How do you improve reliability of high-end sensors in tough environments?

Louise Smyth

Remy Lörtscher explains how to improve the reliability of high-end servers in tough environments

As most of us are aware, with power-hungry applications we are forced to use a cooling method for server and computer solutions, to reduce the heat in the cabinets, racks and housings. This is generally done with air conditioners that require regular maintenance. However, not all applications can be installed in an air-conditioned room, nor is using an air conditioner always feasible due to the required maintenance and space. In this case, the easiest way is to cool the sensitive electronic parts with air flow. Because fans are not too reliable, the fan solution must have built-in redundancy.

Now the immediate problem seems to be solved and the electronics are cooled, but unfortunately not in the long run. The big disadvantage is that with forced air, all the dust from the environment is sucked into the housing.

In some places the air in the environment is cleaner than in others, but dust will always be present. In tough environments generally, the air is dirty and then air flow causes dust to be sucked into electronic housings. The blown-in dust generally covers the complete electronics and may insulate it. This can (and most likely will) cause electronic systems to stop operating due to current leakage (depending on the dust content) or due to overheating.

An easy precaution here is to protect the air inlet with filter mats. But this means that the generally maintenance-free system suddenly requires preventative maintenance. Operators forget that mats needs to be replaced or forget to order replacement filter mats and therefore maintenance is left off. There’s also the fact that with a filter, you need more powerful fans.

what is the alternative?

For solutions with up to 35/40W, the market offers fanless systems. Some are better and some less efficient, depending on the initial purchasing cost. However, as soon as you require server-class performance, fans are a must – and nothing was available until recently.

Swiss firm MPL, one of the first producers of rugged fanless embedded computers, introduced a fanless compact Xeon server-class concept without the abovementioned disadvantages, and even for environments of -40°C up to 65°C. The server is fully maintenance free and therefore ideal in unmanned remote areas, in vibration-oriented environments such as in vehicles or in other dusty environments, without the risk of failures due to overheating.

The rugged Xeon solution, called MXCS, is available with up to 16 cores. It comes as an OpenFrame version, compact solution or 19in rack version where eventually a hardware RAID or a GPGPU is needed. An MIL IP67 solution is even available. MPL offers (when requested) a sealed redundant forced air solution that will not blow air into the electronics compartment, but still efficiently cools the total solution. In this case, the server electronics are completely sealed against any ingress of dust, without needing filters. The additional high-quality fans are temperature- and speed-controlled and operate only when needed, to increase the lifecycle. The fans cool the external housing but never blow dusty air into the electronics compartment. This is the ideal solution when a reliable server-class system is needed for tough or dirty application environments.

Remy Lörtscher is CEO of MPL

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