As design teams create remote and mobile industrial automation systems, the commercial cellular infrastructure has become a popular technology to implement M2M and cloud connectivity. Cellular networks offer some advantages and deployment options not available with the traditional public Internet. For example, designers are able to simplify cloud connections and eliminate new capital expenditures for networking when modifying or expanding the physical layout of a production facility. Network carriers provide a reliable cellular infrastructure built over decades with components that meet or exceed the 99.999% (5 Nines) high-availability standard. In addition, cellular networks can be used to merge computing resources outside of the local data center and easily interface to mobile machinery or vehicles. This blog covers a few off-the-shelf products from Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance members that incorporate cellular connectivity to interconnect task specific local interfaces.
In order for factories and production facilities to optimize the benefits of cloud connectivity, all of the individual components must be interconnected. This requirement extends to mobile machinery such as industrial trucks, forklifts, and robotic systems which are often used as a part of the manufacturing process. Targeting these applications, Kontron recently announced the MICROSPACE MPCX60 on-board computer to bring cellular connectivity to mobile vehicles and industrial machinery (See figure 1). Available with the low power, dual-core Intel® Atom™ D525 processor operating at 1.2 GHZ, the new vehicle computer provides PCI/104-Express or CompactPCI expansion slots for a variety of interface extensions. The system design is fanless and shock/vibration-resistant, suitable for rugged industrial environments and includes a wide-range power supply designed for industrial battery voltages. The new MICROSPACE® MPCX60 offers a multitude of standard interfaces including VGA, DVI or LVDS for displays, six USB 2.0 ports, plus four serial and two CAN bus interfaces. For wireless connectivity applications, there are antenna connectors at the rear for W-LAN (wireless local area network), GSM (Global System for Mobile), and GPS (Global Positioning System). The new Kontron vehicle computers support Windows, Linux, and VxWorks operating software.
For portable factory management functions which may not always be in the local production area, Alliance member NORCO offers the PPC-3308, a ruggedized, 8.4 inch portable tablet with cellular connectivity capability (See figure 2). The waterproof tablet is based on the 1.5 GHz "Oak Trail" Intel Atom Z670 processor with 1 or 2 GB of DDR2 memory and up to 64 GB of local storage. The 800 x 600 resolution LCD display includes a 4 wire resistive touch interface, an integrated numeric keypad, and is sunlight readable. The system includes both 1.3 megapixel front and 3 megapixel rear cameras along with local network interface circuitry for 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The tablet includes options for multiple high speed wireless broadband protocols including EVDO (Evolution-Data Optimized) plus both wideband and time division CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). The PPC-3308 is compatible with both the Windows and Linux operating systems.
Due to rapidly changing technology and geography-based protocol availability, industrial products featuring cellular connectivity must include provisions to easily adjust the protocol standard to match local networks. For example, the EHS5 miniPCIe from Alliance member Cinterion is a plug-in data modem module in the PCI Express form factor that provides cellular connectivity to industrial systems such as the products described above (See figure 3). The module provides dual-band 3G and 2G support enabling geographically optimized Internet access and cloud-based services for mid-range bandwidth requirements of up to 7.2 Mbps downlink and 5.76 Mbps uplink. With an extended temperature range from -40 °C up to 85 °C, the EHS5 miniPCIe is suitable for industrial environments or outdoor sites that lack cooling and heating systems. The card provides simple plug-in integration via the standardized 52-pin PCIe system connector and works with built-in Windows and Linux modem drivers. An optional micro SIM card holder allows for easy replacement of mini PCI Express cards to transform existing WiFi applications into cellular-based intelligent systems.
These products show how Intel processor and communications technologies can be used to simplify the transition to cellular-based connectivity and remote accessibility for industrial applications. With this universal connectivity in place, design teams can turn their attention to developing value from the massive amounts of data available from fully integrated embedded systems. If you think that this cellular framework fits your next industrial automation project or if you have already started a project please share your concerns, questions, and successes with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community. You can keep up with the latest technical articles and product announcements at the Embedded Computing Design archives on cellular connectivity.
To learn more about the design of industrial systems, see “Top Picks – Industrial”
To view other community content on connectivity, see "Connectivity - Top Picks”
Kontron is a Premier member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. NORCO and Cinterion are Associate members of the Alliance.