Embedded Computer
What is the role of industrial computers in industrial automation Nov 07, 2022

Industrial automation can be roughly defined as the use of technology and control systems (industrial PC, PLC, PAC, etc.) to automate industrial processes to improve quality and yield without human intervention. Control systems are used to direct the automatic operation of integrated technology and other equipment. For example, in a large car manufacturing plant, automated robotic arms can quickly perform labor-intensive, manual or repetitive manufacturing tasks on the production line to achieve greater precision, allowing manual operations in the same time frame. .


So, what controls this automation? The industrial computer that goes into the heart of most industrial automation systems.


Industrial PC vs PLC/PAC


Industrial PCs now come in all shapes and sizes due to their environmental and operational benefits. From rugged single-board computers to full-fledged industrial-grade fanless box PCs with powerful Intel CPUs, HD Graphics and rich I/O. Industrial PCs are shaping the future of industrial automation. Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) and Programmable Automation Controllers (PACs) are now gradually being replaced by Industrial PCs due to their flexibility, functionality, performance and cost. A PLC is essentially a microcontroller used to control machines. They consist of memory, processor and input/output (i/o) functions and are capable of performing pre-programmed functions such as math, counting, communication, managing sensors and triggering actuators.


Industrial PCs can be deployed in a variety of operational scenarios, including the production floor of a factory, embedded in security and monitoring architectures, and other technical settings involved in process and machine automation. Compared to general-purpose commercial-grade computers, industrial PCs are able to withstand the harsh environments often found in industrial environments, etc., making them a popular solution for manufacturing, energy, transportation, agriculture, and other similarly environmentally challenging industries. These rugged computers also have the ability to run Human Machine Interface (HMI) applications, thus offering greater flexibility than PLCs and PACs. The use of a real-time kernel improves on older automation models by allowing automation to be separated from the operating system (OS) environment.


Application of Industrial PC in Industrial Automation


The uses and applications of industrial PCs go far beyond the scope of industrial automation, however, for this article, we will only stick to applications within the scope of industrial automation. Let's first look at manufacturing as well as the application of industrial PCs and how they can benefit industrial automation in this area.


Manufacturing: Rugged industrial PCs provide the best hardware platform for mass production, which goes beyond the labor constraints of ordinary humans. Machine automation has enabled mass production, and the Internet has enabled communication. Industrial PC systems have rocked since infancy and are now highly relied upon by many manufacturers not only for machine vision and robotic guidance, but also for their ability to collect valuable data from machines and equipment for preventive maintenance.


Packaging inspection and quality control: Of course, another major application in manufacturing is quality assurance for vision control, which operates at higher speeds and with greater precision than is possible with humans. Using machine vision and package inspection systems, manufacturers as well as food packaging plants can automate the quality assurance of their products at a rapid pace. 3D machine vision is the latest advancement in the vision industry. Thanks to a powerful multi-core CPU, the CPU is able to process additional Z-dimension calculations super fast, providing deeper multi-dimensional data on the object, allowing 100% quality assurance. This takes quality control to a new level, where the pass/fail decision of a system may depend on more parameters such as scale, shape, surface, size, etc.


Asset Tracker: Manufacturing isn't the only industry that's starting to rely heavily on industrial PCs. The retail and healthcare sectors also have the day-to-day functioning of industrial PC hardware due to their ability to track and monitor inconsistencies and anomalies in assets and processes. This can be done on-site and remotely, and provides a way for system operators to track assets or processes more precisely and efficiently than humans can often.


Simulation and Control: Industrial PC platforms use powerful processors to simulate and create simulations of potential real-world scenarios. This enables enhanced insights to analyze risks, predict further possibilities and test systems within any framework. Being able to conduct these types of tests and analyses can further enhance and develop existing infrastructure based on insights gleaned from simulations and forecasts. With a lot of discussion around artificial intelligence and machine learning, in the near future, these three technologies will converge to create more advanced simulations.


Remote data collection: In the age of automation and the Internet of Things, data is one of the most valuable commodities around. The ability of remote IoT sensors to send and receive data about the use of remote machinery, tools, hardware, and other connected equipment allows operators deploying them to receive actionable data about operational processes, equipment fatigue, and overall performance. This data allows the control system to know when to adjust power to equipment, trigger actuators, adjust temperature or pressure controls, and other operating functions in an extremely precise manner.


IoT and PC-based automation


The PC is at the heart of the open standards-based IoT revolution, especially the Industrial IoT revolution, and will be the brain that controls the infrastructure that communities and economies rely on for everyday life. Legacy operational technology systems and instruments will need to be protected with more intelligent computers until they are replaced by state-of-the-art security technology. IoT communication gateways require not only their rugged components and assemblies, but also strong cybersecurity embedded in the software that manages the communication between things.

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