Industrial Automation environments, while diverse, share common requirements: form-factor, legacy support, and endurance. Implementation of automation equipment has a direct impact on the operation of industrial PCs to management of process control units and data loggers.

Industrial PC

Industrial PCs are at the heart of many industrial applications. As compared to single-board computers (SBCs) which are typically smaller, lower powered and more tightly integrated, industrial PCs are able to integrate more mainstream processors, memory, and storage.

Industrial PCs have many of their own standards including:

  • ATX / ETX / ITX (many sizes available)
  • AdvancedTCA (popular in Netcom) and MicroTCA
  • CompactPCI (also popular in Netcom)
  • COM Express (often as a standalone small form-factor computer or as a processor mezzanine solution)
  • PC/104 (more legacy)
  • VPX / Open VPX / VITA / VME (including newer SOSA standard for more Military focus)

Industrial PCs are purpose-built to withstand harsh environments prone to shock, vibration, extreme temperatures, and dust and humidity, which further differentiates them from standard PCs.. They are also often deployed in hard to reach locations and often in mission-critical applications where failure is not an option and where systems can run 24/7 for over five years.

Factory Automation

As the name implies, factory automation aims to automate more mundane factory and production tasks to free employees to do more skilled activities that add further value to the company.

Often referred to as “Industry 4.0” or “The Next Industrial Revolution”, automation will rely on highly integrated industrial systems and edge computing. Future industrial systems will integrate AI and machine learning technology to improve efficiency and safety while providing predictive maintenance capabilities to mitigate downtime.

These systems are often deployed in harsh environments prone to temperature extremes as well as high shock and vibration. They will rely on mountains of data gathered from sensors and other subsystems to provide data for analytics that will be used for a variety of control and maintenance uses.

Robotics

Robotics continue to permeate through all aspects of daily life.  From unmanned vehicles to “cobots” and robotic surgical systems, robots are being deployed in a variety of mission-critical type applications. Reliance on robotics will continue to grow and thus the need for high reliability storage and memory solutions will continue to increase

Test and Measurement

Test and Measurement systems span a wide gamut of industries from automotive and communications to energy. The storage and memory needs vary widely based on the nature of the application and the type, frequency, and quantity of data generated.

Many test and measurement systems from industry leaders utilize modular formats such as PXI Express, while others take on application-specific formats that use a variety of board and enclosure designs ranging from small portable units to larger 1U or 3U blades.As a result, the storage and memory requirements vary widely in form-factor and capacity.

However, as the saying goes: “What gets measured gets managed.” As accuracy, reliability, and consistency of data becomes more critical, the storage and memory used to capture and store the data must evolve to meet the demands.

Medical

By integrating more automation and intelligence through computer-based solutions, medical devices and systems continue to provide more innovative solutions for medical practitioners and their patients. Applications such as medical imaging and surgical robots are among two of the best examples in addition to applications in diagnostics and analysis.

One of the key requirements in medical device development is the need for FDA approval. The approval process may be a multi-year effort that requires no change to the system over the duration of process. Any adjustments to the system risk requalification, and can add years to the overall approval period. Thus, once qualified, the device must be able to support a stable, unchanging system for several years. This responsibility extends to each component, including storage and memory, where suppliers must effectively design medical-grade components to remain available for up to 10 years

Energy

As energy usage in urban and suburban areas rises year after year and the demand for energy efficient infrastructure grows, the energy sector is turning to automation and intelligence for innovative solutions. Some existing applications include “smart grid” technology to automate allocation of electricity from lower to higher usage areas and automation of oil and gas exploration and extraction helps to improve efficiency and safety.

These two examples highlight the unique environmental challenges from extreme temperatures, shock and vibration, and dust and humidity. These applications require the rugged attributes of industrial-grade storage and memory to ensure long and predictable service life.

Gaming

As the gaming industry grows, so do the demands for richer and more immersive gaming experiences for consumers. Thus, leading gaming system developers have begun to integrate more and more compute-intensive technology.  Where simple “one-arm bandit” slot machines once was now stands sophisticated video and audio enabled gaming systems.

Player tracking for customer loyalty programs also continues to evolve in both the technology used to track players as well as the data capture and analytics to manage rewards programs.

