Advantech's Modular Industrial Computers

Posted by Kari Grosser on Dec 19, 2018 10:20:00 AM


Extreme flexibility to satisfy diverse market requirements

The disadvantages of all-in-one PCs have been mitigated with the emergence of modular IPCs, which offer flexible configuration and high expandability. The provision of convenient scalability and long-term expansion makes them adaptable to meet the demands of an ever-changing market.

In technology industries, modularization refers to a system comprising separate components (modules), such as processors, batteries, and system memory that have specific functions and operate autonomously. When such components are standardized, they can be interchangeably combined into different solutions. 

Previously, the idea of modularized products being adapted to market changes was primarily part of the system design stage in order to provide developers with a more flexible model for product development. However, users also employ integrated products. But because the product functions are determined by the developer, redundant functions cannot be removed or altered. Consequently, in an effort to "reestablish user control," Advantech has developed IPC platforms that allow users to select and customize the system specifications according to their specific requirements through modularization. 

From limited all-in-one systems to flexible modularized solutions

But why has Advantech only now chosen to introduce customers to the concept of modularization? Elvis Lee, Product Planning Assistant Manager of Advantech's Automation Computer Business Unit, indicated that the implementation of Industry 4.0 has become a trend for manufacturing industries to initiate fundamental and dramatic changes. 

All manufacturers, whether involved in high-tech precision manufacturing or traditional industrial machining, must adapt to this revolutionary trend. However, the transformation process will differ for each manufacturer. This is because a number of manufactures are still in the Industry 2.0 stage in regards to automation. While others have achieved Industry 3.0 digitalization, certain manufactures remain somewhere between Industry 2.5 and 3.5. Accordingly, because manufacturers are at different stages on implementation, the solutions they require also differ. 

In response, Advantech abandoned the conventional all-in-one solution model and developed modular IPCs for adapting to various usage requirements. Mr. Lee explained, "Although all-in-one systems offer comprehensive functionality, the level of integration limits customization and expansion. Even using Advantech's customization services, customers will be faced with extended services, customers will be faced with extended lead times and increased costs. Conversely, modularized allows customers to select their ideal platform and reserve the potential for future expansion. 

Of Advantech's extensive product portfolio, its TPC series of embedded tablets and UNO series systems feature a modular and various optional expansion modules. Both of these series of products offer several outstanding functions. Additionally, these products can be equipped with a range of motherboard (high/medium/low), display (12" to 21"), and I/O options. 

Modular IPCs satisfy a wide variety of usage requirements

Mr. Lee gave real-life examples. First, regarding factory implementation, every production line workstation has a number of specific functions. When smart applications are introduced, each workstation may be equipped with devices that vary in performance in order to reduce costs and ensure easy implementation. Unsurprisingly, conducting the necessary solution testing and verification for every workstation can be considerable time consuming. 

However, with Advantech's modular TPC series of embedded tablets and optional expansion modules, the requirements for each workstation can be satisfied simultaneously. For example, workstations used for visual inspection operations can be equipped with a high-performance motherboard, multiple LAN ports, and an external camera. Workstations that must be connected to a PLC for machine control can be equipped with a medium-level motherboard and multiple COM ports. Modularization not only shortens verification and implementation times, but also ensures easy maintenance with a streamlined framework.  

modular UNOAnother example is a system development project involving a manufacturer of automatic guided vehicles (AGVs). Typically, when system developers decide to integrate additional CANbus and Wi-Di functions after production procurement, companies are required to spend more money purchasing the upgraded models and conducting new tests, significantly extending the product's time-to-market. Fortunately, in this case, the manufacturer had purchased embedded computers from Advantech's UNO series. The UNO series systems can be employed as touch panel computers and equipped with diverse I/O modules. Thus, an additional layer with required module to integrate additional CANbus and Wi-Fi functions. 

Mr. Lee stated, "The computing modules, displays, and I/O of the TPC or UNO series systems are compatible to each other and can be easily interchanged. Therefore, the system does not require additional testing and verification. This saves considerable development and implementation time."

Solutions with minimal installation barriers and easy upgrades at a competitive price

He noted, the ever-changing market demands shorten product life cycles and increase need for low-volume, high-variety customization. The Advantech modular IPCs provide a highly scalable solution with minimal installation barriers and unlimited expandability to quickly respond to all kinds of future applications and customer needs. 

Modular IPCs also offer a cost-saving solution. For example, users with high CPU performance requirements may typically spend a considerable amount of money purchasing high-performance computers with a number of redundant functions in order to meet their CPU requirements. However, with modular IPCs, they only need to pay for the functions they require. 

Additionally, modular IPCs simplify maintenance and repairs with interchangeable components, eliminating the need to maintain larger inventories of spare parts and reducing maintenance workloads. Finally, the flexible scalability and long-term expandability of modular IPCs offers an extended life cycle. 

Invest once for sustainable upgrades

Much like dining at a fancy restaurant with numerous appetizers, soups, entrees, deserts and drinks, modular IPC offers users a variety of performance, display, and I/O options for their specific usage preferences, allowing users to build their ideal computing solution without being limited to systems with restricted functions.

Mr. Lee asserted, "Modular IPCs are a one-time investment that can be continually upgraded. Considering the unpredictability of current economic conditions, I believe that this type of flexibly configurable system is ideal for manufacturers and system integrators looking to implement smart applications.

Topics: Human Machine Interface, Embedded Automation Computers

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