Industrial automation is changing the way factories operate. Industrial automation computers are increasingly being used to control processes, factory machinery, and factory robots. Automating a process reduces the cost associated with producing good, as well as results in a better product being manufactured. That said, when choosing an automation PC, there are a number of factors that you should consider. We will discuss these factors in more detail below.
#1 - Compatibility & I/O Ports
When choosing an industrial automation computer, the first factor that you should consider is whether the PC you’re selecting is able to connect to the larger system your organization already has in place. This is so because your PC must have the I/O ports required to connect to the machines, sensors, peripherals, and IoT devices that are common in factory settings.
For example, you should consider whether you need USB ports, Serial COM ports, or Ethernet ports. Also, you should consider how many of each type of port your system requires. Premio offers automation computers that can be configured with USB 2.0, USB 3.0, Serial COM ports (RS232, RS422, or RS485), RJ45 GigE Ports, PoE+ ports, HDMI ports, and DP ports. The availability of such I/Os allows the system to connect to a variety of devices in factories. If you find a system that does not have all of the ports that you require, you should keep in mind that Premio offers a number of daughterboards and expansion modules that can be used to add additional USB, Ethernet, and COM ports.
#2 – Consider the Performance
When selecting an industrial automation PC, you should also consider the type of performance you need from your system. The main component that’s responsible for the overall performance of the system is the CPU (central processing unit). When choosing your CPU, you should consider the workloads and tasks that you want your system to perform. Also, you should consider the number of processes that you want to run simultaneously and how demanding they are on your system.
If you want the system to perform simple tasks, using an SoC might be the right solution. However, if you want your system to perform several complex tasks simultaneously, you’re better off configuring your system with a socket CPU. Socket CPUs tend to be significantly more powerful than SoCs because they have more cores and the cores have higher frequencies, which increases the computing capabilities of your system.
Furthermore, if you want your system to perform AI or machine vision workloads, you should consider configuring your system with a GPU. GPUs are great for performing AI (artificial intelligence), DL (deep learning), and MV (machine vision) applications because they are capable of processing vast amounts of data in parallel thanks to the hundreds or thousands of cores that they have. CPUs are powerful, but they are only good at performing sequential calculations.
By choosing the appropriate components for your system, you will avoid building a system that’s slow and sluggish when running applications. Also, choosing the right parts will prevent you from over-configuring your system with processing power that you will never take full advantage of. If you’re unsure about how much performance you want from your system, you should speak to one of our automation computing professionals, and they will assist you with configuring a system according to your specific requirements.
#3 – Consider the Deployment Environment
Before choosing a system, you should consider the environment in which the system will be deployed. Not all environments are the same; some are clean and temperature controlled, whereas other environments experience shock, vibration, extreme temperatures, and have a lot of dust and debris. There are different types of automation computers, and some are more rugged than others, making the more rugged systems better able at handling deployment in challenging environments.
Although most industrial computers are suitable for deployment in challenging environments, rugged automation computers offer an extra layer of protection to devices deployed in harsh conditions. Rugged automation PCs have a rugged outer enclosure that protects the sensitive internal components of the system.
Furthermore, rugged automation PCs are fanless, meaning they are passively cooled via the use of heatsinks. The removal of fans eliminates the need for vents and opening through which to circulate air throughout the system. This allows system designers to create a closed system that’s better able to handle exposure to dust, dirt, and other small particles.
Moreover, rugged automation computing solutions utilize SSDs. The utilization of SSDs enables systems to handle exposure to frequent shocks and vibrations better. This is so because SSDs use NAND chips to store data, which can better handle exposure to shock and vibration than the spinning metal platters used in HDDs (hard disk drives) to store data.
Also, rugged automation computers have a wide operating temperature range, allowing deployment in extremely hot and cold settings that are not suitable for consumer-grade desktop computers. Industrial automation PCs have a wide temperature range, ranging from -40⁰C to 85⁰C. So, whether you want to deploy a system in the desert or in the freezing cold, rugged computers will survive while operating optimally and reliably.
