vibration, allowing its use, for example, in vehicles such as Cars, Buses and Trains.

– Various installation possibilities.

Generally installed in places not prepared to receive them, they must add facilities or accessories that allow their installation in adverse locations, such as electrical panels (mounting boards or DIN rails), walls (screwed) or totems (models that add screens).

– Multiple I/Os (Connectivity).

IPCs are developed for professional applications, therefore, they must add a greater quantity and diversity of interfaces than a commercial computer. Interfaces such as RS-232, 485, CAN ports, multiple LANs, digital outputs and inputs, among others.

– Long Life Cycle (long life cycle)

Very important for long-term projects, is to know if the same product will be available for an eventual exchange in a few years. The same product, or a very similar one. This will avoid the need to rewrite programming code to suit your application to the new hardware, save time and money.

– Certifications and Technical Tests.

Special applications or even some environments, demand certifications and technical tests normally not found in Commercial Computers. Degree of Protection against Dust and Liquids (“IP”), Electromagnetic Interference (“EMC”), among others. Applications in Explosive Environments, with flammable gases and liquids, require computers with their own certification, otherwise, a simple and invisible spark generated by pressing a key or on/off button can lead to flames or even an explosion on site. These certifications must be issued by competent bodies and accredited worldwide.

In addition to these differences described so far, manufacturers add very interesting proprietary solutions that can add a lot to some applications. Solutions like:

· Single chassis, or with the fewest possible parts, thus avoiding problems with vibration (screws that may come loose) and better heat distribution/dissipation;’

· “Cable Less” solutions where all peripherals are connected and not wired, improving internal airflow and increasing your MTBF;

· “Jumper Less” plates avoiding, as in the example of a single chassis, problems with vibration;

· Redundant sources with protections such as “anti reverse”, “over voltage” and “over current”, can greatly increase the MTBF of the set;

· Anti-Vibration Kit applied to the entire chassis, resulting in a set very suitable for on-board applications, for example in vehicles or in machine tools;

· Rechargeable CMOS battery system eliminating one of the biggest problems of computers, loss of date/time in BIOS;

· Reduced reboot time. This solution reduces the reboot time, for example, after a power outage, from the conventional 5s to 0.2s;

These are some of the differentials found in most Industrial Computers. Novelties appear frequently, whether to strengthen or even simplify products in order to make them suitable for new applications or needs.