Automation PCs on the streets of the world
More and more transportation routes around the world are being subjected to tolls and other restrictions. These require the use of manual, automatic and electronic toll collection systems like the ones developed by Kapsch TrafficCom. When they select the technology for a new toll collection system, quality is a top priority. After all, these systems operate outdoors in all sorts of adverse weather conditions. They therefore rely on exceptionally robust and durable industrial PCs such as the rugged Automation PC from B&R.
Austria lies at a geographical crossroads of key trans-European transportation routes. Due to its largely mountainous terrain that leaves little room for a road network, transportation is frequently the subject of heated public debate. This conflict has served as a powerful impetus for innovation and has resulted in developments of outstanding ingenuity from Austrian companies. Kapsch TrafficCom is a prime example, supplying high-performance systems for toll collection, city access regulation and traffic safety.
Kapsch TrafficCom entered the intelligent transportation system (ITS) market in 1990. The company implemented its first nationwide project in 1998 following Austria's entrance into the EU, when a telematics-based system was implemented to regulate commercial truck transit. The goal was to prevent the increased traffic volume from negatively impacting the delicate ecosystem in the country's alpine valleys. The core of the solution is a highly complex emissions-based entry permit system for commercial trucks.
"With technical requirements very similar to those of a toll system, this project was perfectly suited to serve as our entry into the toll business," says Peter Spannagl, senior systems engineer at Kapsch TrafficCom. "On January 1, 2004, we launched the first nationwide automatic toll system in the world."
The system runs in a so-called multi-lane free-flow mode. Multiple vehicles subject to toll can be processed simultaneously as they pass so that there is no need to interfere with the flow of traffic on a multi-lane road. The clear advantage of this is that it allows the infrastructure's capacity to be utilized to its full potential with regard to vehicle throughput. In addition to systems based on high-frequency radio technology like the one described above, Kapsch TrafficCom also integrates other toll-related systems, such as video tolling systems and manned toll stations.
With 280 references in 41 countries on five continents, over 70 million delivered onboard units (OBU) and around 18,000 equipped lanes, Kapsch TrafficCom has positioned itself as one of the world's leading providers of electronic toll collection systems.
In addition to solutions for collecting fees and tolls, this Vienna-based company also offers an array of solutions for urban traffic management, including on-street parking and restricted access areas such as low emission zones, as well as a suite of solutions aimed at enforcing traffic laws and improving road safety. "Through the use of state-of-the-art technology, we are able to strike a balance between individual freedom on the one hand and environmental and social concerns on the other," said Georg Kapsch, CEO of the Kapsch Group, explaining the company's goals in an interview with "Verkehrsclub Österreich", an Austrian organization that promotes environmentally and socially responsible mobility.
24/7 operation in adverse conditions
Electronic toll collection systems rely on small OBUs that communicate with toll station computers via structure-mounted antennas. Similar systems provide enforcement in the event of failed toll collection attempts. Typically situated directly on the side of busy highways, toll stations are fully exposed to all types of unfavorable conditions. In addition to direct sunlight, freezing temperatures, snow and rain, they must also resist shock and vibration, soot particles, dust and road salt.
Despite the best efforts of climate-controlled, double-walled control cabinets with high protection classes, it is therefore not uncommon for electro-mechanical components to break down after only a few years of operation. Additionally, not all toll stations are located in regions with a secure and reliable supply of high-quality power. These stations must nevertheless operate 24/7 without ever losing data. Even when cabinet doors are opened for maintenance, interruptions must be kept to a minimum.
For these reasons, Kapsch began relying on B&R's Compact PLCs for some of its earliest applications. With their double coating, these PLCs held up better than other controllers in times when the roadside air quality was even worse than today. Subsequent applications were upgraded to B&R's System 2003 controllers.
Nine years of continuous highway operation
With the installation of the Austria-wide toll collection system for commercial vehicles in 2004, Kapsch made the transition to industrial PC technology with B&R's compact Provit 5000 series. Developed specially for the challenging conditions faced in an industrial environment, including excessive heat and continuous operation, B&R's Industrial PCs have since proven well-suited for roadside environments as well, with their sturdy housing, robust connections, EMC compliance and cable-free design.
The proven long-term availability of B&R hardware has been a valuable advantage for these permanent installations. "B&R delivered its last Provit 5000 units in 2011," says Werner Leiner, head of technical customer service at Kapsch TraficCom, "but not before giving us ample opportunity to provide for future replacement requirements. Thanks to this service, we are still able to draw on our inventory when a device suddenly needs to be replaced."
Still, as the years go by and software applications become more and more demanding, original devices are gradually being replaced with newer generation Automation PC 600 and Automation PC 820 devices. Today, after more than 75,000 hours of operation, the toll collection system Kapsch launched in 2004 continues to run uninterrupted.
The fact that industrial PCs from B&R are quite literally "Made by B&R", with all essential components developed and manufactured in-house, has additional advantages. When a sporadic error started popping up in the database application, B&R wanted to ensure that the problem was not hardware-related. At their headquarters in Eggelsberg, B&R set up 30 Automation PCs in continuous operation until the error could be located and corrected.
"I don't believe we would have received this level of exemplary support from a supplier in Asia," says supply chain manager Harald Hohenegger. "The same applies to the thorough certification B&R provided when required for an obscure interface board required for an Automation PC in a project in Poland."
Hard drives certified for continuous operation
Models without hard drives and fans are used wherever possible to eliminate potential sources of error. Often, however, the level of performance required to synchronize data between gigantic databases does not allow this. "In these cases, B&R offers hard drives that are certified for 24-hour continuous operation," explains roadside toll system engineer Stefan Demmer. "These remain in operation for an impressive length of time, and we have yet to experience a failure."
Kapsch TraficCom utilizes the full breadth of Automation PC variants – which vary greatly with respect to the amount of memory and processing power installed, but not when it comes to production quality, stability or robustness.
Automation PC 910 – The powerhouse among box PCs
B&R's latest development, an Automation PC 910 with an Intel® Core™ i5 processor, is now on loan to Kapsch TraficCom for testing purposes. Equipped with the latest 3rd-generation Intel® Core™ i-series technology with up to four cores, as well as the new QM77 Express chipset, it represents the highest performance currently available on the industrial PC market. "Gestures like this further solidify our mutual trust," says Hohenegger. "We had the loaned device in our hands within two weeks."
With this kind of satisfaction, it is safe to say the trend of up to 2,500 B&R Automation PCs deployed yearly will continue guaranteeing impeccable toll collection and payment on the streets of the world.
Automation PCs – Made by B&R
Industrial PCs from B&R are designed and built to meet industrial customers' demands for maximum robustness, reliability and long-term availability. Automation PCs are designed and built for continuous operation in harsh industrial environments over a period of many years. The latest generation is the Automation PC 910, which offers maximum computing performance for the most complex applications.