Faster Computing in a Smaller IPC: The Helix 401
Industrial computing leader OnLogic sets the stage for more reliable data processing at the edge with the new Helix 401 IPC with expanded I/O and faster CPU/GPU capabilities, all in a rugged, fanless enclosure.
Demand for computers in the industrial space has been a slow yet dependable increase over the past few decades. Industrial applications typically rely less on computational speed and program storage, instead valuing ruggedness and the ability to reliably connect with local networked devices. However, the recent trends of digital transformation have placed computers at the center, both virtually and physically, of control system processes.
EETech's Editor-in-Chief, Jeff Child, chats with OnLogic about the new Helix 401 at Embedded World 2023.
OnLogic is a company that provides industrial computational systems with a 20-year history of designing cutting-edge products specifically for engineers at the convergence point of traditional operational shop floor demands and the requirements of advanced IT networks. This space is typically called operational technology (OT), and the category of devices rising to the challenge is the industrial PC (IPC).
OnLogic’s Helix 401
Industrial PCs have the combined ability to control tasks from basic discrete and analog I/O devices as well as to share data with other peripheral equipment in the local network. This puts them in a somewhat parallel application level as programmable automation controllers (PACs), essentially, PLCs with extra capabilities.
However, IPCs bring a new level of sophistication to the table with an embedded OS that provides applications and integrated security, allowing data to be distributed at a company- or even global-wide scale.
OnLogic’s new Helix 401 is an upgrade to their previous IPC models. Equipped with a 12th generation i7 Intel processor and Intel Xe graphics, the Helix 401 can handle both the computational and data processing tasks, as well as the rigors of displaying that information on user interfaces for a wider array of applications. With up to 64 GB of memory, handling complex tasks with faster response times is much more readily available.
Helix 401 I/O Capabilities
Although a standard PC might be capable of handling much of the data processing, the ability to interface with I/O modules, motor drives, HMI terminals, and other logic equipment makes the IPC a preferred industrial choice.
The Helix 401 with USB, I/O, and SIM wireless communication ports.
The Helix 401 is equipped with 6x USB ports, of which four are USB type A—the other two are USB type C. Many peripheral equipment models are configured and communicated with these high-speed connections.
The inclusion of 2x RJ45 LAN ports can connect the Helix 401 to two different networks, providing control over distributed machine centers or acting as a gateway between network layers. Applications running through the operating system allow these ports to connect with most machine networks, including Modbus TCP/IP, PROFINET, EtherCAT, or typical Ethernet. An optional I/O port can be configured for RS232/422/485 networks for a nearly endless variety of system compatibility options.
Data terminal displays for the graphical representation of data are enhanced in the Helix 401. Gone are the days of one small operator HMI in a faraway room sharing tags with a PLC. Two DisplayPorts allow up to four independent monitor screens to be used for applications such as control room process monitoring, individual displays at multiple machine centers around a facility, or large monitor arrays, all of which traditionally require multiple GPU dedications. With the ability to run many monitors from one device, the reduction in complexity, power consumption, and the cost is considerable.
OnLogic Helix 401 with LAN, Display, and additional power and I/O ports. Image used courtesy of OnLogic
Helix 401 Physical Characteristics
As the word ‘industrial’ might indicate in the IPC world, this device is designed with reliability and ruggedness in mind.
The box supports up to a 50 °C (about 120 °F) operating temperature, and without openings for vents, the ingress of dust and contaminants is minimal. The fanless design means lower power consumption and moving parts, further increasing reliability. The fan, in this case, is swapped for a highly optimized heat sink fin design for ambient air cooling.
The enclosure is designed to be mounted in many kinds of environments, with a DIN mount for cabinets, wall mount holes for direct installation, and VESA mounts for convenient integration with a display.
IPCs with Increased Speed, Power, and Reliability
Industrial computers are an increasingly competitive field as use cases grow, but at the same time, it’s important to learn the operating principles behind these devices. They accomplish many of the same tasks as fulfilled by traditional controllers but provide access to a higher degree of data volume, cybersecurity, and optimization than ever before—as long as we take the time to understand the potential.