The industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a great idea and an obvious trend these days, but one needs to deliver the technology, which often means robust enclosures. There are number of factors involved and solutions that can be applied. I talked with Hendrik Thiel, Director Sales, HEITEC AG, about his company’s approach.
Hendrik Thiel, Director Sales, HEITEC AG
You developed a system solution for an internet-based data-acquisition company. Could you please outline the key requirements?
Today, mobile and Internet-based data acquisition together with the appropriate communication tools are an integral part of the production lines in many industrial companies. They have become a critical factor of success in a market where IT and automation are getting closer and closer. Thus, many processes can run faster, more efficiently, more flexibly, and more cost-effectively, but this also places high demands on the applications. They must be modular, fast, reliable, easy to use, and robust.
High standards apply not only to the electronics, but also to the mechanics. This is particularly important in a production environment that’s sometimes contaminated. The systems must function reliably when there are major temperature changes, heat, heavy shocks, and vibrations, and they must be resistant to water, dust, lubricants, or toxins. Reliability and easy maintainability are the highest demands placed on the equipment and its system integration—it must always comply with the technical specifications. In this case, it was ideal to work with a partner who pursued system integration as well as provided the appropriate package of electronics and mechanics.
Can you give us additional details about this project and the customer?
The electronics division of HEITEC has implemented the complete system integration (Level 5) for a mobile, industrial data-acquisition system of system specialist MAHLE Filter Systems GmbH, a subsidiary of the leading global automotive supplier MAHLE (see figure). The complex hardware and software system is used worldwide for mobile acquisition of measured data in the internal development of liquid filtration systems. The so-called data logger collects the required data via four integrated measuring modules (voltage, sensor bridge, counter, and temperature module) that can operate in different modes. The captured data can then be easily transferred via USB to a laptop for storage or evaluation.
The MDA c9174 mobile data-acquisition system is based on a robust 3HU HeiPac Vario module. (Source: MAHLE Filtersysteme GmbH)
The selection of the enclosure is the starting point for the system integration. Which aspects played a role when choosing the housing and architecture?
After a detailed requirement analysis, the company decided to use a HeiPac Vario module (3 U, 42 HP and 310-mm depth), including the mounting plate of HEITEC’S standard system portfolio as the system basis. This was not only a cost-effective solution, but apparently well-suited based on its compact and robust all-metal enclosure construction. Due to its modular structure, the housing family is ideal for individual configuration and customization, and it allows for a high packing density. The sidewalls and transverse profiles consist of extruded aluminum profiles, while the corner elements are made of robust die-cast zinc. Sidewalls, side panels, horizontal rails, and threaded strips are also included with standard delivery. The front panel and rear wall were designed by HEITEC according to the customer’s corporate design specifications.
Which factors influenced the design of the packaging and the electronics during the next phase of the integration?
The front panel got two front handles to protect the measuring sockets and to enable better handling. The front panel carries the connectors for the sensors connecting to the four modules and the power LEDs. Furthermore, corner plates were installed for use as a mobile housing and handles were mounted for ergonomic transport. The HEITEC cover plate was also equipped with grab bars. On the back there’s a switchable combination module for the power input, a safety socket including a cover for the power supply, a USB port for the laptop connection, and a fastening device for the external power supply.
To protect the cover plate against contamination, it’s covered by an oil-resistant protective rubber. On special customer request, the 230-V connection of the power-supply unit to the socket, and each 24-V power supply of the measuring modules, were conceived. In addition, a rear-mounted terminal for the complete grounding of the system as well as a special suspension for a laptop power supply is available. This guarantees the easy connection of a laptop for data processing.
The protection against external malicious influences also had an impact on the technical inner-life of the system. To prevent dirt from penetrating into the housing, the use of fans was deliberately not considered. This despite the required 230-V power, an ac-dc power supply, and an internal 24-V power management for the components delivered by the customer, quite literally on the “working” probes. In view of electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and heat regulation, it was carefully considered to position the components in appropriate distances to ensure passive heat dissipation for the entire system.
What demands had to be considered when integrating the customer’s part?
First, the measurement probes provided by the customer had to be integrated differently because of their different topology. On the other hand, the system has comprehensive communication links, a number of interfaces, and a highly functional bus system, based on components from National Instruments, to provide the required power to capture and buffer large amounts of data and output them to an external laptop.
This, in turn, has put high demands on the extensive cabling, i.e., high performance on the one hand, and low heat generation, EMC, maintaining of performance, and especially good accessibility for any necessary servicing issues on the other. HEITEC developed a highly sophisticated wiring scheme for the power supply in the system, from the power input via the internal 24-V power supply to the individual measuring systems. Front and rear walls were completely wired. This also applied to the measurement modules with the front connectors, which used thermal cables with a specific cable resistance.
How can the project be summarized? What achievements were most relevant and beneficial for the customer?
In consultation with the customer, HEITEC used standard components from National Instruments as much as possible and standardized software tools for data analysis. In combination with its own “best-of” solution concepts based on the “design-to-cost” idea, HEITEC could realize a cost-effective overall system. The data logger simply connects via a USB with a laptop and the power supply, and it’s immediately ready for use. The measurement data are processed in LabVIEW and can be distributed and reused in the network.
In this project HEITEC effectively demonstrated its integration expertise, both from a technical as well as commercial point of view. It only took half a year from conception to final acceptance of the prototypes. HEITEC will continue to produce the mobile data logger out-of-the-box for use worldwide.
Hendrik Thiel is Director Sales at HEITEC AG. He previously served as International Sales Manager and Sales Engineer at the company. He holds a Diploma in Engineering in electronics from Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg. HEITEC AG is represented in the U.S. by its partner Wakefield-Vette.