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The Best SBCs for Energy Management Applications

Press Office, VersaLogic Corporation, 07/14/21

Energy management is a critical part of a nation’s infrastructure.  Enhancing the reliability, safety, security, manageability, and edge analytics of the electricity transmission and distribution networks relies on enhancing smart grid capability.

Monitoring and control of sources of energy production are also important.  Along with the continued shift to greener energy sources such as solar, wave, and wind power, the need to drill for oil and gas will continue for some time.  The safety and productivity of these installations also depend on reliable monitoring and control systems.

Perhaps counterintuitively, mining may also become more important to combating climate change.  This is because it is predicted that there will be a significant increase in demand for minerals vital to achieving a low or net-zero carbon future.

A May 2021 press release from the UK Natural History Museum’s Earth Sciences Department projects a 500% increase in demand for graphite, lithium, and cobalt.  In the case of mining, there is an ever-present need for safety-related systems.

 

rugged computing in mining industry

Maintaining safety is critical as the need to mine minerals to support green energy increases

 

Challenges affecting various sectors of the energy industry include the following:

  • Extreme environments: Temperature extremes, particularly in connection with infrastructure located outside, are often a major challenge.  Another is the high level of shock and vibration that many of the monitoring and control systems are subjected to.
  • Durability: Unlike human operators, monitoring and control systems are required to operate 24/7 with high reliability and maximized mean time between failures (MTBF).
  • Rapid reaction: There is a need for real-time response in some applications. For example, when a fault occurs in the power grid it is necessary to respond quickly.  This is required to protect other parts of the grid and to minimize the time to restore power.
  • Security: Cyber-attack is increasingly a concern. A recent New York Times article stated that the “energy industry was the third most targeted sector for such attacks in 2020, behind only finance and manufacturing. That was up from ninth place in 2019”.
  • Minimizing Development Cost and Time: In common with other industries, reducing time to market and saving development cost is of great importance.

It’s important to look for an experienced and reliable supplier of rugged, industrial temperature embedded computers that can help in all of these areas.

 

Withstanding Extreme Environments

In addition to meeting performance and functionality requirements, it’s important that single board computers (SBC) used in energy management systems can withstand harsh conditions.  That means meeting the full industrial temperature range of -40 to +85 C and MIL-STD-202 levels of shock and vibration.

Ensuring that an SBC is rugged starts at the design phase with careful component section.  Final verification is done by rigorous testing at temperature extremes and full range operational shock and vibration testing.   Two previous blog postings provide more insights into the importance that VersaLogic places on meeting extreme temperature and shock/vibration requirements.

 

EBX single board computer

The Viper is a tough industrial SBC used in a mine slope stability radar

 

Long-Term Reliability

Continuous 24/7 operation, particularly in harsh conditions, puts stress on systems.  This means that the industrial computers selected for energy monitoring and control systems need to be reliable and to have a lengthy mean time between failures (MTBF).    Long service life requirements further stress the need for a high MTBF.

ISO 9001:2015, AS9100D certified company logo

This is where it is important to select SBCs from suppliers that employ rigorous quality systems and have a track record of designing in reliability to ensure a lengthy MTBF from the beginning.

 

The ISO 9001 quality standard is familiar to many people.  However, some suppliers, such as VersaLogic, go beyond and have been certified to AS9100.  AS9100’s risk-tolerance is more stringent than the requirements within ISO 9001 with much more focus on prevention rather than corrective action.

 

Rapid Reaction

Energy management systems associated with safety and fault protection must be able to react rapidly to protect personnel.  Fast response is also necessary to limit damage spreading to other parts of the grid.

Using an industrial computer along with a real time operating system (RTOS) enables fast response.  Unlike a general-purpose OS, an RTOS responds quickly and most use some form of pre-emptive task scheduling based on priority.  There is a known maximum time for critical operations.  VersaLogic partners with Wind River Systems whose VxWorks is an example of an RTOS.

 

rugged single board computer with AMD Geode LX800 processor

The Cougar SBC is used in a remote terminal unit (RTU)

 

Security

The SBC used in a system is a major contributor to security through technological means.  This is a lengthy topic.  Rather than repeating the details here, three previously posted blogs provide insights into important contributions to security:

 

Minimizing Development Cost and Time

The lowest development cost and the shortest development time can be achieved by purchasing a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) industrial single board computer.  In some cases, it might be necessary to tweak the COTS product to make it fit with a specific application.  That makes it important to choose a supplier that has experience adapting COTS products.  VersaLogic calls this their Modified COTS (MCOTS) process.

The MCOTS process is beneficial when any kind of customization is needed, such as when specialty I/O needs to be added to an existing product.  It can also be beneficial when transitioning from a discontinued product from another supplier to a newer SBC.  MCOTS can simplify and shorten the transition by modifying it to more closely match the connectors and I/O functions on the previous SBC.    The case study “Migrating an Obsolete PC/104 Embedded Computer to a Long-Term Solution” provides information about a practical example.

 

An MCOTS version of the Raven is used in equipment that monitors deep drilling systems

 

The Bottom Line

The best SBC for energy management applications is not just the one with the required features and performance.  It must be supplied by a company with a history and understanding of:

  • Operation over the full industrial temperature range of -40° to +85 °C
  • Withstanding the shock and vibration rigors of MIL-STD-202
  • Proven MTBF performance to meet demanding 24/7 operation by designing-in quality from the beginning under a quality system certified to AS9100
  • Compatibility with real time operating systems
  • Minimizing development cost and timeline by having experience supplying MCOTS products if necessary

 

Need Additional Information?

Want to know more about VersaLogic’s range of embedded products?  Let’s start a conversation.