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Terminal Services has long been the domain of the IT geeks. Many have also considered the technology to be synonymous with poor performance and terrible displays; neither of which is desirable on the manufacturing floor. If you haven't looked at terminal services lately, you are in for quite a surprise.
First and foremost, the capabilities of today's modern thin client hardware are remarkable. Running multiple screens at 1920 x 1200 is now a standard feature for many units. Rendering in true color is also a standard and not an exception. And, with the powerful and varied software options available to the terminal services user, the real question now is not if terminal services can be a value add on your shop floor, but how. Let's explore some of the major features of the modern terminal server environment that can benefit your engineering as well as operations group.
One of the primary value propositions of a thin client is the small, low power, low heat form factor of many industrial thin clients. You wouldn't think of locating a full PC inside a small enclosure due to heat considerations. However, with a sealed fanless industrial unit rated for temperatures as high as 60 degrees C, users have numerous options available for mounting and installation.
Second, the sealed fanless units are typically fairly rugged, allowing for installation in the environment without the need for a separate enclosure. Aside from the physical installation benefits, there are numerous software side issues a terminal services environment can address. First and foremost, you dramatically reduce your installation footprint. Instead of setting up and maintaining ten PCs, you now have a single server in a locked, climate controlled environment for which you must maintain software versions and configuration. A subsequent question heard frequently is "what happens when that server goes down, and we lose all ten clients at once."
Once again, modern terminal services software offer a number of choices. One method of recovery includes a simple failover where a new session starts up on a backup terminal server, and the operator restarts their HMI or it restarts automatically. If 5-10 seconds of lost visibility is not acceptable, then another option to consider is what is referred to as "instant failover." In this scenario, the user session running on one terminal server is replicated exactly on another terminal server. If a primary server goes down, the user is swapped to the backup where they pick up exactly where they left off on the primary server.
Finally, consider the 3am failure of the operator workstation. How long does it take a technician to replace that PC? Perhaps you have one on the shelf ready to go. Can you guarantee the configuration is current? What about IP addresses, etc? Current thin client packages can allow for a replacement service call in less than 5 minutes. Unplug the old unit; plug in the new one. Start the new unit. Enter two or three values in a configuration screen; then reboot. The unit is now recognized as new, and the technician is asked, "Is this a replacement for another unit that now appears to be offline?" Answer yes, and the operator is back in business with the same session.
It has been our experience that terminal services projects are not sold on the installed cost but rather the total cost of ownership over the life of the hardware and software. Dramatic improvements in your ability to manage the system, along with reductions in downtime and spare parts inventory typically tip the scales once you get past four or five HMI's on your shop floor.
Give us a call to have a discussion on what terminal services can do for your facility.