Industrial Computers


Thread Starter

Randy DeMars

My company (a machinery builder) has been using IBM industrial computers for nearly 10 years. We initially chose these for reasons of name recognition, reliability, etc. We have continued to use them mainly because of their 3 year on-site warranty. We ship our equipment all over the world, and this has saved us many service trips over the years.

We are now in the market for a new supplier, and I would like to know which brands you have had success with. The configuration that we have been using includes a 19" monitor with touch interface. I think at this point we would
likely switch to an LCD display, and possibly an integrated computer/touch panel rather than a computer with separate monitor. We would like the
ability to have an internal JAZ drive and a CD-ROM, and built-in Ethernet would be a plus. We also need a slot for a PLC comm. Card (KT, ControlNet, Profibus, etc.) Other than that our specs are open.

Any ideas would be appreciated.

Well, it sounds like you need a custom system perhaps, but you haven't given much in terms of specs or application, and there lies the pickle...

Akumeka <> will build industrial systems to your specifications or requirements. They can offer 3 years or more of warranty too, but not worldwide onsite service... If that is what you're looking for, then you'll not only have to pay a good premium for it, but you'll also have to buy appreciable quantities from any one manufacturer to that to happen. With the interchangeability, reliability of mainstream industrial computers, you possibly may be better off sending the custom a new machine for exchange...

Good luck
Take a look on - you will be able to search for industrial computers by attribute. They also have several other product categories - it is a great site to research, compare and select from a variety of products.

R A Peterson

We have had good luck with Dell computers. Surprisingly, AB integrated units are pretty good as well, although replacement for defective ones has not been real quick. Dell service is superb.

Dave Ferguson

We also used IBM industrial computers and went through the ritual of cost vs reliability etc. and after much, (much) debate we decided 6 years ago to give off the shelf PC's a try. Our conclusion was that most machines were in a control room environment although some like our coating prep area are not the cleanest.

We decided to go with Gateway 2000 machines and have had little to no trouble other than the occasional moitor or hard drive failure. We have all of our control/maintenance (PLC diagnostics etc.) machines Ghosted to a server (NAS storage)and if a machine fails (rare) we can restore it fully with a spare in 30 minutes or less to up and running. We pull a spare and restore the proper Ghost image and are back up and running.

We have looked at Dell also which seam to be fine also both are pretty competetive 3year warrantees etc. Most machines run 24/7 and control the
process reliably every day. Most systems have 2 machines (HMI's) with the numbers being like 150 PC's out in the plant networked together. We have
like 45 HMI's controlling various portions of the plant with roughly 100 Engineering and Maintenance machines out there.

I was very nervous about the decision to use off the shelf machines but have been plesantly surprised by the reliability of this equipment. Some of it is in some very rough environments and although we plan to do routine maintenance (6 months) on machines for instance to open them and blow out the dust, we rairly do it on a regular time basis. I have opened machines and found them packed with dust and dirt and just cramming along.

Out IT dept. (separate from control) also used Gateways and then changed to a local vendors clones (political reasons) and also has like 100 floor machines for our MOPS (millwide information system) out on the floor with little trouble. They also have roughly another 250 "business" machines which are clones on everyones desk with usually hard drive or monitor issues only.......

I have spent a significant amount of time monitoring this system and if you want off list help, free to contact me. This equipment is in a paper mill.

Dave Ferguson
Blandin Paper Company
DAVCO Automation
I have been burned by many hardened industrial PC's that are far less reliable than most desktop computers. I think that this is due to the low production volumes. It is also much harder to get parts for an "industrial" PC.

My advice: In a reasonably clean environment, build good quality clones into a rack mount steel enclosure. Use popular motherboards and video cards so that good drivers will be available. Ask your local PC store what is reliable, they should know.

In a dirty environment, a desktop PC in an air conditioned enclosure, such as an ICE Station,
will far outlast a non air conditioned industrial PC for about the same amount of money. IMHO...

Just don't buy bargain basement junk. It doesn't have to be the latest and greatest, but spend
a few extra bucks to get parts with good reputations.

