Today's most advanced automation solutions demand flexible PC technology with maximum performance. Industrial applications depend on robust hardware, reliable operation and guaranteed long-term availability. With the addition of 6th-generation Core i processors to its Automation PC 910 portfolio, B&R now offers machinery and equipment builders even more computing power for their most demanding applications.
An industrial PC is much more than just a consumer PC in metal housing. With its robust construction, it is designed to operate 24/7 in a harsh industrial environment. "These are precisely the requirements we had in mind while designing our Automation PC," says Raimund Ruf, manager of B&R's HMI business unit. "Robust, reliable performance and guaranteed long-term availability are our top priorities."
With the integration of Intel's latest Core i technology, the Automation PC 910 is more powerful than ever. The 6th generation of Core i-series processors are all multi-core processors and have the graphics unit directly integrated in the processor.
"The fully modular design of the Automation PC 910 made integrating the latest generation of processors nearly effortless," explains Ruf. The initial rollout will include a fanless Core i3 and a Core i5 processor. The Core i5 now has four processor cores and outperforms all of the Core i7 processors of the preceding generation, while simultaneously offering reduced energy consumption. Up to 32 gigabytes of DDR4 SDRAM provides fast exchange of data between CPU and memory.
Modern HMI applications place high demands on graphics performance. "In the past, this has increasingly required installation of a graphics card in the industrial PC," reports Ruf. These drive up costs and frequently need to be cooled by an additional fan. The graphics system integrated in the new Core i processors is powerful enough that a graphics card is frequently no longer necessary.
The specific features that a given OEM is looking for in an industrial PC can vary dramatically, so the devices need to be highly customizable and configurable. The Automation PC 910 is available in three sizes offering from one to five PCI/PCI Express slots. Optional interface cards offer countless possibilities, whether you want to add a third Gigabit Ethernet interface, connect a fieldbus like POWERLINK or include an integrated UPS.
The Automation PC 910 also offers maximum flexibility when it comes to data storage, offering solid-state drives, conventional hard drives or compact CFast cards easily accessed behind the front cover. "We give the user 100% freedom to optimize data storage," explains Ruf. This allows them to do things like isolate the operating system from the process data.
Fans are moving parts subject to wear, tear, dirt and grime. A fanless device offers huge advantages in an industrial environment. "By optimizing the convection cooling, we have managed to offer the majority of our Automation PC 910 variants without fans," says Ruf. Only the high-end systems at the top of the performance spectrum still require fan-cooling.
Here, the fan directs a stream of air right through the integrated cooling fins to ensure maximum efficiency. As processors shrink in size, heat is generated on a smaller and smaller surface area. To deal with this, heat pipes are the best way to provide maximum heat dissipation. These are hollow tubes filled with a liquid that uses the processes of evaporation and condensation to efficiently transfer large amounts of heat away from a small surface area. Heat pipes are very light and take up very little space within the PC housing.
More and more often, groups of machines are being integrated to form complex production systems. These systems need solutions in place that allow workers to operate them efficiently and ergonomically. This creates two challenges for machine builders: Not only must data cover longer distances between PC and operator panel, the cables must also be compact enough to be routed through swing arm systems. B&R's Smart Display Link 3 (SDL3) offers the optimal solution to this challenge.
SDL3 transfers all the data over a single cable. The ability to span up to 100 meters allows for optimal placement of Automation PCs and operator panels, even in more expansive systems. The standard CAT6/CAT7 cables used for SDL3 data transfer are particularly advantageous during cabling. The slender RJ45 connector is easy to feed through very tight spaces. This is especially helpful when swing arm systems are involved.
Like SDL, SDL3 transfers not only display data, but also the communication channels for the touch screen, LEDs and keys as well as service data such as the backlight brightness setting. In addition, thanks to the increased bandwidth of the integrated USB connection, SDL3 now also transfers USB 2.0 data. The SDL3 transmitter can be integrated as an modular option with the new Automation PC 910. The type of touch technology being used doesn't matter; SDL3 supports both projected capacitive multi-touch panels and analog resistive touch screens.
"Automation PCs are open systems that provide the user easy access to a wide range of information," explains Ruf. For example, it's possible to evaluate the temperature behavior of B&R's new box PC as early as the implementation phase. It provides both internal component temperature values as well as measurements from additional sensors. It's easy to update the firmware or software, or to upgrade the PC or any connected Automation Panels.
"There are also some interesting possibilities due to the fact that B&R hardware is paired with a unique ID. By checking this ID, the software can verify that the intended hardware is being used. This prevents the software from being duplicated and installed on unauthorized hardware. "This is a simple, yet highly effective way to safeguard intellectual property," says Ruf.
Microsoft's current operating system for industrial devices is Windows 10 IoT Enterprise. IoT stands for 'Internet of Things', and highlights Microsoft's approach to comprehensive connectivity, manageability and easy maintenance.
The Enterprise version offers the same basic functionality as the consumer variant, but with fewer restrictions with regard to activation. Windows 10 will run perfectly fine on an Automation PC 910, even without an Internet connection to activate it. "This simplifies things considerably for the user compared to Windows 8. Exchanging hardware in the field goes a lot quicker," explains Ruf.
As always, B&R delivers its Automation PC 910 with the operating system preinstalled and activated. While Windows 7 still came in special embedded variants, Microsoft has been using a different structure since Windows 8. Windows 10 IoT Enterprise no longer offers the scalable design of the embedded variants that allowed them to be adapted perfectly to the hardware for very streamlined images. The memory requirements have therefore increased to a minimum of 32 gigabytes. "However, since inexpensive CFast cards and MLC-based SSDs are readily available for industrial use," continues Ruf, "we don't view the Windows 10 memory requirements as a serious obstacle."
Although the word 'embedded' has disappeared from the name, Windows 10 IoT Enterprise continues to offer all of the most important features you're familiar with from the old embedded versions, including Write Filter, USB Filter and AppLocker. Windows 10 also continues to support multi-touch panels without any additional drivers.
Alternatively to Windows 10, B&R Automation PCs are also available with the Linux Debian 8 operating system. In cases where the Automation PC 910 is used as a powerful control system, the user can choose between two versions of the real-time Automation Runtime operating system: Automation Runtime embedded or Automation Runtime Windows. The multi-core architecture of the processors makes it possible to dedicate one core to execution of control tasks while the rest run Windows or Linux.