Industry in general has long been familiar with something that they call “control panels”. These have the exterior look of a large metal box or cabinet (sometimes very large). The box, or enclosure, is both robust enough and sufficiently sealed to protect delicate equipment housed inside it – much of which may involve electrics or electronics. The equipment will be monitoring and controlling a process which could be anything from the flow rate through a sub-sea oil well to the manufacture of chocolate candies. There will be valves, solenoids, flow meters, pressure gauges, etc housed inside. Spaces may be cut out on one side of the box to allow visual access to gauges. Until recently, any computerization would either be small processors embedded into some of the interior equipment or from wired or wireless connections to a remote computer station. Early computers were rarely found at the control panel since they were considered too bulky, ran to hot and relied on cathode ray tubes for their monitors.
Times Have Changed
Processors and other electronics are now available that do not require cooling by circulating air around them and the bulky CRT monitor has been superseded by the thin, flat screen (usually using LCD technology which does not run hot). If all this improvement is assembled together in one “box” you can have a Fanless Industrial Panel PC which can be a standalone tool or incorporated into a control panel enclosure.
You may well ask – “what about the keyboard and pointer device?” Technological advancement has again answered this question. In process control, the equipment is exposed to the conditions applicable “on the spot” which can often be dirty, dusty, wet or even corrosive. This usually means that it would not be practical to have any external components outside of the Fanless Industrial Panel PC. The solution is found in the “touch screen”.
Whilst you would not want to write articles like this using a touch screen keyboard; a Fanless Industrial Panel PC is not going to be used for any sort of general, office based computing. Its purpose is to be part of the process control system and most of the time the computer will be monitoring and recoding what is happening in the process. As such, there will be little need for any encoding type entries to be made. The personnel watching the control panel may need to change a view on their screen or, when required, input certain predetermined over rides into the automatic system. These are all tasks that can be easily and efficiently undertaken via a touch screen.
Within the online pages from PanelPCpro.com, you will find many examples of the Fanless Industrial Panel PC. Screen sizes from 5.6” to 70” are available along with your choice of any of the well known processors. Check them all out at http://www.panelpcpro.com/.