Ruggedized I/O Controls

By Autonetics — In Factory Automation — April 10, 2011



During the past few months Autonetics received several inquiries regarding our control infrastructure and what types of hardware are best suited for certain applications. Currently there are three main control hardware platforms in use; Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), Hybrid PLC and Industrial PC.

Historically, the PC has endured the perception of three short-comings: stability, reliability, and unfamiliar programming environment. The PC’s general-purpose operating system was not stable enough for control. PC-controlled installations were forced to handle system crashes and unplanned rebooting. With rotating magnetic hard drives and non-industrially hardened components, such as power supplies, PCs were more prone to failure. Plant operators needed the capability to override a system for maintenance or troubleshooting. Using ladder logic, they knew how to manually force a coil and patch code to quickly override a system. But with PC systems, machine operators needed to learn new tools.

One approach for automation control is been based on the installation of a programmable logic controller (PLC) from a leading vendor. Such PLCs have typically been expensive, proprietary systems, when you select a particular vendor and PLC family you are locked into the corresponding boards and functions that are available to that particular line. While this approach offers easy-to-integrate hardware, high quality components and knowledgeable support, it also is closed to unusual implementations or deviations from standard configurations. The options for programming the PLC have been limited to ladder logic traditionally and more recently cross PC /PLC programming.

Using a PLC to meet modern application requirements for network connectivity, device interoperability, and enterprise data integration present other challenges. These types of tasks are usually more suited to the capabilities of a computer (PC). To provide these capabilities in a PLC-based application, additional processors, network gateways or converters, “middleware” software running on a separate PC, and special software for enterprise systems must often be integrated into the system.

Many businesses want advanced, high performance industrial controls that also provide versatility and require limited capital investment. Autonetics value added line of hardened industrial digital I/O platforms offers a full range of features for complex application monitoring and control. With a broad range of uses, it can function as an operator panel, a machine control platform or inspection data collector. Available with a wide variety of expansion and peripheral choices along with the option to bundle our proven software, Autonetics embedded PCs equal the quality of PLC hardware.

Incorporated in our controls is a selection of resilient and fanless industrial computers based on the Intel Atom N270 processor. The PC provides embedded I/O functions and offers configurable PCI and/or PCI Express slots providing a rugged industrial platform for the client. These platforms combine the x86 platform design, versatile I/O function development, and thermal design to push fanless systems to a higher standard. With express data acquisition, expanded digital I/O, motion control, and image capture cards it is perfectly suited for industrial automation, factory control, and test instrumentation applications. Internal fixtures include a purpose designed single board computer to fit the respective fanless chassis where all heat-producing components come in direct contact with the aluminum shell. This allows for one of the widest operating temperature ranges among industrial computers. All connectors and components are mounted directly onto the PCB so there is no internal wiring. Such cable-free design significantly increases reliability and durability

Environment Specifications

  • Operating Temperature:
  • Extended Temperature Option:
  • Storage Temperature:
  • Humidity Limits:
  • Vibration Tolerances:
  • HDD Vibration Tolerances:
  • Shock Operating:

10°C to 60°C
-20°C to 70°C
-40°C to 85°C
~95% @ 40°C (non-condensing)
5 Grms, 5-500 Hz, 3 Axes
0.7 Grms, 5-500 Hz, 3 Axes
50 Grms, Half-since 11 ms duration

As with the PC, all elements of Autonetics control panels utilize quality, hardened, industrial grade hardware designed to meet stringent requirements for hostile work environments. Base units are expandable to 512 dedicated inputs and outputs with lockable panel interface for security. One way communication to enterprise SPC systems delivers real time results from the production floor. All enclosures and mounts are stainless steel or 6061 aluminum respectively.

PC / Control Panel Specifications

Touchscreen Monitor: 250k hours MBTF, tempered glass with NEMA 4X stainless steel bezel for wash down applications. Suitable for high shock, high heat environments.
Digital / Analog IO PCI Cards: High resolution voltage input/output card for controlling functions with hardware timed waveform generation.
Terminal Blocks and Connectors: UL rated, isolated, din rail mounted blocks for power distribution, multi-port interconnections. CSA certified, CE marked.
Industrial Power Supplies: UL508 listed, UL60950-1 recognized, CSA certified, CE marked.
Wiring: Autonetics sliver stranded wiring meets Mil-Spec W code.
NEMA 4X Enclosures: Stainless steel electrical cabinet providing protection from dust, dirt, oil and strong jets of water.

For the production engineer seeking to upgrade their existing analog controls or integrate the latest applications, Autonetics value added digital I/O platform offers outstanding toughness, flexibility and security for a fraction of the cost of typical PLC controls.