Ruggedized Computing Solutions for Hazardous Environments
By: Del Williams, Contributor
In industrial manufacturing environments, facilities regularly store and dispense large quantities of hazardous, flammable and combustible liquids. Given the potential for gas, vapor or dust to collect in these areas, the electronic equipment installed for automation and control must be designed specifically to prevent unintentional ignition of these elements due to electrical arcing or other thermal means.
Although much attention is given to the automation system components used to control the process itself, these systems also require computing equipment, such as thin clients, panel PCs, remote touch displays or KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) solutions—as well as fixed- and mobile-operator workstations. Given the risks, this equipment must also meet the requirements for use in areas classified as hazardous and be rugged enough to withstand the harsh chemical and high-humidity environment generated during the industrial manufacturing process.
“In industry, the manufacturing, processing, storing and distribution of flammable materials releases gases or vapors in the atmosphere, which can result in an explosion or hazard. To create a safe and secure working environment, the computing systems at the worksite must, by regulation, be designed to pass the explosion-proof certification and be able to withstand the corrosive environment,” says Paul Shu of ARISTA Corporation, a provider of computing platforms and visualization display products, including thin clients, all-in-one panel computers, ruggedized LCD touch displays and industrial KVM solutions.
Hazardous Environments & Locations
In simple terms, a hazardous classified location is any area, building, commercial or industrial premises likely to be exposed to fire or explosion due to the presence of flammable gases, vapors, flammable liquids, combustible dust and other similar materials in very high amounts.
Hazardous locations can be classified into various categories according to the nature of flammable vapors or liquids. In North America, a class/division system is primarily utilized, and regulations related to the design and manufacturing of industrial equipment are formulated by the NEC, CEC, OSHA and NFPA (National Fire Protection Association). Outside of North America, a similar “zone” system is used to define and categorize hazardous areas and potential risk sources.
To meet the requirements of industrial environments, there are several methods by which equipment can be made flame- and explosion-proof. For computing systems, equipment manufacturers that serve the market can design and manufacture thin clients, industrial panel PCs and touch panel PCs that are UL-certified; non-incendive (equipment having electrical/electronic circuitry that is incapable, under normal operating conditions, of causing ignition of a specified flammable gas, vapor, dust, etc., due to arcing or thermal means); and that meet the requirements for the various classes/divisions/zones within a plant or station.
Many companies offer a wide range of panel-mounted and fully sealed touch-panel PCs for use in industrial settings. Some fully enclosed versions are constructed of stainless steel and have no external vents. This design protects the components from gases, dust, dirt, moisture, chemicals, oil and other external contaminants in an explosive environment.
According to Shu, touch panel PCs in various sizes are routinely deployed as HMI workstations in hazardous industrial operations, which can include the storage and distribution of large volumes of flammable and combustible liquids. For this type of application, the panel mount PCs are fan-less, ruggedized systems certified for use in Class 1 Division 2, Class 2 Division 2 and Class 3 Divisions 1 & 2 hazardous areas. The systems are installed with a Windows operating system, and the high-resolution touch screens can be manipulated by operators wearing heavy-duty industrial gloves.
Fan-less thin client versions are increasingly popular in industry as a cost-effective way to develop a virtual desktop for more centralized management. With remote accessibility, they can be easier to manage, store and use the data. Moreover, IT administrators can conveniently access any device connected to the server and make changes. Moreover, thin clients are easiest to configure, manage and deploy.
To maintain a completely safe industrial working environment, industrial manufacturers must install computing systems and peripherals that meet regulations and security standards for hazardous locations across the globe. By working with leading providers of computing platforms with experience in the industry, facility managers can obtain the UL-certified, non-
incendive, corrosion-resistant thin clients, industrial panel PCs, touch-panel PCs and other critical equipment that will stand up to harsh industrial environments.