Functionally, industrial PCs are mostly no different from the computers that anyone uses at home or at the office (though a few specialized models do exist for certain applications). The difference is in the construction – industrial PCs are ruggedized systems that are built to take the rough and tumble of use on factory shopfloors, public areas such as transportation or entertainment hubs, construction sites, farms, boats, planes or trains.
It’s the construction that makes the difference
Resistance to high temperatures: Industrial PCs are built to take temperatures as high as 50°C – they have industrial-strength cooling and ventilation. These computers can’t simply use fans to pull in air the way regular PCs do, though – there would be too much dust and humidity going in, then. They either use special air filters or passive cooling – large external heat sinks, but no air flow within.
Resistance to shocks and vibration: Since industrial PCs are often exposed to shocks, drops and vibration, every component is usually mechanically isolated with special shock absorbing cushioning.
Resistance to bad power: It can be difficult to ensure clean power to a computer in an industrial setting. With large machines drawing power all around, computers in such surroundings can get unstable power full of voltage fluctuations, electromagnetic interference and spikes – disturbances that could smoke lesser computers. Industrial computer, though, have special power supplies that can take such abuse.
In some kinds of industrial PC, the difference is on the inside
Single-board computers: For especially harsh working environments, you might need to choose an industrial PC that comes with an industrial CPU card rather than conventional components. A regular PC – one with a motherboard with components plugged in – may not be able to survive the mechanical shocks and vibration involved in such applications. The components may either work themselves loose or break, no matter what kind of mechanical cushioning is provided. Single-board computers are built the way smartphones are – all the components needed are soldered right to the mainboard. Nothing can be added or removed. These systems tend to be compact and yet rugged. Such models can be a good idea for applications where expandability isn’t important.
Single board computers are a good idea for use in the graphics machines seen in public entertainment venues and in public kiosks. They are also a good fit in industrial applications that need retina scanning machines.
Panel PCs: These are built on the same concept as the Apple iMac – the entire computer and display are built into one compact enclosure. Depending on the model, the screen may offer touch-sensitivity or a traditional keyboard and mouse. Most panel PCs are built with powerful processors and yet feature passive, fanless cooling.
Panel PCs are a good choice for installation next to factory assembly lines that need computers with informative visual displays.
How do you choose an industrial PC for your business?
As with the regular home PC, industrial PCs are supposed to be chosen for the applications they will serve in. Here are areas that you need to pay attention to:
Make sure the PC connects to the existing computer system: You need to make sure that the operating system and the physical connections offered are a good match for systems you already have.
Make sure that the PC is able to run the software that you need: The computer needs to be powerful enough to run the applications you need.
Make sure that the PC is rugged in the way you need it to be: Merely buying a generic rugged PC may not do it for you. The PC that’s rated to work in high temperatures, for instance, may not do well in subzero temperatures. It may not be adequately resistant to water or chemicals either.
About the Author:
Mark Edson has worked in the computer field for some time now. When he has the time, he enjoys writing about what he has discovered to share on various blogs.