Automation Computers & Automation PCs For Industry 4.0 Workload Consolidation
Industrial automation is the use of automation computers to control processes, robots, and machinery in industrial settings to manufacture a product or component thereof. The purpose of industrial automation is to increase productivity, increase flexibility, and increase the quality of the manufacturing process. Industrial automation can best be seen in the manufacturing of automobiles, where many of the tasks are automated via the use of automation PCs that control machinery and processes. The purpose of this post is to explain what automation computers and PCs are, as well as to provide you with the best source for buying automation computers and PCs.
What Are Automation Computers?
Automation computers are industrial-grade computers that are ruggedly designed to handle industrial automation workloads in volatile industrial environments where regular desktop computers cannot survive. Automation PCs are capable of handling both entry-level automation workloads as well as demanding, complex automation workloads. You should choose the automation computing solution that’s suitable for your workload. If you need help choosing the right automation PC, please contact us, and one of our automation computer experts will assist you with selecting the solution that meets your specific requirements.
Automation computers feature the best thermal dissipation, using heatsinks to transfer heat away from the internal heat-generating components to the outer enclosure of the industrial PC system, dissipating the heat into the air surrounding the system.
In addition to the fanless design of automation computing solutions, automation PCs utilize a cableless design where all cables have been eliminated from the system. The elimination of all cables from the system creates a more reliable and rugged computing solution that is capable of being exposed to frequent shocks and vibrations without having any cables coming loose from their connections. Low-quality automation PCs still use cables to connect things such as hard drives or solid-state drives to the system; however, we have eliminated such use of cables to create premium rugged automation computers.
Furthermore, embedded automation PCs are designed for ruggedness because they are configured using wide temperature range components, enabling automation computers to withstand deployment in volatile environments that experience extreme temperatures. Automation computers have a wide temperature range, capable of handling deployment in environments where the temperature reaches as low as -40⁰C or in environments where the temperature reaches as high as 85⁰C. So, whether you’re deploying an automation PC in the Sahara Desert during the summer or in Antarctica during the freezing winter, automation computing devices will be able to operate reliably and optimally.
What Are Automation PCs Used For?
Automation PCs are often used to control factory processes, machinery, and equipment in industrial settings. Automation computers form an integral part of industrial automation, enabling businesses and organizations to increase their output, productivity, and efficiency.
Embedded automation computers can be used as IoT gateways, enabling connectivity and communication between sensors, devices, and factory machinery. IoT gateways enable device-to-device communication, as well as device-to-cloud communications. Simply stated, IoT gateways facilitate communication between different data sources and destinations. As IoT gateways, automation PCs can gather, process, and analyze information locally, only sending post-processed information to the cloud for remote monitoring.
Furthermore, automation computers functioning as IoT gateways are capable of accomplishing the following tasks:
- Facilitating communication with new and legacy technologies
- Data processing, filtering, and analysis
- Facilitating device to device communications
- Facilitating device to cloud communication
- Enabling remote monitoring and control
- Hosting data
- Enabling data visualization
- Diagnosing and troubleshooting systems
That said, the major benefit of deploying automation computers as IoT gateways is their ability to process data locally, at the edge of a network. Gathering, processing, and analyzing data at the edge enables real-time data analysis and decision making.
Low-powered automation computers are great for collecting data from sensors that translate what is happening in the world around them. For example, they collect information, such as temperature, light, sound, vibration, flow rate, motion, and many other types of sensory information.
Premio’s BCO-1000 Series of fanless automation computers and RCO-1000 Series of rugged automation computers are ideal for performing fundamental, entry-level tasks. The BCO-1000 Series of automation PCs provides cost-competitive while offering modest performance, making it ideal for deployment as an IoT gateway to connect devices to each other and the cloud. The defining feature of the BCO-1000 & RCO-1000 Series is their compactness and fanless design, allowing them to be deployed in space-constrained environments where regular full-size desktops cannot fit.
