Panel PCs combine the best of both traditional desktop computing and convenient touchscreen control. Today’s panel PCs offer a wide array of connectivity, processing and mounting options making them 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 right system for your particular project, as well as for the environment in which it will be installed, can be challenging. Let’s take a look at 7 key questions that you should be prepared to answer before settling on a Panel PC solution.
1) Actively Cooled or Fanless?
The first thing to consider when it comes to environmental factors is the level of dirt, debris, dust, and other particulate that may find its way into the system during use. 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. Of course, if environmental factors are a concern, a fanless, ventless Panel PC is the ideal solution. In addition to their lack of failure prone fans, these fully sealed systems prevent airborne particulate and debris from building up on internal components. Dust, debris, chemicals and moisture can all cause performance degradation and often lead to expensive maintenance downtime. You can learn more about fanless computing here.
2) Capacitive or Resistive?
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 disturbance in electrostatic fields caused by interaction with the screen to sense where contact is made on the touch surface. Resistive screens rely on the pressure of a finger or stylus to change the electrical resistance within the screen and indicate the contact point. Capacitive touchscreens are often preferred in applications where detailed touch accuracy and light pressure contact sensing is of value. Resistive screens on the other hand (pun intended) are often preferred in industrial environments where operators may be wearing gloves, which can drastically inhibit the effectiveness of capacitive screens. For more help in deciding which type of touchscreen is right for your application, check out our detailed capacitive vs resistive comparison.
3) Where Will the Panel PC Be Mounted?
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. Speaking of which…
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.
As an example, Cincoze Crystal Series Panel PCs have a front IP rating of IP65, making them ideal for installation in a wide range of HMI applications. The UPC-V315 from IEI has an overall IP65 rating, making it suitable for outdoor or arm mount installations where it may be exposed to dust, debris, or sprayed liquids from any angle.
5) What Size Panel PC Do You Need?
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) Do You Need a High Brightness Panel PC?
When the sun shines directly on a device screen, whether it’s a TV, phone or computer, it can be incredibly frustrating. 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, don’t hesitate to contact our solutions specialists by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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