Rugged Box PCs Redefine Embedded Systems through Modular Design

Jarvis Wenger | Product Solutions Manager, Technical Solutions Group | MEN Micro

The demand continues to increase for embedded control systems in widening areas of industry and transportation. Not only that, the demand is becoming, well, more demanding.

Industries with needs in remote and hostile areas—oil and gas, mining and marine as well as railway, trucking and mass transportation—are looking for solutions in the form of rugged, quickly configurable, deliverable and reliable systems. System designers want to order a single box, configured to their needs, that they can install, program to their specific application and easily run with minimum maintenance or concern.

Starting With a Solid Base
By applying a modular concept to its rugged box PCs, MEN Micro has developed a methodology that enables flexible configuration, while keeping integration and system costs down. Although there is a full set of off-the-shelf units, they are built on a flexible design concept, should a standard configuration not quite fit an application.

But it all starts with a rugged, robust conduction-cooled housing designed for fanless operation at temperatures from -40°C to +85°C. Using internal conduction cooling, along with shock and vibration resistance, the systems are ready to withstand a wide range of rugged environments. The sealed chassis is also resistant to dust and chemical influence.

By starting with a rugged enclosure designed to protect internal components, box PCs can operate in extreme environments, where electronics typically couldn’t survive before.

By starting with a rugged enclosure designed to protect internal components, box PCs can operate in extreme environments, where electronics typically couldn’t survive before.

Shaping the System
Inside the box, ruggedness joins modularity to provide a system designed specifically to an application’s needs, including a selection of conduction-cooled processor boards with various CPUs: Intel, ARM or PowerPC.

A wide variety of configurable I/O provides virtually limitless interfaces, from RS232, RS485, RS422, and CANbus to IBIS, UMTS, LTE and GPS. USB and Gigabit Ethernet can be provided along with real-time Ethernet such a PROFINET or EtherCAT. All units, standard or custom, are pre-configured, integrated and tested to ensure easy installation and quickly get systems up and running. And each is certifiable to a number of industry standards, including EN 50155, or e-mark.

New Applications Identified
By combining the ruggedization, modularity and industry certifications, these sophisticated electronic systems can be deployed in a range of specialized applications, where electronics could not be used before.

Because many systems are used in harsh environments, MEN Micro employs a rigorous testing and quality control process that ensures pre-qualification of its systems.

Because many systems are used in harsh environments, MEN Micro employs a rigorous testing and quality control process that ensures pre-qualification of its systems.

Application needs may be met by simply specifying one of the standard units designed for industrial, transportation or storage applications. If not, a customized configuration—with the addition of functions such as display ports, hot-pluggable RAID 0/1 HDD or SSD storage devices or PCI Express Mini card slots—that’s still certifiable to the needed industry standards may be required. The modular concept of rugged box PCs fit the bill.

Robust Marine Electronics
Serving as a direct processing unit, an ultra-rugged box PC provides propulsion control and surveillance on ships sent out to sea. Connected to the vehicles engine via CAN, it supports online data diagnostic and failure recognition, transferring the collected data via Ethernet, WiFi and LTE to the connected remote displays on the ship. The ship personnel at the headquarters, as well as at the deck, use the data for monitoring, remote maintenance and, if necessary, repair on board.

Although the unit is rated IP65, due to thermal expansion and contraction of materials during temperature fluctuations (similar to altitude adjustments in avionics), pressure equalization needed to be factored into the design. If not, small amounts of air would be sucked through the seals, which would allow moisture into the housing’s interior and adversely affect the electronics. To prevent this, a pressure equalization valve installed at the rear of the housing provides the proper ventilation to eliminate condensation.

A pressure equalizing valve on the back of this rugged box PC ensures an air- and water-tight seal, regardless the thermal expansion and contraction of the housing.

A pressure equalizing valve on the back of this rugged box PC ensures an air- and water-tight seal, regardless the thermal expansion and contraction of the housing.

This box PC, based on a standard COTS BC50R unit, provides a wide range of PSUs, operates an extended operating temperature without fans and complies with EN 60945.

Permanent Train Positioning
Although this positioning system is an individually configured version of the BL50W standard box PC, it still complies with the EN 50155 railway standard, since it is used to monitor a train’s location. Equipped with two antennas, the box receives GPS data sent from several satellites and transmits it from the train the control center via UMTS, where the position and the current speed are calculated.
Due to differentiated GPS, a location accuracy of less than ten feet can be provided, which means that the exact track can be determined. Equipped with an odometer, implemented via a PX1 PCI Express Mini Card, the system supports dead reckoning functionality, which uses previous positioning, speed and time to help calculate the current position. This ensures that the exact position of a vehicle can be identified, even if the satellite signal is interrupted, while moving through a tunnel, for example.

Embedded Computing Redefined
Systems that are rugged, modular, certifiable, reliable and quickly available are the demands of industry. A modular box PC concept meets these demands with high performance, configurable platforms that let industrial design engineers directly address their application needs with a focused system ready to run.

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