Also, another beneficial feature of automation PCs is that they come equipped with dual GigE RJ45 LAN ports that can be used to connect to two different networks for automation scale. Furthermore, both LAN ports can be configured to pass data up and downstream at 2 Gbps when bonded together.
Powering the BCO-1000 & RCO 1000 Series is the time-tested Intel® Celeron® Quad Core J1900 Processor, offering modest performance and energy efficiency. The Intel® J1900 is equipped with four cores clocked at 2.0 GHz with a TDP rating of 10 Watts, making it one of the best solutions for entry-level industrial automation fanless computing.
That said, if you’re looking for a more powerful option for advanced industrial automation tasks, such as machine vision or inference analysis, you should explore the more powerful computing solutions that provide AI Edge Inference Computing performance with high-performance accelerations in CPU/GPU processing and access to high capacity storage in SATA and now high-speed NVMe.
If you want powerful industrial computers that are capable of effortlessly performing AI inference analysis, you should explore the RCO 6120, VCO 6131E, and VCO 6133E Series of AI Edge Inference Computers. Inference computers can be configured with extremely powerful Intel 9th Generation Core Processors for blazing-fast performance, as well as GPUs for additional compute power for performing inference analysis, speeding up the process of detecting flaws in products that are imperceptible to the human eye.
For example, the RCO 6120 Series, VCO 6131E Series, and VCO 6133E Series of inference computers can be configured with Intel’s Core i7-9700E processor, featuring 8 cores with a base frequency of 2.60 GHz, Boost frequency of 4.40 GHz, and a TDP of 65 Watts, all in an industrial grade fanless enclosure.
Ai inference PCs are engineered and built to provide organizations with powerful processing, high-speed storage, and high-speed connectivity with extremely low latency in factory automation lines. Furthermore, they can be configured with GPU (graphics processing units), such as Nvidia’s RTX 2060 GPU for performance acceleration to run machine learning algorithms at the edge with speed and accuracy.
When it comes to automation, configuring a system with GPUs gives automation computers the compute power necessary for performing inference analysis and object identification in real-time. With an abundance of IoT sensors coming online and pushing data insights into an automation computer, it's also important to provide the latest in digital high-speed transfer I/O ports. For example, many automation setups that use machine vision cameras leverage both PoE+ GigE (IEEE 802.3at) ports (power + data) and USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports for 10Gbps of incredible transfer speeds.
Moreover, rugged industrial automation computers are capable of handling complex and data-intensive applications while surviving the most volatile factory environments, making rugged automation computing solutions the ideal option for automatic product line inspection.
In the past, products and components had to be manually inspected. The way it worked was by selecting a few products from among the hundreds or thousands that were manufactured and checking a handful of them to ensure that there were no glaring defects. However, with the advancements in machine vision computing, automation computers can be deployed to inspect every product or component on a production line. This dramatically reduces the number of products or components that leave a factory with defects as well as reduces the amount of manpower required to perform such inspections.
Inference analysis and machine vision were made possible by moving data processing and analysis to a network’s edge. Moving data processing and analysis to the edge of a network reduces the latency associated with sending, processing, and analyzing data in the cloud. This is so because data does not have to travel thousands of miles to a data center to be processed, analyzed, and sent back to the origin device. Relying solely on the cloud for processing and analyzing products for defects will result in missed detections as a result of the time it takes for data to be analyzed and sent back to the origin device.
So, whether you need an automation PC to function as an IoT gateway or to perform machine vision, you should explore the wide variety of automation computers that Premio has to offer. Premio offers small automation computers that are ideal for entry-level automation applications in a small and compact package that can fit in the palm of your hand, as well as more powerful automation computing solutions that are equipped with GPUs for more complex automation workloads, such as machine vision and inference analysis.
What is the Role of Automation Computer for Industrial 4.0 Applications?
1. Connecting Devices
Automation computers are used to connect to and control the various sensors, cameras, factory machinery, and IoT devices to each other, as well as to the cloud. Automation PCs can survive harsh industrial environments thanks to their rugged design and build quality, allowing them to run reliably and effectively in environments where consumer-grade PCs cannot survive, effectively lowering the total cost of ownership (TCO).
