Industrial Panel PCs are designed to meet the demanding requirements of a typical Industry 4.0 application including exposure to moisture and dust, extreme temperatures, and high shock and vibration. The best Panel PC offers a wide array of connectivity, processing and mounting options and are well suited to any number of human machine interface (HMI), automation or industrial control applications. But the proliferation of Panel PCs means that choosing the best system for your particular project, as well as for the environment in which it will be installed, can be challenging. We’ll walk you through a 7 step process to select the best Panel PC solution to meet your requirements.
1) Do you need a Fanless PC?
Fanless PCs that do not have vents or other openings are a great choice if they are being installed in an area subject to dust and debris. A fanless and ventless solution will keep any airborne particulate out of the internal casing which can lead to performance degradation and often lead to expensive maintenance downtime. Even if the Panel PC is going to be installed in a location where environmental conditions are less of a factor, a fanless Panel PC still maintains the benefit of removing the most common point of failure for most computers – the fan. The end result is a solution with a longer lifecycle which can save you money over the long run. You can learn more about fanless computing here.
2) Capacitive or Resistive Touchscreen?
Panel PCs come in two distinct touchscreen varieties, capacitive and resistive. The primary difference between the two involves how input is detected. Capacitive touchscreens use the human body’s electrical field to process input, similar to many of today’s smartphones.
Capacitive touchscreens are frequently used for installations that require highly accurate touch sensing or multi-touch capabilities such as pinch to zoom so they are frequently used for kiosks and interactive digital signage.
Resistive screens rely on physical pressure to transmit touch data.Since resistive touchscreens can be used while wearing gloves, they are a great choice for factory automation and healthcare applications. They are also used when a more tactile interface is preferred.
As the saying goes, “Location, Location, Location” and this absolutely applies to selecting the right PC for the job. Making the decision about whether or not your Panel PC will be embedded within another enclosure or machine, affixed to a stand, or be mounted to a wall should be considered well before purchase, not once the system has arrived and is ready for installation.
Obviously, if the PC will be embedded, whether in a kiosk, in a larger device, or in any kind of enclosure, choosing the right size panel is of key concern. Be sure to check each dimension of the Panel PC you’re considering, including its depth, to avoid frustrating installation delays.
If the PC will be mounted, whether on a wall, stand or articulating arm, look into the VESA compatibility of the monitor’s mounting. The size and design of the Panel PC may limit the type of mount you’re able to use.
There are other intricacies of Panel PC mounting that are sometimes less obvious to the first time buyer. If your device, tooling or machinery requires a Panel PC to be installed flush to a surface you should consider a Panel PC that features the option of panel mounting. Unlike mounting the panel to a stand or wall, panel mounting allows the touch surface to mount flush to the front surface of the enclosure. This mounting configuration is especially popular in food production or particulate-rich environments where frequent cleaning is required. Panel mounting not only prevents debris from collecting on the PC, but also allows for the system to be easily wiped clean or even sprayed down as long as it is properly rated for protection against liquids.
Finally, consider if you would like an all-in-one solution or if you are looking for a modular approach. An all-in-one solution is generally easier to install but some customers prefer the ability to choose a system module that meets performance and connectivity needs with the screen type and size of their choice.
4) Is IP Rating Important?
The IP rating of your chosen Panel PC can be a very important consideration depending on the environment in which you plan to use it. IP, which stands for Ingress Protection, is a standard designation which indicates how effective an enclosure is at sealing out ingress from both solids and liquids.
The first digit in an IP rating represents an enclosure’s ability to keep out solids ranging from the operator’s fingers to particles like dust and debris. The highest solids ingress rating is 6, indicating that a system is protected even against dust particles.
The second digit in an IP rating relates to the effectiveness of the enclosure in sealing out liquids. The highest rating on this scale is an 8, meaning the entire case is waterproof and submergible in depths greater than 1 meter.
There is also an important distinction between a front bezel IP rating and an overall IP rating. A screen with a front bezel IP rating of IP65 for instance has a front screen and surround that have been tested to resist dust (6) and splashed or sprayed liquids (5). An overall IP65 rating on the other hand would indicate that the entire system, including the sides and back of the unit will also resist ingress. If the Panel PC will be embedded within another enclosure or panel mounted, a front IP rating may be all that is necessary. However, if you intend to install the system as a standalone device, and the entire system is likely to be exposed to the elements, a higher overall IP rating may be a necessity.
One benefit of Panel PCs is that they come in a variety of sizes to meet virtually any situational need. Obviously, depending on your application you may be limited by a number of factors when choosing the right size. It is important to consider whether it will be mounted, on a stand, on an articulating arm, or otherwise. If so, the weight of the system may also be a factor. You’ll also want to think about the resolution of the display and how clear and large you’ll need the images on it to appear. On that same note, be sure to consider whether your application will require a standard (4:3) or widescreen (16:9) aspect ratio screen.
6) Will the Panel PC be Used in Direct Sunlight?
When the sun shines directly on a device screen, whether it’s a TV, phone or computer, it can be nearly impossible to see. The fact is that the vast majority of consumer, and even industrial monitors and touchscreens aren’t designed to emit enough light to compete with the glare of the sun. Standard screens are also subject to high glare, which can cause additional viewing restrictions. This is where high brightness (sometimes called sunlight readable) screens come in. Sunlight readable displays provide higher light output, sometimes double the nits (a common measure of brightness) of standard displays, and often feature special filters to reduce glare. If you are looking into purchasing a Panel PC for outdoor use, or for installation in an area subject to direct sunlight, a high brightness, or sunlight readable screen becomes a vital consideration.
7) Do You Need a Solid State Panel PC?
When it comes to a rugged PC system that can handle harsh conditions or mobile installations, simply going fanless isn’t enough to ensure reliability. Solid state systems go one step further by replacing the spinning hard drive with solid state storage. An SSD, or Solid State Drive, has no moving parts to wear out or potentially fail due to vibration, shock or frequent power cycling. Solid state storage has come a long way in just the last few years, with capacities ranging into multiple terabytes and prices much lower than when the technology first hit the market. SSD storage is a vital component to creating a truly solid state device for the ultimate in reliability, particularly in vibration or impact prone installations.
As you’ve read, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing the right Panel PC, and the right solution for you will depend largely on your unique situation. It’s important to fully understand how each of the factors above will impact your timeline, budget and hardware options. If you have questions about Panel PCs, or any of our industrial and rugged hardware, contact the OnLogic team.
Note: This blog was originally posted on August 2, 2016 and was updated on July 7, 2020.