The revolution in smart manufacturing has been employed at varying rates across all manufacturing sectors,with the food processing industry leading the way. The ever increasing pressure to drive down the cost in the face of increasing material costs drives Production Manager’s thirst to increase productivity through improved efficiency.
However a food environment is naturally not your run of the mill factory floor. The ubiquitous hygiene control requirements, consequences of non-compliance and likely threat of litigation are all contributory factors that demand a special solution.
Historically Panel PCs were exclusively manufactured from steel. Whilst this may be treated and painted, at its heart it remains a corrosive material and thus will never be suitable for deployment in a food processing environment. An aluminum alternatives, satisfies a desired reduction in unit weight but the risk of contamination from surface formation of aluminum oxide renders this material similarly unsuitable. Stainless Steel is the obvious solution, though which type?
Type 304 Stainless Steel is what you’ll find used on your sinks and cooking utensils, and is especially suited for all types of food processing – especially dairy and brewing equipment. The citrus and fruit juice industry also uses Type 304 – in fact over 50% of all stainless steel products you’ll ever come across is 304 – and there are over 20 types.
Type 316L Stainless Steel is typically employed in more severe environments, that require a higher level of corrosion resistance than Type 304 can offer – the key difference the addition of Molybdenum. For this reason, Type 316L can withstand corrosive attack from sodium and calcium brines, hypochlorite solutions and most acids. Actually Type 316L is rarely a requirement in food production environments except in exceptional cases and is predominantly found in harsh chemical processing and marine environments.
Stainless Steel Panel PCs aren’t necessarily new technology, though historically attempts faltered by the inevitable use of non-compliant materials beyond the bezel. Today’s models use Stainless Steel throughout, even including the waterproof IP67 I/O connectors!
The second historical failure of Stainless Steel Panel PCs was indirectly, available performance. Active cooling techniques requiring fan based cooling of course require ventilation which negates any IP rating. Fanless alternatives, cleverly using the latest passive cooling technology which efficiently uses the Stainless Steel enclosure as the heatsink – entirely resolves this.
The third past issue relates to the touchscreen technology itself. Resistive touchscreens are by today’s standards, somewhat fragile. In the retail world where they were commonly deployed in Satellite Navigation devices, failure due to damage has far fewer ramifications than similar occurring on any kind of production line. As food processing plants tend to use such machines to control, as well as monitor, such a failure is disastrous. Damage typically being caused by excessive pressure or using a foreign object by operators, alongside irreparable damage from chemical cleaning agents and high intensity pressure washing, both prevalent in food environments.
Projective capacitive touchscreen technology, combined with 7H hardened glass addresses the shortfalls of resistive technology. By combining with the highest level IP rating, IP69K, such Panel PCs can be pressure washed with 80°c water. Even further combining IP69K, projective capacitive technology and Type 316L Stainless Steel – Panel PCs can be hygienically cleaned using the very harshest chemical cleaning agents.
Wide operating temperatures additionally enables deployment at all stages of production, be that baking or rapid freezing.
Most food processing Panel PCs communicate via the factory’s IP network, though if your local I/O requirement is sufficiently unique, rare and even proprietary I/O interfaces can be included by customization by expert vendors. With clients able to specify not only the interface, but the connector type and location – the food industry finally has a ‘fit and forget’ Panel PC solution.
DSL is the sole UK distribution arm of Aplex Technology Inc, experts in Food processing Industrial and Panel PC technology.