From the Control Room to Hazardous Areas
Marc Seissler and Stefan Sittel elaborate upon end-to-end thin client solutions for the process industry.
Pepperl + Fuchs GmbH
Solutions for the process industry.
At a glance:
- P+F Box Thin Clients (BTC) offer great application flexibility due to their industrial design.
- The devices are optimised for 24/7 use and offer long-term availability.
- Despite their industrial design, the BTCs support modern application scenarios such as quad-monitor or 4K (Ultra HD) workstations, e.g., in control rooms.
PC-based visualisation of complex plants has been used in the process industry for years. The hardware components used for this often originate from an IT environment and were primarily developed for use in office scenarios. But because conditions in the process industry are often completely different than those found in offices, many devices are operated in scenarios that do not correspond to their specifications. At Pepperl+Fuchs in Mannheim, the industrial Box Thin Client device family has therefore been designed specifically for use in a process environment.
Traditional "office" thin clients are designed to operate for eight hours a day. The industrial Box Thin Clients (BTC) from Pepperl+Fuchs, on the other hand, are optimised for 24/7 operation. This means that the BTC devices feature only industrial components, which are designed for a wide operating temperature range of -20 to +60°C. As a result, the hardware will remain available in the long term – more than five years – thereby reducing recurring qualification expenses. In addition, the devices have an extremely rugged mechanical design, avoiding moving parts such as fans and hard disks.
The robust, IP4x-certified housings also help to minimise the ingress of fibres, which are frequently present in process-oriented environments. As the BTCs are specified for operating temperatures of up to +60°C, they offer great installation flexibility and can be installed in drawers or containers under the desk without any problems. The lack of convection means that such installation scenarios frequently lead to significant problems and rapid device failure of "office" thin clients, which are only specified for operating temperatures of up to +40°C.
From Quad-Monitor to Ultra HD (4K) – Equipped for the Future
The industrial design of the Pepperl+Fuchs Box Thin Clients does not limit their features. While the BTC01 was designed for use in quad-monitor scenarios, the BTC12 – the latest generation of the device – is significantly more compact. It is based on the latest Intel® Apollo Lake processor platform and features two modern DisplayPort™ 1.2 interfaces. The BTC12 thus offers native support for "true" Ultra HD (4K) screen resolutions at 60 Hz. This allows smooth workflows using the large, modern screens that are increasingly common in control rooms.
The DP++ function means that not only monitors with a DisplayPort interface can be connected, but also HDMI-equipped monitors and televisions using a passive DisplayPort to HDMI cable. Plugs for all interfaces – including the power supply and USB ports – can be secured against slipping out due to vibrations. Overall, with its compact and robust design, plus modern interfaces and functions, the new BTC12 represents a cost-effective, universal solution for modern screen-based workstations in the process industry.
Perfect Firmware for the Process Industry – the RM Shell 5
In addition to placing high demands on the hardware, process automation presents other requirements for thin client technology. A high degree of security is just as important as easy handling during device setup. While classic thin clients from an office environment are set up and administered by IT specialists using powerful management tools, process engineers are often responsible for installation in a process automation scenario. They are optimally supported by lightweight firmware tailored precisely to this field of application, such as the RM Shell 5 firmware from Pepperl+Fuchs which concentrates on the essential aspects of setup.
During the development of RM Shell 5, the focus was on security, reliability and user friendliness. The latest firmware generation is based on Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSB – the version of Microsoft Windows with long-term support. In addition to using mechanisms such as the Universal Write Filter (UWF), a firewall and protection against access to USB storage media, RM Shell 5 now also supports virus scanners. Virus scanners from third-party vendors such as McAfee® Endpoint Security are supported in addition to the standard Windows Defender. These new features minimise the risk of an infiltration or of saving malware.
RM Shell 5 also supports a large number of current Ethernet-based remote protocols, such as version 10 of the Microsoft® Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) with RemoteFX™, VNC, and Citrix Receiver™. In addition, process control system-specific protocols such as the Emerson DeltaV™ Remote Desktop Connection (DRDC) are integrated, allowing direct access to virtualised DeltaV workstations and servers. The advanced features of RM Shell 5, such as the auto-connect feature, are of particular benefit to the user. The Box Thin Client can be configured so that the connection to the specified process control system computer is established automatically at startup, without any intervention required from the user. From then on, the connection is constantly monitored and is automatically restored in the event of network faults or server failures; alternatively, the client can connect to a predefined backup computer. This guarantees maximum uptime and constant display of process images at all times.
Efficient, Centralised Management – Innovative Management Tool
A very special highlight is the additional VisuNet Control Centre software in conjunction with RM Shell 5. This enables the efficient, centralised management of all thin client devices: from the BTCs in the control room and production-related workstations to remote monitors in the field in Ex Zone 1/21. Network communication allows all devices to be set up, configured, and monitored from a central workstation using the Control Centre. Thus, the time-consuming, local setup of individual remote monitors and BTCs distributed throughout the plant is a thing of the past. Furthermore, personnel no longer have to enter hazardous areas and cleanrooms to commission or to perform maintenance on the HMI systems.
The VisuNet Control Centre enables the easy configuration and creation of connection profiles for a BTC or remote monitor, which can then be transferred to other devices. The creation of device groups aids the commissioning engineer and enables settings to be efficiently distributed to several devices simultaneously. Settings and firmware updates can be distributed via these groups with a single click. This saves time and considerable costs.
With the convenient remote maintenance functions, plant operators can use the VisuNet Control Centre to connect to each BTC or remote monitor with RM Shell 5 on the network. Using the "dashboard function," they can view the devices' current displays as an overview from their own workstations and thus continually monitor the devices' status. Using "session shadowing," they can connect to the BTC or remote monitor to support the local operator from afar.
Thus, the innovative RM Shell 5 firmware on all Pepperl+Fuchs thin clients provides optimum convenience to the operator as well as maximum security. The VisuNet RM and BTC device families provide an end-to-end hardware platform to the user. Ideally suited for the various installation conditions and scenarios in the process industry, from the control room to hazardous areas.
Pix1: Quad-monitor and Ultra HD (4K) setups can often be found in control rooms. To prevent failures, more robust industrial devices are required for thin client installations in drawers and containers.
Pix2: The Pepperl+Fuchs Industrial Box Thin Clients are optimised for 24/7 use and support setups from quad-monitor up to "true" Ultra HD (4K) at 60 Hz.
Pix3: The latest firmware generation, RM Shell 5, is based on Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSB. In addition to supporting virus scanners such as McAfee Endpoint Management, the firmware has been further optimised for security purposes.
Pix4: The VisuNet Control Centre provides convenient, efficient and centralised management of all Pepperl+Fuchs VisuNet remote monitors and Box Thin Clients with the RM Shell.
Pix5: The Pepperl+Fuchs portfolio offers an end-to-end thin client solution for the process industry. From the control room to hazardous areas.
Marc Seissler And Stefan Sittel
Marc Seissler is Product Portfolio Manager HMI and Stefan Sittel is Business Development Manager HMI at Pepperl + Fuchs GmbH.