#4 – Consider the Storage Solution For Your System
When choosing an automation computer, you should consider the storage solution you want in your system. There are two major types of storage solutions used in automation PCs, and they are SSDs (solid-state drives) and HDDs (hard drives). SSDs, as mentioned previously, store data on NAND chips, which are better able to handle exposure to shocks and vibrations. Hard drives, on the other hand, store data on spinning metal platters. Although hard drives offer more storage at much lower prices than SSDs, they do not cope very well with shock and vibration. As such, if you know your system will be frequently exposed to shock and vibration, you should consider equipping your system with an SSD for the reasons we mentioned above.
However, if your system will rarely be exposed to shock and vibration and need a large amount of data storage, you should consider configuring your system with a hard drive. Furthermore, if you want the best of both worlds, you can choose a hybrid configuration, configuring your system with both an HDD and an SSD. Organizations that configure systems using both types of drives typically use the SSD for the operating system and applications that are accessed frequently and use the HDD for storing data that does not need to be accessed as frequently or as fast. That said, the choice is yours. Also, keep in mind that HDDs offer more storage at lower prices, but you should configure your system with an SSD if you want added durability and longevity.
#5 – Consider the Connectivity Options
When choosing an automation computer, you should consider the connectivity options that you want your system to have. Industrial automation computers can be configured with wired LAN, Wi-Fi, Cellular, and Bluetooth connectivity options. The type of connectivity you will need depends on where you want to deploy your system. Wired connectivity is great for systems deployed in close proximity to switches; however, systems deployed in remote environments will benefit greatly from Wi-Fi connectivity and cellular connectivity. Wi-Fi, commonly known as wireless LAN, is ideal for deployments where it is too expensive and time consuming to run Ethernet cabling to a device. However, for systems that will be deployed in remote environments, it is essential to have cellular connectivity (4G, LTE, and 5G). Premio’s automation computers come with dual SIM sockets, offering redundancy by allowing organizations to install up to two different internet carriers. So, in the event that one carrier is not available, the system can be programmed to connect to a second internet provider, allowing systems to offload mission-critical data to the cloud for remote monitoring and control.
#6 – Consider the Size of the System
Not all deployment environments are the same. So, when choosing an automation PC, you should consider the size of the setting in which the system will be deployed. Usually, industrial automation computers are smaller in size than full-size desktop computers. Since industrial automation computers are compact, they have a small footprint, permitting deployment in space-constrained environments, such as racks, cabinets, and other small spaces. Furthermore, automation PCs can be wall-mounted, DIN rail mounted, and VESA mounted. Overall, you should consider the space where you want to deploy your system. Premio offers brackets and mounting solutions for automation PCs, so explore the available options so that you can hit the ground running.
#7 – Consider the Power Supply Voltage of the System
The seventh item you should consider when selecting an automation computer is to consider the system’s power supply voltage. Premio automation PCs come with a wide power range, offering support for a variety of different power input scenarios, ranging from 9 to 50 VDC. Furthermore, automation computers come with a number of power protection features that include overvoltage protection, overcurrent protection, and reverse power polarity protection.
#8 – Consider the Security of the System
Industrial automation PCs are secured using TPM 2.0. TPM 2.0 is a cryptoprocessor that is installed on the system itself to provide hardware-based security for embedded automation devices through the use of cryptographic keys. TPM 2.0 ensures that the system boot process begins and completes from a trusted combination of hardware or software, making it very difficult for bad actors to tamper with the system. Learn more about TPM 2.0 hardware encryptions.
Choosing an automation computer is not as hard as it once was. The tips for choosing an automation computer should assist you with selecting an option that’s right for your use case. If you have any questions or need help selecting an automation PC, please contact our automation computer professionals, and they will be more than happy to assist you with choosing a system that meets your specific requirements. Premio has been designing and building automation PCs for over 30 years in the United States, and so they produce premium systems that offer excellent reliability and durability.