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Thin Clients and Cloud Computing

Thin Clients for the Process Industry From the Control-Room into the Ex-Zone

| Autor / Redakteur: Dr. Marc Seissler and Stefan Sittel* / Dominik Stephan

The Visunet Control Center provides convenient, efficient and centralized management of all Pepperl+Fuchs Visunet remote monitors and Box Thin Clients with the RM Shell.
The Visunet Control Center provides convenient, efficient and centralized management of all Pepperl+Fuchs Visunet remote monitors and Box Thin Clients with the RM Shell. (Bild: Pepperl+Fuchs)

End-to-end thin client solutions for the process industry — PC-based visualization of complex plants has been used in the process industry for years. The hardware components used for this often originate from an IT environment and were primarily developed for use in office scenarios. As conditions in the process industry are often completely different to those in offices, many devices are operated in scenarios that do not correspond to their specifications. At Pepperl+Fuchs, the industrial Box Thin Client device family has been designed specifically for use in a process environment.

Traditional “office” thin clients are designed to operate for eight hours a day. The new industrial Box Thin Clients (BTC) on the other hand, are optimized for 24/7 operation. This means that the BTC devices feature industrial grade components, which are designed for a wide temperature range of -20 to +60 °C. As a result, the hardware will remain available in the long term (more than five years) thereby reducing recurring qualification expenses. In addition, the devices have an extremely rugged design, avoiding moving parts such as fans and hard disks.

The robust, IP4x-certified housings also help to minimize the ingress of unwanted materials, which are frequently present in process-oriented environments. As the BTCs are specified for operating temperatures of up to +60 °C, they can be installed in drawers or containers under the desk without any problems. The lack of convection in such scenarios often leads to problems and device failure of “office” thin clients, which are only specified for temperatures of up to +40 °C.

The industrial design of the BTCs does not limit their features, the developers at ­Pepperl+Fuchs say that, whilst the BTC01 was designed for use in quad-monitor scenarios, the BTC12, the latest generation of the device, is significantly more compact. It's based on the latest Intel Apollo Lake processor platform and features two modern Displayport 1.2 interfaces. The BTC12 thus offers native support for “true” Ultra HD (4K) screen resolutions at 60 Hz. This allows smooth workflows with large screens that are increasingly common in control rooms.

The DP++ function means that not only monitors with a Displayport interface can be connected, but also HDMI-equipped monitors and television screens via a passive Displayport to HDMI cable. Plugs for all interfaces, including power supply and USB, can be used to prevent slippage due to vibrations. The manufacturer concludes that with its compact and robust design, plus modern interfaces and functions, the new BTC12 represents a cost-effective, universal solution for screen-based workstations in the process industry.

Tailored Firmware for Thin Clients

A high degree of security is just as important as easy handling during setup. While classic thin clients from an office environment are set up and administered by IT specialists using powerful management tools, process engineers are often responsible for installation in a process automation scenario. They are optimally supported by lightweight firmware tailored precisely to this field of application, such as RM Shell 5 from ­Pepperl+Fuchs which concentrates on the essential aspects of setup.

During the development of RM Shell 5, the focus was on security, reliability and user-friendliness, the engineers explain. The latest firmware generation is based on Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSB — a business version of Microsoft Windows with long-term support.

In addition to mechanisms such as the Universal Write Filter (UWF), a firewall and protection against access to USB storage media, the firmware now also supports virus scanners from third-party vendors such as Mc Afee Endpoint Securit in addition to the standard Windows Defender. These new features minimize the risk of a computer virus or malware.

Ergänzendes zum Thema
 
Indutrial PCs: Think Lean, go Thin!

Also, a large number of current Ethernet-based remote protocols, such as version 10 of the Microsoft Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) with Remote FX, VNC, and Citrix Receiver is supported. In addition, process control system-specific protocols such as the Emerson Delta-V Remote Desktop Connection (DRDC) are integrated, allowing direct access to virtualized Delta-V workstations and servers.

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