Industrial PCs are used primarily for process control and/or data acquisition. In some cases, an Industrial PC is simply used as a front-end to another control computer in a distributed processing environment. Software can be custom written for a particular application or an off-the-shelf package can be used to provide a base level of programming.
An application may simply require the I/O such as the serial port offered by the motherboard. In other cases, expansion cards are installed to provide analog and digital I/O, specific machine interface, expanded communications ports, and so forth, as required by the application.
Industrial PCs offer features different from consumer PCs in terms of reliability, compatibility, expansion options and long-term supply.
Industrial PCs are typically characterized by being manufactured in lower volumes than home or office PCs. A common category of industrial PC is the 19-inch rackmount form factor. Industrial PCs typically cost considerably more than comparable office style computers with similar performance. Single-board computers and backplanes are used primarily in Industrial PC systems. However, the majority of industrial PCs are manufactured with COTS motherboards.
Construction and features
Virtually all Industrial PCs share an underlying design philosophy of providing a controlled environment for the installed electronics to survive the rigors of the plant floor. The electronic components themselves may be selected for their ability to withstand higher and lower operating temperatures than typical commercial components.
- Heavier metal construction as compared to the typical office non-rugged computer
- Enclosure form factor that includes provision for mounting into the surrounding environment (19" rack, wall mount, panel mount, etc.)
- Additional cooling with air filtering
- Alternative cooling methods such as forced air, liquid, and conduction
- Expansion card retention and support
- Enhanced EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) filtering and gasketing
- Enhanced environmental protection such as dust proof, water spray or immersion proof, etc.
- Sealed MIL-SPEC or Circular-MIL connectors
- More robust controls and features
- Higher grade power supply
- Lower consumption 24 V power supply designed for use with DC UPS
- Controlled access to the controls through the use of locking doors
- Controlled access to the I/O through the use of access covers
- Inclusion of a watchdog timer to reset the system automatically in case of software lock-up