IPCs open a new world for industrial operations, letting users access data remotely and leverage the cloud to improve efficiency.
The factory floor is rapidly adopting digital technology to improve business processes and drive new business models. Industrial PCs (IPCs) are well placed to play a key role in enabling data access and analysis in a secure setting, letting end users maximize machinery to its full potential.
Industrial facilities have become places of increasing data, where more devices, machines and people are connected to one another. IPCs have developed into automation components that enable connectivity and data management from the factory floor to the enterprise. No other automation device has the breadth of functionality or attributes so well suited to this data-driven world.
In industrial settings, digitalization means networking devices using digital protocols, to enable real-time access to production data. Intelligent automation devices and software can then be used to turn the data into usable information to aid decision making. IPCs have an openness and flexibility that lets control and visualization users quickly and easily develop applications to best meet specific requirements.
The market for connected IPCs is evolving as rapidly as the systems themselves. As these computers become more common in manufacturing, many machine builders are looking to tap into operating budgets rather than capital expenditure by offering machinery as a service rather than a standalone sale. Connected automation, including IPCs and SCADA systems, forms a critical part in enabling this service approach.
In essence, machine suppliers are selling up-time and throughput, not pieces of machinery. This includes real-time maintenance scheduling, reduction of warranty costs, remote engineering support, improved troubleshooting and better tracking and transparency of machine performance and the installed machine base overall. Cloud services are a growing aspect of this changing workplace.
Applications previously favored by IPCs or PLCs have merged in recent years. IPCs have penetrated hybrid and process industries to a greater extent (as well as discrete industries), although PLCs still dominate control applications. IPCs are becoming a more viable solution to PLCs and DCS for some applications, particularly as the benefits of IPCs used with an integrated software PLC become more evident in high-end applications. These include openness, motion control, real-time complex computation, determinism and low hardware cost.
The flexibility of IPCs lets them address many challenges, such as security, flexibility to adapt to changing requirements and facilitate the adoption of mobile devices. IPCs can form a key part of network validation that contributes towards industrial (automation) security. Restricting user rights with passwords, regularly checking and updating security software, disabling unused interfaces and ports, and searching for malicious software are among many roles IPCs can play in securing automation systems.
Flexible IPCs can be tailored for industry-specific requirement like ruggedization, processing performance, storage and software capability, visualization, control, security provision and networking compatibility. This trait also helps future-proof equipment designs with software upgrades. This flexibility also helps systems adapt to security threats, keeping systems safe as hackers change their attacks.
IPCs are already enabling growing usage of mobile devices. Tablets and smart phones are being used for data management and system integration while also providing flexible data access and visualization. Users can check performance and operations remotely, making changes that fix problems and improve efficiency.
The use of the cloud to analyze and store information is now commonplace in many sectors. With production data increasingly in demand, and the challenges and costs of managing data via hardware servers, the use of the cloud in industrial production settings will grow strongly.
An IPC can be integrated at the controller level of an automation solution. It can be used to filter data before it reaches the server, with information then distributed to multiple thin clients to aid visualization. This filtering of data creates a more distributed architecture, with intelligence on the factory floor reducing the burden on central servers. Potentially, this will lead to lower hardware server costs as the reliance on them for data processing and storage is partially reduced. This also lowers the risk to production up-time associated with hardware server failures, and promotes a more scalable system. The use of IPCs aids continuous operation, long-term availability, scalability and easy configuration.
Siemens provides business-focused solutions with MindSphere— Siemens Cloud for Industry, to help drive closed-loop innovation for products, production, and performance. MindSphere has been designed as an open ecosystem that industrial companies can use as the basis for their own digital services, such as in the fields of preventive maintenance, energy data management, or resource optimization.
Machine manufacturers and plant constructors in particular can use the platform to monitor machine fleets for service purposes throughout the world, reduce downtime and consequently offer new business models. MindSphere also forms the basis for databased services from Siemens, such as for the preventive maintenance of machine tools (Machine Tool Analytics) or integrated drive systems (Drive Train Analytics).
As industrial environments continue to digitalize, PC-based automation will play a key role. Machine builders and their customers face global competition and are increasingly focusing on how to improve performance and flexibility through transparency of production processes. Intelligent automation components like IPCs, provide secure access to production information, whether on location or remote, enabling more informed decision-making in constantly changing environments.
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