2. Enabling Predictive Maintenance
Organizations often use automation computers to enable predictive maintenance. Predictive maintenance optimizes the productivity of factories because factories rely on their machinery and equipment to run properly to manufacture components and products. When factory equipment or machinery malfunctions or breaks down, this causes disruptions to the normal operation of the factory, costing factories a great deal of money. As such, automation computers collect, process, and analyze information to predict when a malfunction or breakdown occurs and alerts factory operators to perform maintenance at an appropriate time to prevent the machinery from breaking down or failing at an unfortunate time when production is occurring.
3. Remote Access & Control
Automation computers are often connected to devices, sensors, and machinery in a factory. This allows factory operators to control and monitor factory equipment and machinery remotely without having to be physically present on the factory floor. For example, many smart automation facilities now deploy and use robotics to help manage many of the manufacturing operations once tasked by human labor.
How Do Automation Computers Consolidate Workloads?
One of the major benefits of deploying automation PCs is that they are capable of workload consolidation. Automation computing solutions are capable of connecting to both new and legacy technologies, allowing businesses and organizations deploying them to reduce the amount of hardware they need by deploying an edge computer to simultaneously handle multiple workloads.
For example, an edge computer could be used to gather information from the various sensors, cameras, and industrial machinery and process it without the need for multiple pieces of hardware to be deployed to manage each device separately.
Ultimately, automation PCs be used to consolidated multiple computerized operations onto fewer platforms by taking on the roles of separate purpose-built hardware. This simplifies the operations and reduces the size of the infrastructure that needs to be managed.
Automation computer systems can be configured with a variety of different ports, offering support for new technologies via USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) ports, as well as support for legacy technologies through Serial COM ports. Additionally, daughterboards can be used to add USB, COM, and RJ45/M12 locking ethernet ports.
Having said that, as the number of industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices continues to increase, so do the volumes of data provided by such devices. The existing infrastructure will not be able to cope with the increase of data volume, thus necessitating the deployment of automation computers at the edges of networks to alleviate the burden imposed by the increasing number of IIoT devices on the cloud and data centers.
Overall, the deployment of automation computers at the edge offers organizations and businesses a cost-effective method to scale IIoT while reducing direct communication with data centers or the cloud infrastructure to perform tasks that require real-time data analysis and decision making within its own IT (informational Technology (IT) to Operational Technology (OT) infrastructure.
The shift from cloud computing in large data centers to edge computers enables industrial automation applications that leverage real-time monitoring and decision making. For example, many industrial automation facilities are deploying automation computers to assist with leveraging robotics to provide better productivity and efficiency for specific tasks, allowing humans to focus on other critical tasks.
What Are Some Common Industrial Automation Protocols?
Industrial protocols are real-time communications protocols that connect systems, interfaces, and other devices that make up the industrial control system. In the past, such protocols were designed to communicate via the use of serial ports over RS-232/485 at low speeds that range from 9.6Kbps to 38.4 Kbps. However, recently such systems have advanced permitting communication over ethernet networks using protocols, such as TCP/IP and UDP/IP.
One of the major protocols is the Fieldbus protocol, which represents a broad range of protocols commonly deployed to connect process connected devices, such as sensors to basic control devices, such as automation computers and PLCs (programmable logic controllers), as well as to control devices that supervise systems, such as HMIs (human-machine interfaces).
For example, a temperature sensor can be used to trigger an alarm in the event that it detects a temperature that exceeds a pre-determined threshold so that action can be taken by an operator. As such, Fieldbus protocols were developed to address some of the unique challenges involved with connecting many devices in industrial settings. Today, there are a number of Fieldbus protocols currently being used in industrial manufacturing environments to connect sensors and devices to each other.
The PROFIBUS Protocol is the most widely adopted Fieldbus protocol currently used in industrial settings. There are two major variants of the PROFIBUS protocol being used today, and these include the PROFIBUS DP and PROFIBUS DA protocols. PROFIBUS DP (Decentralized peripherals) is the more commonly used protocol as it enables the communication between controllers and the sensors/actuators used for production automation applications.
