HMI Industrial PCs (All in one or separates)

28Jan10

As a student back in the 80’s a fierce debate raged when selecting hi-fi’s.  Whether, to buy a stack of separates or forgo some audio quality for convience, features and darn I say style/looks.

A similar choice now exists for industrial PCs and in particular industrial client screens used in hostile plant locations.  Perhaps the criteria is a little different, however, providing the end-user looks beyond the initial project purchase cost and considers total lifecycle costs things can be very interesting.

Here is my ‘shopping list’ viewpoint.

  • Price, sure as always we expect computer things to get cheaper and cheaper
  • Lifetime cost, mmmm this is trickier to value.  But disks and fans don’t last forever and usually in 5 – 10 years time the labour costs to swap out can be more than the hardware costs.
  • Mission critical …. lets just dilute this one a little and say that if the PC or HMI breaks and causes a production/service downtime then these costs dwarf the PC costs.  Just because the unit has a big-brand badge does not mean its more reliable.
  • MTBF
    Does it have moving mechanical parts like PSU fans, hard disks, cpu fans ?
  • MTTR
    Does it require specialised development tools and knowledge to re-install
  • Leverage other industry developments and scale of economies.  Hey, there are some excellent tough PCs that have been used in places like bus-stops and inside buses !

So what’s my grumble and proposed solution ?

Well, grumble first. The all-in-one integrated package (PC stuck on the back of a monitor) has its achilles heel when the long term overall life cycle costs are considered.  Say you buy from one of the mega-big automation vendors that sell a squillion different products.  Usually after a few years the unit is obsolete and after some considerable effort an alternative gets wrestled into action, painful stuff indeed. All the techy stuff like oh-dear its a newer OS version, improved screen resolutions, software upgrades, specialised interfaces, development software upgrades can be a real expensive test.

Well, there is a much better way.

  1. Buy a standard fanless PC with a standard OS like XP and use a common standard HMI.  Stuff that people can easily handle.
  2. Buy the monitor or touchscreen separate, so if the screen gets mashed up or the backlight goes a simple easy cheap spare can be swapped over.
  3. Using fanless low energy industrial PCs in reality improve the MTBF I would judge by a factor of x10.  Furthermore, having a disk image can make the time to rebuild a replacement unit very quick indeed to the MTTR to improved using standard PC support skills.
  4. Using a PC also makes the system easier to integrate to other higher level systems if needed.  It might even save all the wasted walking down to the plant floor to make a small change.

What to use ? Well I have raved on about how well built the Nexcom NISE units are and when spec’d up with decent SSD disks make an excellent fanless low energy package.

Oh, if you want something like the above pre-installed with Ge iFix/Cimplicity or just ready to roll with XP tweaked then give me bell and I will provide a solution ready to run out of the box.

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