Like other industries, oil and gas operations are looking to the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve their ability to collect and use data. However, the similarities stop at the edge. Offshore drilling platforms face some of the harshest environments for IoT data collection and management systems. Year in and year out, these platforms experience brutal maritime climate and environmental conditions. IoT components must be resistant to shock, vibration, voltage irregularities, and atmospheric contaminants such as dust, water, and corrosion.


A drilling equipment manufacturer recently approached MEN Mikro Elektronik, an Affiliate member of the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance, for such a rugged IoT solution. MEN is a specialist in computer boards and systems for extreme industrial, safety-critical, and mobile environments. The manufacturer wanted an IoT server platform for drilling sites that could communicate with an operator’s data processing center in real time via GSM, the TDMA-based wireless network technology used in many parts of the world. The server would be responsible for relaying all the data relating to the position of the drill head, resistance in the drilling mud, and general function and error analyses.


The solution had to be as extreme as the application. MEN based their solution on their rugged 3U CompactPCI* PlusIO board family. A good example from this family is the MEN F23P (Figure 1). This versatile 3U single-board computer (SBC) offers a range of 4th generation Intel® Core™ i7, i5, and i3 processors. The most powerful choices, the Intel® Core™ i7 processors, include:


  • Four cores and Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology for powerful simultaneously multi-threading performance
  • Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (Intel® AVX) 2.0 for improved integer/matrix-based calculation abilities
  • Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 for running application faster when there’s available thermal headroom for running at higher frequencies
  • Intel® vPro technology for intelligent security, operating system-absent manageability, and down-the-wire security even when the system is powered off, the operating system is unresponsive, or software agents are disabled


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Figure 1. MEN F23P 3U CompactPCI* PlusIO board.


The robust design of the MEN 3U CompactPCI* PlusIO board family makes them well suited for rugged environments. The boards meet applicable DIN, EN, or IEC industry standards for shock and vibration. They feature tailored passive heat sinks and soldered components – including DDR3 DRAM. Boards can be coated for use in humid and dusty environments like offshore platforms.


For splash protection, MEN provides a solid conduction-cooled aluminum frame (Figure 2). In addition, for the drilling platform, the boards are encased in an IP64 certified protected box with thermally conductive properties.


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Figure 2. For thermal management, MEN 3U CompactPCI* PlusIO boards can come mounted in conduction-cooled frames.

In order to dissipate the massive total of 200 W power consumption, MEN installed additional high-performance IP52-rated fans between the splash protected IP64 box and the final external rackmount enclosure. (Figure 3 is an example of a similar rackmount enclosure.) The fans provide continuous air circulation, expelling heat outwards.


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Figure 3. An example of a rack enclosure from MEN’s range of conduction cooled robust rack housings. 

Although the use of fans seems to contradict the idea of an almost maintenance-free system, the risks were outweighed by the advantages of maintaining a compact construction without the need to compromise on processing power. What’s more, maintenance is minimized because the electronics are left untouched inside the IP64 protective box, and all critical components are directly coupled to the board’s frame to enable conduction cooling through the transfer of waste heat to the exterior wall.


The pictured MEN CPCI rackmount enclosure is an extremely robust rack housing that is hermetically sealed against impacts from outside. It adds high vibration and shock resistance through the use of wedge locks and MIL-C-38999 connections. The enclosure provides three CompactPCI slots for one CPU board with a side card and one I/O board, as well as a PSU slot with an H15 connector. The distance between the slots on the backplane is greater than on standard backplanes. Thermal resistance is 0.4 Kelvin/W and the temperature class Tx for 40 W maximum performance with boards featuring an operating temperature of -40 to +85°C.


Power Management

Irregular voltage is another challenge for drilling platform computing solutions. The Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) that power large motors reflect large amounts of current and voltage harmonics back onto the platform's power grid. These often appear as voltage dropouts. Occasionally the harmonics and/or the high initial current demands during startups can create high voltage transients that cause PSUs to fail.


To prevent the possibility of an expensive power failure, MEN includes a redundant PSU. The workload is divided between the PSUs during normal operation to increase their lifespans. In the event that one fails, the other can take over the load normally handled by the failed or defective PSU.


Given the strong fluctuations in the voltage of the power supplied by generators on the drilling sites, additional input voltage monitoring combined with a high-speed D/A converter is provided to verify voltage quality. This information can be transmitted via remote diagnostics (made possible thanks to Inte®l vPro technology), allowing generators with a harmful voltage to be switched off from the control center. Should a power failure occur in spite of these measures, a back-up battery will keep the system running for a maximum of 20 minutes – just enough time to trigger and send the corresponding error message and shut down the system correctly.


Operational and Communication Safeguards

The three CompactPCI PlusIO CPU components are monitored by a system controller, which is used to read and analyze diagnostics data from the BIOS upon booting. If a defect is detected in one of the CPU components, this information is conveyed to the data processing center during start-up.


The transmission of data from the server platforms to the drilling sites and onward to the data processing center is encrypted by security protocols for end-to-end security. The information can only be read with the corresponding recipient key from the data processing center. MEN’s 3U CompactPCI* PlusIO boards support Intel® AES New Instructions that enable hardware acceleration of cryptographic functions to reduce their load on the processor.


Rugged Solutions for Rugged Applications

Offshore drilling platforms are just one example of the many harsh environments for which industries today are seeking IoT solutions. For more rugged solution for industrial automation and energy based on Intel® Core™ processors, visit our Solutions Directory.



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MEN Mikro Elektronik is an Affiliate member of the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance.


Mark Scantlebury

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance

Editor-in-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine