Control technology, like the computer technology that it comes from, is becoming more and more physically transparent. How it is deployed for use is more a function of it’s packaging than of the technology itself.
60 Years ago, early computing hardware required it’s own building, air conditioning, programming and maintenance crew. Today, electronics for control systems can be made to “disappear” into the product itself. If a particular piece of equipment requires an operator interface, the most economical way to create that interface is with a flat screen with touch sensitive film and hierarchical software for graphical control. The solid state memory to store the graphics and operating code, CPU and power supply can all be made to integrate directly into the ‘monitor’ portion of the control hardware. Modern CPUs with multiple Ethernet ports can host large amounts of inputs and outputs if the particular control requirement calls for it.
Modern control system electronics have become miniaturized to the point of being almost physically transparent make the operating environment of the process being controlled a decisive factor. For Oil & Gas refining control systems have been remotely packaged in controlled atmosphere buildings. The interconnect to local valves and switches requires complex explosion proof devices and enclosures. For Food Industry applications control electronics must be enclosed in wash down rated housings under a variety of conditions and resistant to a variety of chemicals.
Similar issues exist for power electronics used in controlling electric motors. The packaging predicts where and how the power systems can be applied. Additionally, since power electronics have inherent inefficiencies, they are heat producing systems and their heat dissipation must also be managed. This is where the industry has had to contend with best practices in terms of thermal management.
Liquid cooling for large electric motors and power electronics has been available for many years, but is still treated as a somewhat exotic system. Different vendors have approach the problem with different solutions each with their unique issues. Some solutions include water and glycol mix similar to the cooling arrangement typically found in automobiles. Because of the arrangement of the electronics, some systems require the use of de-ionized water. Although water is a good thermal conductor, it is also a good conductor of electricity unless it is de-ionized. The problem is that de-ionized water is not commonly available and turns out to be chemically aggressive.
Control and Power Electronics are critical for operation of many industrial and commercial systems. Wind and Solar Power, Electric Power Utilities, Refrigeration systems, all depend on precision control of high powered electronics. So getting the packaging right is a multi-billion dollar issue that affects a lot of industry.