PROFIBUS PA (Process Automation) is primarily used to monitor measuring equipment. That said, both PROFIBUS PA and PROFIBUS DA share the same protocol, so they can be used interchangeably. The main advantage of the PROFIBUS protocol is its ability to send diagnostic messages between the various connected devices, enabling factory operators to monitor the status of each device.
EtherCAT, EtherNet/IP, and PROFINET Protocols utilize standard ethernet cabling in the link/networking layer but make changes to the application layer for improved industrial automation and process control. The two significant advantages of these protocols are that they offer improved speed and the ability to connect a larger number of devices. Since these protocols utilize the same ethernet physical layers, they are capable of transmitting data at speeds of up to 1Gbps compared to the 12Mbps that the PROFIBUS protocol is capable of.
EtherCAT is capable of supporting up to 65,536 devices, whereas EtherNet/IP and PROFINET are capable of supporting an unlimited number of devices. Additionally, since these protocols are capable of high data transmission speeds, they offer extremely low cycle times (less than 100 microseconds), enabling extremely precise time synchronization between all devices. This is essential for real-time applications that require synchronization between controllers and devices.
The last protocol that we will discuss is the CANopen Protocol, which was designed primarily for motion control systems. The main applications for CANopen are for motor and robotics controllers. CANopen is based on the CANBus protocol, which is used mainly in automotive applications. The most significant advantage of this protocol is that it can leverage existing hardware and cabling used in CANBus. That said, CANopen can only connect up to 127 devices and has a data transfer speed of up to 1 Mbps.
What are the Benefits of Automation Computers, once they are Ruggedized?
Let’s discuss some of the benefits of deploying rugged automation PCs.
1. Wide Temperature Range
Automation computers are engineered, designed, and equipped with components that support a wide temperature range, allowing automation computing solutions to operate in a variety of different extreme environments. For example, Premio automation PCs are able to operate in freezing cold environments where the temperatures reach -40⁰C and scorching hot environments where the temperature reaches 85⁰C thanks to the wide temperature components utilized and the passive cooling technology used in such systems.
2. Shock and Vibration Resistance
Automation computers are industrial-grade computers that are engineered and built to withstand frequent exposure to shocks and vibrations. These systems are able to withstand shocks and vibrations because automation computer manufacturers have eliminated the use of cables from the systems, which reduces the number of parts that can fail when exposed to shocks and vibrations. Automation PCs are able to handle 5GRMs of vibrations as well as 50Gs of shock in accordance with the MIL-STD-810G.
3. Dust & Debris Protection
Automation computers offer protection from dust and debris. These computer systems employ a fanless design, which eliminates the need for fans to circulate air through the system, enabling automation pc makers to create a closed system that’s resistant to dust, debris, and water. This allows automation computers to operate reliably, even in volatile environments that are often exposed to dust and debris. Also, Premio offers a number of ruggedized computer options for extreme deployments that come with ingress protection (IP) rating for dust and water resistance. For example, the WCO Series of Automation computer comes with an IP 65/67 rating.
4. Compact Design
Automation computing solutions are ruggedized PCs that come with a small footprint, allowing them to be deployed in space-constrained environments that are not large enough to house full-size desktop computers. The compactness of such systems was possible due to the fanless design of small automation PCs that allow the miniaturization of the computer since fans are not required to cool down the sensitive internal components. Instead, fanless automation computers are cooled via heatsinks, which transfer heat away from the internal heat-generating components to the PC’s outer enclosure, which then dissipates the heat into the air surrounding the system.
5. Industrial I/O Ports
Automation computers come equipped with Digital I/O and General Purposes I/O ports, enabling automation PCs to connect to electrical devices and/or sensors that do not have a common interface, such as a USB port or legacy serial port. Such devices include sensors, alarms, motion detectors, and production line controllers. By connecting such devices to an automation computer’s DIO port, the automation PC can control action or trigger of a device via software. For example, if you have an alarm sensor that’s connected to the DIO input ports and an alarm alert connected to the DIO’s corresponding output port, if the software detects a change in the alarm’s state via the input port, the output port can be programmed to sound the alarm. Common automation computing solutions can be configured with eight input and eight output DIO isolation, allowing the system to react to different triggering events.