Due to the sensitivity of data and security risks from tampering with the gaming systems, designers put high value on data and system security. Features like encryption and write-protection are required, and as a result, memory and storage requirements vary widely by form-factor, interface, capacity, and security features.

Casino gaming is also a highly regulated industry. Manufacturers of gaming systems must submit their solutions to gaming commissions for approval. Once approved, the systems cannot be altered in any way or they risk requalification.  This requires component manufacturers to support stable and unchanging component supply for several years.

Security / Camera

Professional photography, especially those on location, rely on local storage to ensure that “once in a lifetime” shot. In addition,  on-location shoots can cost tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to capture a few minutes’ worth of video, In these cases and so many more, reliable storage and memory solutions with steady performance are imperative.

Secondary requirements for this industry include capacity and power, especially in battery-operated systems. They may also necessitate use in enclosed system designs with little to no airflow that would otherwise cause heat issues, as well as securing captured/stored data against tampering.

Signage / Vending / Kiosk / POS

Self-serve and automated service technologies have continued to expand to meet the rising demand for consumer goods and services. Everything from digital billboards to automated ticketing terminals are integrating more compute functions to serve media and run software. Many of these systems are deployed outdoors where temperature, humidity and other factors could impact the reliability of integrated storage and memory, making industrial-grade solutions even more important for consistent and reliable operation.

The form-factors of these systems also varies widely from highly integrated point-of-sale terminals and digital signage running single-board computers to kiosks running more PC-like system boards. As a result, storage and memory formats, interfaces, and capacities encompass a wide portfolio of both new and legacy storage and memory solutions is of high value to system designers.

Building Automation

Building automation is on the rise, especially in large urban areas, to help improve energy efficiency and lower costs.  Building Management System (BMS) or Building Automation System (BAS)involves the automated and centralized control of systems like HVAC, smart lighting, access control and security, and other interrelated systems.

These systems are comprised of a series of sensors (e.g. motion and temperature) connected to a management controller that regulates the attached lighting, HVAC, etc.  Because these controllers vary in size and complexity, a wide selection of storage and memory formats, interfaces, and capacities is important to enable system designers to meet their objectives.

Smart Cities

Smart Cities incorporate a wide variety of industrial systems: communications and networking, smart grid, building automation, etc. Many of the larger urban areas are also integrating many other “smart” technologies from things like smart parking meters to perhaps more controversial technology like advanced security solutions utilizing facial recognition.

Because these applications are often deployed outdoors and utilize a wide variety of computer platforms, rugged industrial-grade storage and memory

Other Industrial

A number of other industries are buying in to the industrial Internet of Things (IOT) and edge computing concept, including:

  • Smart agriculture – automation of watering systems, fertilizer and insecticide treatments, field preparation and harvesting
  • 3D Printing – fast prototyping of components
  • Automated Traffic Systems – automated toll and passenger/vehicle tracking
  • Drones – surveying, high-wire inspection and maintenance, security/surveillance

These applications all share the need for highly reliable and often ruggedized storage and memory solutions available in a wide variety of formats, interfaces, and capacities.

Case Study: SSD Solutions for Industrial AutomationVideo: Durable SSDs for Industrial Automation

Edge Computing Integrated Storage Solutions for the Industrial Market

To design systems needed to proliferate edge computing across the entire industrial market ecosystem, hardware solutions must be optimized for data’s reliable storage, rapid transfer and solid protection against loss from power failure and other hazards.

Beyond how data is handled, these systems must also operate at low power and fit within form factor constraints, all while still maintaining exceptional resilience to harsh environmental factors like heat, shock and vibration. These are the value propositions that Virtium offers through its solid-state storage solutions to support a wide range of edge computing applications for indoor and outdoor deployment.

For the industrial edge computing, Virtium has leveraged powerful ARM-based products in the form of system-on-modules or single-board computers.

Virtium is integrating the NXP 16-core LX2160A computer-on-module with Virtium StorFly® M.2 SATA industrial-grade SSDs, DDR4 memory modules and StorKit® SSD software, to usher in the next generation of edge-computing solutions that emphasize speed, connectivity, efficiency, and data security throughout industrial solutions.