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Businessweek calls the smartphone revolution an Android revolution. So much so that the article recounts how the operating system was on Steve Jobs’ hit list. Worried about the impact on the Apple iPhone, in 2010 he declared, “I’m going to destroy Android.”

As we well know, Android is still standing, and now when many people think of this operating system, smartphones pop to mind. Though many regard smartphones as handheld computers, Android is a case where technology developed for smartphones has gone on to become operating systems for many forms of computers, including the industrial-panel PCs that OEMs install in their equipment. Considering Android’s origins in low-cost cell phones, this operating system until recently was thought of as suitable for business or in the industrial space.

However, the coming years will lead to changing minds. A growing number of organizations need flexibility in their industrial operations. More and more plants and DCs are turning to panel PCs for monitoring and controlling production and material-handling operations that have Android operating systems installed on them. These computers will be finding their way into the equipment and systems being produced by manufacturers for their production and supply-chain users.

Working in the Industrial Environment

Given the complexity of the industrial manufacturing process and the supply chain, the increasing compliance standards, the tight profit margins in this business, and the risk to a company’s reputation, if a breakdown in safety occurs, this isn’t a place for outmoded technology.

Many in management claim they like to be on the cutting edge. Yet, Android is an example of a technology that’s not finding its way into the business space as fast as the cutting edge would imply.

Despite the promise of this and other technology, no matter how revolutionary the development that appears over the horizon is, these advances generally seep in rather than charge into general use on the processing plant or DC floor. Often, management views change as risky, waiting to find out if these advances work elsewhere before they bring new systems, equipment, or processes into their operations.  For many managing these operations, their jobs depend on the type of approaches and equipment they bring onto the floor.

Anyone who owns a cell phone—even iOS users—know that the Android operating system has been around for more than a decade. The release of the Android 10 OS was just this past September.  It’s a long history for a software platform and shows consistency and continual improvement that benefits both the cell-phone market and the industrial business market.

You Will Be Using Android—Eventually

The time of Android as a business tool is coming. This system has been operating in a growing number of rugged mobile devices and touchscreen panels in processing, production, distribution, and other business essential applications, particularly for two reasons.

Android is a more robust and powerful operating system than legacy compact Windows technology. However, if management isn’t sold yet on this operating system, then consider Microsoft is sunsetting mobile OS platforms such as Windows Embedded CE 6.0, Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5, and Windows Embedded Compact 7. The deathwatch of these long-used platforms is ticking onward.

A recent survey of logistics professionals found that 56% of respondents planned to increase Android use over the next three years. The holdouts are no doubt looking to wring a few extra years out of their legacy systems before device manufacturers turn off the support spigot.

So, with the door being shut on these legacy Window’s OS platforms, operations will eventually come to find that they will be benefitting from Android’s benefits. These include low cost, its built-in Bluetooth, near-field communications for transferring data between two Android devices, and an effective support for voice sensors.

Advantages of the Android Operating System

For production and material-handling operations with unique requirements, app development can be an enormous benefit. The evolution of Android computing is accompanied by an army of Android software developers that take advantage of a simplified software-development environment. 

Android is a great system to develop your apps. For machinery or equipment that needs only a specific program to run on them, an Android panel PC would be ideal to operate those processes.

Customizable: According to Tom Warren, writing for THE VERGE on a closed-source OS like Windows, the code can only be modified by Microsoft, along with a few selected customers like big companies. With the code underlying open-source operating systems like Android, that code is freely available for anyone to view and modify under the terms of open-source licenses. This gives the end user more complete control over the software running on their equipment

Android developers can easily customize applications to accommodate unique I/O devices and create GUIs to manage any industrial application. The mobility and device-agnostic aspects of this software is the basis for many new industrial-automation infrastructure implementations.

Energy efficient: As it’s designed for battery-powered devices, Android uses fewer system resources than most other operating systems, so it requires a less powerful processor. This design saves energy and allows Android to run on smaller devices. If your application is simple, and you only needed to run one or a few programs. You would spend less, getting a panel PC with less computing power that gets the job done just the same.

Cost-effective: Android panel PCs are a lower-cost alternative to traditional Windows panel PCs for several reasons. Android computers typically include Arm processors, which are more cost-effective than Intel processors. Android industrial computers aren’t subject to the operating-system license fees required with Windows-based computers. 

Android industrial computers don’t require additional storage capacity and memory requirements that are necessary for Windows-based computers. The significant cost savings associated with these differences is driving the industrial factory automation industry toward Android-based computing.

Since units operating on Android are also generally smaller with less-demanding computing requirements, operations can reduce costs by deploying just the right-sized device needed. Android Panel PC sizes can range from 7 in. up to 21.5 in., while industrial tablet PCs and handheld devices can range in screen sizes from 4 to 12 in.

Can the PC Panel Live up to Industrial Environment Demands?

Just like all of the other equipment and systems that make an industrial environment run, here are some critical musts when selecting a PC Panel to run Android for these operations:

Touchscreen Design

The guts of any PC that manufacturers work with, of course, is essential to performance. But to the operation of these systems, the screen is all that matters.

Seeing what’s on that screen is essential. The information must be viewed off the screen quickly, with any miscomprehension leading to severe consequences. Consider units that offer high resolution, readable under bright lights (sunlight or artificial), TFT screens that are CCFL backlit with high brightness, and a wide viewing angle.

Many software applications are designed to run at specific LCD resolutions and aspect ratios. A web-based application may require a panel PC screen resolution of 1920 × 1080 pixels, as the layout of the on-screen menus and tabs are scrunched when displayed on LCDs with lower resolutions. 

Bigger isn’t always better. Often there are physical space constraints in production areas. In this case, the application would require a 15.6-, 18.5-, or 21.5-in. LCD size, as these are the only common LCD sizes that support 1920 × 1080 pixels. It’s crucial to consider the software application requirements when selecting the LCD size of your panel PC.

In some environments, these screens must be sensitive to gloved hands. Computer panels with resistive touchscreens are still the most prevalent in low-temp computer applications, as they’re pressure-sensitive, which means they can be used with gloves, as well as bare hands, or a stylus.

Water Resistant

Given that panel PCs house sensitive electronics, they must withstand blasts of water and chemicals from clean-in-place operations in food, pharmaceuticals, and similar processes. PCs with stainless-steel front bezels protect the components and will not degrade or rust from exposure to liquids. An IP66-rated front panel will stand up to the water jets.

Keeping it Clean

Not only do panel PCs need to stand up to the equipment in the area being cleaned, they also must be suitable for frequent, easy cleaning to avoid contamination. Fanless, rugged panel PCs meet that requirement with a minimum of openings where germs can hide, as well as housings that can withstand industrial cleaning agents.

Taking Computing Through to the Next Generation

In the tech world, change is a fact of life. Inevitably, Android will someday be replaced by another form of technology. Though it’s one thing to take advantage of the latest advance, it’s another for the device the system runs on to make it all the way through the current technology cycle.

Time for a Change

Industrial-grade computers are the tools for manufacturing and moving product. These are the human-machine interfaces into whatever system controls the operation. As production and material handling head into the future, the industrial-rugged PCs specified to monitor and control these functions are gradually and surely migrating to the Android operating system.

Along with the advantages the Android OS gives your equipment users, you have the ability to provide practically whatever they want. Some of the rugged industrial computers are geared toward the needs of industries such as food and beverage, and industrial automation. Your rugged-industrial PC source has an array of options to find the form and function of your equipment and systems.

Bryce Keeney is Product Manager at Teguar.

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