The Science of Compliance
Why the transport industry is adopting modular computing technology, by Christian Eder.
The transport industry requires computer systems to comply with the highest standards of robustness, reliability and availability. While rack-based industrial computer systems, based on standards such as VME or CompactPCI, tick the boxes for high quality and availability, they are traditionally too expensive for smaller production runs of just a few thousand units a year. In these cases, developers increasingly opt for the scalability and flexibility of modular computer systems.
When using Computer-on-Modules (COMs), the difficult development of the highly complex computer technology around the latest processor core is outsourced in its entirety to experienced specialists such as congatec. Standardizing on one of the two dominant form factors – Qseven for mobile and semi-stationary applications; or COM Express for highest performance and broadest scalability – saves not only valuable development time and effort but also results in a highly flexible, future-proof solution. Because the modules come with a standardized interface for peripherals and baseboard, same type modules are freely scalable by simply exchanging one module for another.
Qseven COMs pay for themselves even in simple applications
Many requirements of traffic and transport applications can be fulfilled reasonably well with conventional industrial computer systems provided adequate space and power supply is available. However, when looking at the overall system costs, a COM-based solution pays for itself even for simpler applications such as kiosks, ticket vending machines or basic information systems. This is because the individual peripheral connections have been optimized and equipped with a cost-effective carrier board solution that is tailored to actual needs and can generally be used over a very long period. Standard functions such as graphics and networking are already integrated on the COM in the latest, state-of-the-art technology. When extensions or updates become necessary, this can be achieved quite inexpensively by a simple module exchange.
The challenges of harsh environments
Things get more exciting when systems need to operate in tough rolling conditions and outside of air-conditioned rooms. Traditional application environments are station platforms, trains, construction or other heavy-duty vehicles. Here, additional requirements include an extended temperature range and often also extreme vibration resistance. To guarantee reliability, it is not only crucial that the module manufacturer is able to produce modules with the required quality. The boards themselves need to be designed with the appropriate expertise and must be tested to the required standard before delivery.
The new conga-QA3 (Qseven) and conga-TCA3 (COM Express) COMs from congatec only use ceramic capacitors. Their extremely robust design and the optional version for the extended industrial temperature range make them particularly suitable for tough outdoor usage. Other possible applications include all types of mobile data acquisition devices, optical surveillance and identification systems, as well as signal processing in intelligent sensor and control systems. Thanks to the low power consumption, use in mobile tracking and GPS-based transport tracking systems (freight tracing) becomes possible for the first time. The proven quality of the modules combined with high-quality software integration for popular operating systems such as Linux, Windows 7 and 8, as well as individual embedded operating systems, enables use even in safety-critical applications.