A First Impression That Doesn't Break the Bank

OS Updates

It’s that time of year and great deals on all kinds of fun toys are popping up left and right. Many major retailers are counting on a shiny first impression to land sales. But many consumers will soon learn the hard way that they have opened a Pandora’s Box of expensive add-ons and replacements.

For example, a friend just shelled out big bucks for the latest and greatest gaming system, only to realize this one purchase was going to turn into a constant battle as his kids realize they need expensive “expansion packs” to advance their digital adventure. If he had to do it over, I feel quite sure my friend would have opted for a bow and arrow or a soccer ball instead.

It’s not much different in today’s industrial spaces. What you see often isn’t always what you get. New hardware is often fraught with all kinds of technological hurdles like updating the operating system (OS), firmware, the human machine interface (HMI) software—and the list goes on. What seems like a potential upgrade and even a good deal ends up being more trouble than it is worth.

Consumer desktop PCs have evolved significantly, however. Nowadays they almost always come with the latest OS preloaded and often have the software onboard to get you up and running literally minutes after plugging in. Just personalize some settings and you are ready to work. We take peripherals for granted—the headache of finding and manually installing drivers is something we did over a decade ago. For most of today’s PCs, it’s now an automated and routine task that we don’t even have to think about. If convenience equals freedom, today’s consumer PCs are its bastion. 

Unfortunately most Industrial PCs (IPCs) lag the consumer market. In many cases engineers in all phases of execution—from development to deployment and even those doing technical maintenance—receive IPCs without any software installed, often without an OS. This “bare-bones” approach to shipping hardware is hassle-free for the manufacturer, but it’s a real operational challenge, especially for original equipment manufacturers (OEM) engineers who may have to image hundreds or even thousands of machines to get their operational. 

In order to make their application run, they must endure the lengthy and sometimes nerve-racking process of installing the OS, finding and installing all relevant drivers, installing the application software and configuring settings. If you have deployed a new OS on your PC, you know how time-consuming that installation process can be. Multiply that by a dozen or ten dozen and you begin to see the challenges industrial engineers face. Some devices rely on Ethernet ports or expansion slots for different communication protocols, requiring a specific set of drivers depending on the hardware and the OS. Again, this searching and installing requires many working hours. Finally, the application software itself—software for data collection like Historian or SCADA software like iFIX or CIMPLICITY—requires  installation and configuration, adding even more time to the workflow.

The time and effort needed to get the required application running is an unseen, yet very real drain on engineering resources. In the same working hours, the engineer could already have made progress in his development efforts, set up the testing environment, created a demo for a customer, or completed the deployment of the system.

The Automation & Controls team from GE has worked closely with GE Digital to solve this challenging problem. SCADA Edge, our newest IPC, is a preconfigured control and automation platform that reduces time to solution for industrial applications. It combines GE’s rugged IPC platform with GE's HMI/SCADA applications to deliver visibility to the plant floor, increasing operator effectiveness and reducing time to market, especially in repeatable system design.

In the long term, a single supplier for both software and hardware provides the user with one number to call—a single point of contact that can help troubleshoot challenges if they arise, instead of being passed back and forth between suppliers in an infinite loop.

As for first impressions, GE IPCs pack a powerful punch in a footprint that is as sleek as it is compact. IPC users are PC users at home and in the office—they know what to expect with today’s technology and they can get that same versatility and convenience with GE IPCs and SCADA Edge. Sometimes, what you see is what you get.

Gabor Bulecza

Gabor is global senior product manager for the Industrial PC line at Automation & Controls. His passions include making industrial Internet real with Box PCs and Panel PCs in various applications and markets like automation, engine control, transportation, medical, oil and gas, and more. Gabor earned a Dipl.-Ing. / Master of Science for Mechatronics from the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany.

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