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Industrial communication – small is beautiful

by Dr. Rainer Hoja-Heldmann, Produktmarketing & Frank Iwanitz, Produkt-Manager | Jul 27, 2018

Industrial PCs – IPCs for short – are the industrial variant of PC-based computer platforms. The first industrial PC (IBM 5531, launched in 1984) was very similar to its commercial predecessor the IBM PC 5150 (launched in 1981).

Over the years, IPCs have become increasingly compact and – in contrast to commercial PCs – have been specially designed for harsh conditions (extreme temperatures, dust, moisture, vibrations, power surges). Since IPCs address a wide range of applications, the variety of models and solutions is correspondingly vast. Nevertheless, the market for IPCs can be segmented by type and purpose and is divided into types such as: Panel IPC, Box IPC, Embedded IPC, DIN rail IPC, rack-mounted IPC and thin client IPC.

With the IPCs shrinking, the interface cards and thus also their slots had to be downsized – which led to ever smaller form factors with still increased performance and flexible application. For example, PCI/PCIe slots have been replaced by miniPCI/miniPCIe slots for some time. These are now being replaced by the very versatile and even smaller M.2 port (also known as NGFF – Next Generation Form Factor), which provides PCIe, USB and other connectivity ports in a miniaturized form factor. The M.2 port is used for SSDs, WLAN, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC and other plug-in cards.


Old ISA board and latest M.2 board

Not only are there more than 30 years between the first ISA cards and current 
M.2 format cards, but also a factor of 20 in space requirements.


Compared to PCIe mini, the M.2 form factor offers decisive advantages for IPC manufacturers:

  • more flexible form factor,
  • more flexible placement of slots and
  • cost improvements.

Several key players are therefore already using M.2 slots in their IPCs or are producing the first computer systems that only offer M.2 connectors and no more PCIe mini slots.


IXXAT INpact M.2 - smallest multi-protocol PCIe interface
for Industrial Ethernet and fieldbus

With its new IXXAT INpact M.2 interface card, HMS takes up the emerging trend among IPCs and extends its IXXAT INpact card series for PCIe and PCIe Mini by an extremely compact card in M.2 2260 (Key B-M) format. Like its larger siblings (IXXAT INpact PCIe and INpact PCIe mini), the IXXAT INpact M.2 is available with slave interfaces for PROFINET, EtherNet/IP, EtherCAT, Modbus-TCP, Powerlink and PROFIBUS. 

Due to its form factor, the IXXAT INpact M.2 can be implemented space-savingly in compact devices for service, configuration, data analysis or process data visualization. This makes it the ideal solution for control systems and mobile devices and particularly attractive for machine manufacturers who want to connect small and robust computer systems directly to a machine network. Possible applications are e.g. traffic monitoring, welding controls, small robot controls and medical devices.


Easy connection to customer application

An integral part of the IXXAT INpact card series is a comprehensive driver package for Windows and Linux, which – regardless of the card type and protocol used - allows simple and fast development of customer-specific applications. Based on a uniform programming interface, it is possible to switch between protocols and card types without changing the customer software, which not least leads to increased flexibility and a significant reduction in development costs.


Bus-Interfaces and variants

The connection to the respective/selected fieldbus or Industrial Ethernet network is made via special bus interfaces (BCU: Bus Coupling Units) known from the IXXAT INpact PCIe mini, which are connected to the IXXAT INpact M.2 via a cable. The required components can be purchased individually or as a set - consisting of IXXAT INpact M.2, bus interface, cable and slot bracket.

In addition to cards with pre-installed network protocol, the Industrial Ethernet variant of all IXXAT INpact interfaces is also available in a multi-protocol variant (CE variant). The desired Industrial Ethernet protocol can be selected by the user and loaded onto the board, which makes the use of the board even more flexible and saves storage costs.


Hardware design

The multi-network capability of the IXXAT INpact Boards is based on the Anybus CompactCom technology from HMS, which has proven itself millions of times over. The efficient, FPGA-based Anybus-NP40 network processor contains all functions to handle communication between the Industrial Ethernet or fieldbus network and the PC-side customer application. The FPGA has very low latency and deterministic real-time behavior, making it ideal for demanding industrial applications.


IXXAT INpact – the Highlights

  • One interface for all common Industrial Ethernet networks and PROFIBUS
  • Simple change of protocol via standardized API
  • Simple integration through various form factors
  • High performance for demanding real-time applications
  • Future-proof solution based on proven IXXAT and Anybus technology
  • Strong reference – Aaeon, well-known manufacturer of OEM/ODM IPCs relies on IXXAT INpact

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