6. Industrial-Grade Components
Furthermore, automation PCs are constructed using industrial-grade components, so even though they share the same components as regular desktop computers, the components are tested and validated to run reliably in volatile environments that commercial-grade desktop computers cannot. Additionally, autonomous computers are often equipped with SSDs (solid-state drives), which add to the system’s ruggedness since data is stored on NAND chips vs. regular hard drives (HDDs), where data is stored on spinning platers. Storing data on silicon chips is makes computers more reliably because silicon chips are better able to handle exposure to shocks and vibrations vs. the spinning platters of hard drives.
7. Wide Power Range
Automation PCs are designed for compatibility with a wide input voltage that ranges from 9 to 50VDC, offering compatibility with a number of different power input scenarios. Additionally, automation computers are designed with a number of power protection features that include overvoltage protection, surge protection, and reverse polarity protection.
Overvoltage protection protects the system in the event that the system detects a voltage that exceeds a safe level for the system. Surge protection protects the system from power surges by diverting electricity into the ground. Reverse polarity protection protects the internal sensitive components in the event that power supply polarity is reversed.
8. Wired & Wireless Connectivity
Automation computers come equipped with a variety of wired and wireless connectivity options. All automation PCs come equipped with RJ45 LAN Ports, capable of blazing-fast data transfer speeds ranging from 1GbE to 10GbE. Furthermore, these computing solutions can be equipped with additional RJ45/M12 ethernet ports, capable of PoE+ (IEEE 802.3at) for data and power through a single ethernet cable.
When it comes to wireless connectivity, automation PCs come equipped with the latest Wi-Fi 6 for wireless LAN connectivity. If Wi-Fi connectivity is not available, automation PCs can still connect to the internet to offload critical data via cellular connectivity that includes 4G, LTE, and 5G, delivering high-speed communication, enabling data telemetry, remote monitoring, and IoT applications.
Furthermore, automation computing solutions come equipped with Bluetooth Connectivity, allowing automation computers to connect to low-powered devices Bluetooth devices. That said, Bluetooth does not deliver the range and speed offered by Wi-Fi, but it does provide reliable one-to-one connectivity and many-to-many connectivity.
Where Can You Buy Automation Computers and PCs?
Premio has been designing and manufacturing automation computers and PCs for over 30 years in the United States. Premio offers low-powered, efficient automation PCs for entry-level automation workloads, as well as power automation computers for advanced and complex workloads. Explore the wide variety of automation computers and PCs that Premio has to offer. Premio designs and builds premium automation computing solutions that can withstand deployment in volatile environments that are often exposed to frequent shocks, vibration, dust, debris, and extreme temperatures. For assistance with choosing the right automation computer for your specific workload, please contact us and one of our automation computer professional will be more than happy to assist you with choosing the appropriate automation computing solution.
Frequent Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Is automation good or bad?
The major benefit of automation is that it increases the productivity and efficiency of processes since robotics are able to perform tasks reliably 24/7, meaning factories are able to produce more products at a lower cost. Additionally, automation results in better products leaving production lines since automation computers are able to inspect all products, ensuring that no defective products or components leave the factory. Furthermore, automation is good because it allows factories to automate dangerous tasks, thus safeguarding employees from performing them.
2. How are industrial computers used in automation?
Industrial computers are used to improve the productivity and performance of factories, make predictive maintenance possible, improve equipment utilization, remotely access control systems, and remote monitoring of factory machinery and output. Since industrial computers are tested under harsh rigorous environments, they are great for automation infrastructure in factory floors.
3. What are the benefits of deploying automation computers?
The benefits of automation computers are: silent operation, shock and vibration resistance, dust and debris resistance, higher reliability and durability, small footprint enabling space-constrained deployment, low power consumption, as well as operation in a multitude of different environments.