My personal PC is a good example:

ASUS P5A motherboard - Socket 7, has been around for years.
AMD K5-500
ATI Expert98 video card
Western Digital hard drive
Micron or PNY memory
extra case fan
heat sink compound on the CPU

Inexpensive, good quality, and fast.

Bill Sturm

Ralphsnyder, Grayg

I have 40+ DELL Optiplex desktop PCs in use for the past five years as an operator WS with very good success. Some are in control rooms and others in environmental enclosures on the plant floor.

Previously I have used DELL desktop PCs over a ten year period for both operator WS and as controllers with equal good success.

Since my systems have all had redundancy and been set up so that a failed PC doesn't cause the world to come crashing down, I have been able to tolerate the very rare PC failures. It has been nice to be able to quickly swap out a standard off the shelf machine with a failed or even suspect one.

This is not an endorsement of DELL in particular but of the use of standard brand name off the shelf able to get another one like it so you don't have to figure out how to configure it each time desktop PC. Proper PC maintenance greatly contributes to this success.

Grayg Ralphsnyder

Wallinius Mattias

If people are looking at really industrial form factors of PC technology have a look at CompactPCI or PC/104+. These form factors are really industrial and given some time even more obscure I/O cards can be found for both CPCI and PC104+. Have a look at for CPCI and for PC/104.
Try CTC a division of Parker Automation. I use them extensively and they are reliable and relatively cost effective.

Nilesh Pradhan

We at Texas Instruments Sensors and Controls have been using VAX machines for years. They work great. You can build a customized application image, so you don't have to include a whole bunch of drivers so the memory requirements are extremely low. The software is a superset of ANSI Pascal , ( ancient! ) but extremly reliable.
Ideal for Real Time. We typically have around
200 digital I/Os, a bunch of analog I/O's and these are very well maintained. Not to mention the ease of adding VME based cards. Writing the
device drivers is a child's play for the VMS OS
and unlike NT, you do not have the security hassels to interface with a card directly. ( work's best for such applications ).
Contact me for more details and I will be glad to help you start up with your machine.

PS : This works great where control is established over a single assembly line, if you want to have supervisory control though, then
bunch all the computers together, they talk superbly with DECnet, which you have to include as a part of the application image.
This looks like just the specification that we have been supplying to many different industries for some years now. Try and follow the links to systeme lauer products which should point you in the right direction.
I've had the best luck finding the case and physical setup you want first and populating it with best of breed generics. The case and performance requirements usually pare the selection down quite a bit and from there research on usenet and support mailing lists will tell you more than the slicks from the manufacturer or their reputation. An all generic
machine is much easier to maintain/upgrade than those who use "custom" MB's, etc. It's often possible to find someone who builds them the way
you want or will for a moderate order. A lot of the "Industrial" stuff is probably great but is single sourced and has an insignificant user
base to find bugs and iron out problems. A commodity MB that sells in the tens or hundred of thousands gets tested more in a week than any
of the custom offerings will ever recieve. I have used quite a few of both generic machines and name brands as some customers require name brands. My experience is that a selected generic is at least if not more reliable than the major brands and quite a bit better than the small custom outfits. This is especially noticable when you change or upgrade software from what was sold on the box. Some machines that say they were "Designed for Blah" really are and are miserable to use with anything else. Of course, I must relate that I run Linux and Linux loves generic hardware. But, on balance, Linux is an order of magnitude more reliable and hardware failures are a much bigger percentage of the
total. One great approach is to find a really good local shop and have them do the legwork and build to order with your listed components.
This is good for everyone involved. It really helps to stay away from the latest and fastest, this shouldn't be a problem for automation stuff.
If it doesn't run for at least a year uninterupted, (with Linux) you've got a problem. This is my standard. You may need different criteria, but reliability is a parameter that can and should be managed. One last note, with the vast amounts of memory people are putting in
machines now, it is more likely to cause a stoppage than the disks. Get good tested RAM and use ecc options if at all possible. This helps
with random non-repetitive failures that are hadr to track down.