Embedded computers are widely used today for a multitude of industrial processes, and for other purposes; however, many people do not actually know the benefits of embedded computers for certain industries, and how they differ from other general-purpose computers like desktop computers. Embedded computing systems enhance the smooth running of manufacturing and industrial production lines. Using them results in little downtime, and they also do not require much maintenance. Before explaining the benefits of embedded computers for industrial processes, it is beneficial to explain what embedded computers are.
An embedded computer, which is also called a single board computer, is a computer that does not have any moving parts. Its motherboard contains all it requires to function, such as its hardware, operating system and software. Given that they do not have separate parts like keyboards, mouses, monitors and others, they are smaller in size when compared with general-purpose computers. According to Andrew Hsu, a Moxa Project Manager, such systems are only able to handle specific applications like the management of traffic lights at a busy road junction, monitoring of a security door and other specific applications.1 Embedded systems are widely used in a lot of devices we use on daily basis, including: ATMs, traffic lights, smartphones, entry gate applications and many others.
Embedded computing gives attractive benefits to industries that require their machines to run consistently without any breakdowns. Here are the benefits of using embedded computing for industrial applications.
Embedded systems are much easier to seal to prevent particles, dust and other elements from entering inside them. Equipment and other devices used in industries are normally exposed to unfavorable environments. Depending on the type of goods processed and manufactured in an industry, its environment may be prone to large volume of dust, corrosive or damaging chemicals,and even excessive moisture and heat. Such particles, observes George Tester, can damage important components of computers and electrical devices when they are exposed to them. They can also reduce their efficiency or could cause them to malfunction.
Embedded computers are smaller in size and thus, it is much easier to seal them against these elements than general-purpose computers. Given that the motherboard contains all the essential components, only one smaller case is required to seal an embedded computer. This is unlike a general-purpose computer that requires different spaces and cases for the housing of its different parts.
Embedded computers are highly durable. Their cycle life is longer than those of general-purpose computers. This makes them an ideal technology for industrial processes which require machines to operate consistently for many hours per day.
Embedded computing does not consume much energy. In other words, the use of embedded computing for industrial applications helps to reduce the amount of money spent on energy for the operation of machines and electrical devices used in industries. Besides, the volume of heat generated in embedded computing is not much. Thus, there isn’t much need for cooling.
Fans and airflow are required for cooling desktop systems. Dust, corrosive and dangerous chemicals, moisture and even microorganisms can enter into the system through the airflow. These elements can reduce the functionality of the system, lessen its durability and increase the need for maintenance and repair. Embedded computers are not prone to these vulnerabilities because they do not require any airflow or fans. Heat is passively dissipated.
Embedded computers are well-suited for industrial applications where no breakdown, repair or shutdown is tolerated due to a need for continuous production. Some industrial processes require systems to run for hours without any reduction in efficiency or without experiencing any downtime. System failure sometimes can result in a lot of expensive or irreparable damages to such industrial processes. The use of embedded computing for industrial applications can help businesses to avoid the occurrence of these situations. This is because they can run continuously for hours and are less prone to errors than desktop computers.
Industries require devices with rugged designs owing to the harsh environment they are exposed to. Embedded computers meet this requirement. They can function under extreme low and high temperatures. They have strong resistance against elements such as water, dust, particles, microorganisms and others, which can reduce durability and efficiency if they enter inside a system. This is because they are tightly sealed. As such, their fragile components are protected from shocks and impact resulting from falls during transportation or during usage. For these reasons, embedded computing system are considered more durable options for industrial applications than desktop computers.
Embedded computers are much easier to deploy to many remote locations than desktop computers because of their smaller size. Their compact designs also makes storage less of a hassle; they do not occupy much space when they are moved to storage.
It does not cost much to manage and maintain embedded computers. This is because they come with a customized operating system, no moving parts and fewer interconnections. Their longer life cycles and ability to operate for long hours without requiring shutdown also reduce the number of times maintenance work will need to be completed.
Embedded computers mainly performs two functions: using specialized software to control and operate industrial equipment, and data collection. Often, the software for the embedded computer is customized by the OEM to satisfy the job requirements of the particular industry using it. The good thing about embedded computers is that they come with warranties that have no restriction on opening and installation of suitable software.
Embedded computing systems are normally designed to perform single functions. This means that whatever a product is designed to implement is optimized for efficient performance.
Although they are not particularly versatile and can be used for limited purposes, the benefits mentioned above highlight the importance of embedded computers. Despite the drawbacks of limited functionality, it is nonetheless easy to see how embedded computers play a vital role in industries where efficiency, consistency in production, durability, low energy consumption, low IT maintenance, ease-of-use and affordability are of utmost concern.
1 Andrew Hsu, Embedded Computing for Industrial Applications. 1 May 2008. Moxa_White_Paper—Embedded_Computing_for_Industrial_Applications%20(1).pdf. Retrieved 22 February 2017.