Rugged Systems Getting Sleeker

By Craig Szydlowski




Unlike the classic “black-box” flight data recorder, today’s rugged systems are more versatile, mobile, and touchscreen friendly. Systems for the Human Machine Interface (HMI) are designed to withstand harsh environments and accommodate workspace constraints as well as support wireless technology for users “on-the-go.” Rugged systems are combining aesthetic ergonomics and low-power, high-performance electronics to address the needs of workers outside the office.

These systems support applications like military, construction, energy exploration, and industrial automation, which are deployed both indoors and outdoors. With advances in wireless technology and flat-screen monitors, users have greater expectations for mobility and flexible displays. “The extreme environmental conditions found in automation, military, and oil and gas operations call for equipment that is both rugged and versatile—two characteristics that do not always coexist in harmony,” said Dale Szymborski, general manager of Kontron’s Mobile Rugged Computing Division.

Rugged And Versatile

The V Panel Express from Kontron combines industrial-grade toughness with multi-core processor technology. Equipped with an Intel® Core™ Duo processor, it can simultaneously run multiple applications: real-time control, visualization (HMI), and security. Previously, two or more dedicated systems may have been required.

The system is certified for optimal shock, vibration, and temperature resistance. The thermal solution allows for passive, fanless cooling at maximum processor performance. This COM-Express-compliant solution has many configuration options. It supports a maximum of 2 GBytes of RAM, two SATA hard drives, and a variety of interface options, such as Compact Flash cards; serial, USB, and gigabit Ethernet ports; and DVI-I along with two free PCI slots for expansion.

Tested For Extreme Conditions

Industrial PCs are often tested and certified for a range of operational conditions. For example, the Wolverine from Computer Dynamics is HAZLOC (Hazardous Locations) approved and ruggedized for use in virtually any environment. The standard unit has Class I, Division 2; Zone 2; CE; UL; and ATEX 3 approvals and operates between 0º and 50ºC. It can withstand shock of 40G pulse and has a vibration rating of 28G peak, random. Meeting NEMA 4 environmental standards, its sealed enclosure is corrosion resistant and includes a heater option to allow operational temperature ranges down to -40°C. The Wolverine also supports an option for battery- backed power for up to 30 minutes. The Wolverine combines high reliability, ease of use, and readability for applications like natural-resource extraction and processing, chemical industries, discrete manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and food processing.

Bundled Hardware And Software

Easing installation and configuration, some HMI systems ship with pre-installed software for factory management. Using a single platform with bundled hardware and software, factory control engineers don’t need to worry about licensing, installing service packs, or loading software. Kontron and Wonderware are offering just such a solution by combining the award-winning, Windows-based Wonderware InTouch HMI software and Kontron Touch Panel Computers (TPCs) for a solution-ready HMI system.

The Kontron panels met all of Wonderware’s hardware specs and performance requirements including a range of screen sizes and chassis designs, which were all based on the same underlying hardware platform. “This was especially important,” explains David Gardner, product manager at Wonderware, “because we can offer customers a variety of systems to fit their environments without changing our software or modifying the system in any way.” These systems use low-power processors, which enable a fanless design that can withstand the harsh conditions of most factory settings. Customers may opt for built-in wireless connectivity.

Ruggedized systems are becoming more powerful, flexible, and easier to use in harsh embedded environments. They’ve come a long way from the reconstituted PCs of the past.



Craig Szydlowski is a writer specializing in business and technology. He has over 20 years of engineering and marketing experience with embedded and communications systems at Intel, IBM and Siemens.