Methods of Industrial Computing

by : Richard n Williams



The requirements of an industrial PC are a lot different to that of the needs for an office computer. The needs of an industrial computer will also vary dramatically depending on the industry itself. Computers used in food manufacture may have to be waterproof and intrinsically sealed to prevent explosions in potentially explosive and dusty atmospheres whilst also being made of stainless steel or other easy to clean material; yet computers in heavy industry may have to also protect from dust and dirt but be able to withstand excessive temperatures, knocks and vibrations.

Fortunately there are several options available for industrial computing.

Protective Covers:

If an industrial area is dusty but there are less of the other hazards that have been mentioned, then an inexpensive solution is to use a conventional office PC fitted with protective dust covers. Although not designed for environments with thick dust and grime, for areas with just a moderate dusty atmosphere they may add sufficient protection and can protect keyboards from dust and fluids, preventing sticky keys (and many an unintended typo). Waterproof /dustproof Keyboards and other peripherals (such as mouse) are also available. These covers and peripherals are only recommended to be used with a conventional PC in an area that is only mildly dusty/damp and not heavy dust-filled atmospheres. Some protective covers offer limited waterproofing for areas where there is a risk of minor splashing but they are not suitable for areas with larger quantities of fluids such as wet rooms or areas that are to be hosed down.

Industrial Computers:

Long seen as the only option for many industrial applications, specialist industrial computers can be designed to defend from anything. Some are intrinsically sealed and completely airtight, allowing the machines to be safely used even in highly explosive atmospheres. Others are manufactured as solid state (without moving parts) making them rugged, enabling the computer to withstand severe shocks and vibrations.

Some industrial computers are also built with extra cooling allowing them to be used in the most extreme heat whilst others contain heaters permitting their use in freezers or chillers. However, these industrial computers can be extremely expensive, even though they can be made bespoke to fit exact requirements. Also being sealed units, often with custom software installed, when they need repairing and upgrading, an engineer has to be called with the possibility of production having to halt until the machine is back online. Also, as industrial computers are designed to last and can't be upgraded easily, they tend to offer poorer performance and fewer options than a conventional PC, mainly because they are usually fitted with outdated technology or technology that soon goes out of date, particularly with the exponential rate computers advance.

Industrial PC Enclosures:

A far less inexpensive but an equally effective method as an industrial computer is to us a conventional PC housed in an industrial computer enclosure. These enclosures can perform the same tasks as a bespoke industrial machine; protecting the PC from knocks, bangs, theft, tampering and vibrations, waterproofing, protection from explosive atmospheres, defence from dirt and grime, whilst heating and air conditioned enclosures to allow computing in extreme temperatures. These enclosures also can be made bespoke adding or subtracting requirements depending on the individual needs.

The main advantage of these enclosures is that a conventional PC, with conventional software and components, is housed in the enclosure and can be replaced or repaired at any time -allowing administrators to upgrade the IT and keep the machines up-to-date. Also it allows computer administrators to choose what PC will best suit their requirements and what software is most efficient to run on it. Even budget PCs can be housed in computer enclosures and as these enclosures can last for years it can make industrial computing as affordable as conventional computing.