Edge computing refers to moving computer equipment onto the manufacturing floor, usually in racks. It can also refer to moving it into a warehouse.

Edge computing graphic

Thermal Management Protection Solutions For Edge Computing Environments

By Jonathan LaPorta, Pfannenberg USA

Select the right option to ensure continuous operation of senstive electronics

Edge computing – placing application logic as close to the source of data as possible – reduces latency, optimizes bandwidth usage, and minimizes costs, all while increasing visibility and control, speeding up processing, and enhancing user experience. The challenge is that enclosures used to protect distributed computer equipment from the immediate environment oftentrap heat generated by the electronics. Read on to learn about thermal protection solutions that ensure continuous operation of sensitive electronics in edge computing environments.

Edge computing graphic


Benefits of Edge Computing Fuels Explosive Growth

The adoption of edge computing is accelerating for mission-critical computer components in factories, warehouses, retail stores, hospitals, and college campuses – and indeed in most other sectors. The explosive growth is fueled by megatrends like digitization, the internet of things (IoT), and automation.

Key examples include high-definition video cameras that generate masses of data; machine vision systems used in manufacturing to perform imaging-based automatic inspections; hospitals, which have to store and process medical sensor data and digital health records; and warehouses and retail stores running inventory and point-of-sale systems.

All that data needs to be processed somewhere, and it is usually much faster and more efficient to do it close to the edge where people and things produce and use that information. Keeping and processing data at the edge can also enhance reliability, security, and privacy by minimizing the transmission of sensitive information and exposure to network failures and malicious attacks.


Protecting Distributed Components is Critical

In edge computing environments, computing equipment is located outside of a climate-controlled data center. Servers and networking gear are often placed in crowded factory floor spaces, up in warehouse rafters, or in closets. They may be located in inhospitable environments, with high ambient temperatures, or dust- and oil-filled air. That is why distributed computer equipment is typically placed in enclosures for protection. Unfortunately, the enclosures themselves trap heat generated by the electronics, so they require protection from overheating.


Simple, Proven Cooling Solution 

A variety of cooling methods have proven effective for thermal management of electrical enclosures. Filter fans are an economical solution when the ambient temperature is always lower than the temperature required by the computer components inside. One example is Pfannenberg’s new Datawind Filterfan®, which has a temperature indicator and is mounted externally to the enclosure to enable full use of all racks within the bays.


More Challenging Cooling Applications 

Some applications require enclosures specially designed for challenging environments, from weather and impact-resistant outdoor enclosures to tightly sealed stainless steel enclosures for food production facilities that must withstand high pressure cleaning.

A closed loop cooling system is required when the interior air of the electrical enclosure must be protected from the exterior environment. Air to air technology is one of the more energy efficient technologies to use when there is a temperature difference between the internal target temperature and the surrounding temperature (∆T≥10°C). Pfannenberg’s Kinetic System™ (PKS) Series Air to Air Heat Exchangers remove heat from inside of the enclosure to the cooler environment using the least amount of energy while still providing a closed loop ingress protection.

If the electronics generate a high heat load and/or the ambient air is too warm to provide adequate cooling, an active cooling system such as the Pfannenberg DTS Series of side mounted cooling units may be required. These air conditioning systems utilize a compressor for cooling in a closed loop design that isolates the interior of the enclosure from the exterior environment.

Ideal for extremely demanding industrial and outdoor applications, Pfannenberg’s DTS units provide NEMA 4 level of protection from washdown conditions and caustic air and can operate in ambient temperatures up to 140° F (60° C).

By implementing the optimal cooling solution for distributed components operators can take advantage of edge computing’s many benefits while protecting mission critical IT infrastructure from overheating.


Automatically Efficient: Pfannenberg’s Networked Cooling Units

Innovation by automation: Pfannenberg connects its thermal management solutions for switch cabinets to the cloud. This results in lower costs, fewer outages, and individual settings.

Electrical enclosures like switch cabinets need a steady temperature of 35 °C. If that’s not the case, the sensitive inner workings could be sincerely damaged. For example, a temperature rise of just ten degrees shortens the built-in semiconductors’ lifespan by half. And if an important part of a switch cabinet malfunctions, the following machine damages or production outages could cost the operator millions. Special thermal management and process cooling solutions help to avoid that.

Pfannenberg, a specialist for cooling unitschillers, and signaling technology since 1954, offers especially innovative and efficient ones. This company’s eCOOL X series can be integrated into the user’s automated processes and remotely controlled via cloud computing.

Autonomous M2M Communication

Solutions like these are made possible by M2M communication. Every cooling unit gets equipped with a wireless module and a SIM card that communicates with an online platform. Connected to the machine controlling unit, this Modbus interface collects sensor data, for example about the switch cabinet’s inside and outside temperature, or the speed of the cooling fan. Then the gateway transmits the data in almost real time to the Cloud of Things, a cloud-based management platform. Here, the data get collected, organized, and monitored. Additionally, the information can be fed into local automation systems via the interface.

Cooperation partner for this solution is Deutsche Telekom that with the Cloud of Things offers its customers a single-sourced end-to-end application. Hardware, connectivity, platform and service are fuss-freely provided by one contact partner. The Cloud of Things is hosted in German data centers; this ensures compliance with German data protection laws. “Because we connect the cooling units via cellular communication to the Cloud of Things, we don’t have to touch the company’s IT,” says Conrad Riedesel, head of Deutsche Telekom’s Commercial Management M2M unit. “This ensures high data security as well as predictability of investment and operating costs – because we don’t charge for our service sweepingly but depending on the number of connected machines and based on special M2M rates.”

Everything at a Glance

The Cloud of Things evaluates and visualizes the machine’s collected relevant status data on its own. Users can have a look at this compilation where- and whenever they want – they just need a computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone with an internet connection. They can also define thresholds for every measured value; if one gets exceeded, the Cloud of Things alarms a predefined person. That makes the monitoring of several assets at different sites much easier. “Due to the automatic alarm notifications, we can make sure that critical operating conditions will get noticed before any further damage by high temperatures is done,” says Pfannenberg’s CTO Nils-Peter Halm. “Thus, our customers are much better protected against expensive production outages.” And the longer the machines are connected to the Cloud of Things the more conclusions the platform can draw as to which thermal loads each individual cooling unit has to shoulder. That makes more individualized – and better – settings possible.

Integration Into Automation Systems

On request, the eCOOL X cooling units can be integrated via Modbus interface into the fully automated machine and process cycles on site. There, they can be controlled decentrally and the process chain is able to react independently to warnings and adjust the cooling performance as needed. “The future belongs to smart factories. We get our thermal management systems ready for our customer’s networked production cycles,” says Andreas Pfannenberg, CEO of Pfannenberg.