Industrial automation demands high flexibility

Based on deep expertise and an extensive portfolio of SMARC 2.0, Qseven, COM Express and nanoRISC standard modules, Avnet Embedded offers application-optimized single board computer solutions. These innovative products are designed for industrial applications and are developed and manufactured in-house in Stutensee, Germany.

Industrial products today need to be more than just innovative. To quickly secure revenue, they must be cost-effective and accompanied by a sophisticated go-to-market strategy. In the desire to do this, more and more often standardized computer-on-modules are being used, which can be integrated immediately and offer up to date PC functionality. It’s no wonder then that the embedded computer market is seeing double-digit growth globally, driven by a combination of new and existing applications in industry, transportation, energy technology, building automation, telecommunications and medical technology, not to mention the IoT or Industry 4.0 space.

Varied, scalable and powerful processor modules

Processor modules are ready to use and available in different variants with scalable performance and a variety of interfaces. Depending on your requirements, modules can use COM Express™ (from the PICMG organization), Qseven™ or SMARC 2.0 (of the SGeT). SMARC 2.0 meets today’s industry-leading requirements for low-power, energy-efficient embedded modules and is equally designed for ARM / RISC CPUs and x86 processors.

Picture 1 shows a SMARC 2.0 module that was integrated 1:1 as Avnet Embedded IP into an application-optimized board. In the example shown, the schematic of the module and the complete layout (except for the lower left corner) were adopted.

Today’s powerful standard modules run reliably 24/7 and already have sophisticated security functions. No expensive emulators or low-level debuggers are required to develop the embedded system and, even at low volumes, flexible configurations and high individuality of embedded products are possible. When updating or upgrading the system (for example, when a new processor generation becomes available), the module can be easily replaced. Many COM families have long-term availability and are available for up to fifteen years from launch.

Custom solutions

As the name implies, the custom carrier board holds all the application-specific functions and the processor module can simply be plugged onto the board via a common standard plug. This is a tried and tested combination which enables the rapid development of modern embedded products. However, a word of caution – for many applications this solution is not appropriate. For example, products with a special mechanical design, or custom shape and size, have no capacity for the combination of carrier board and plugged module. Special surface treatments also cause problems.

For projects with relatively high quantities, however, customer-specific optimizations pay off.  Take industrial automation, which routinely includes products that run to around 5000 pieces per year. In these cases, Avnet Embedded relies on a single board (SBC) solution that reuses the design of the standard processor module.

Customized single board computers need a consistent platform and comprehensive range of building blocks within a short time and with optimized costs. At the heart of the single board solution is a standard module, selected according to the performance data, whose circuit diagram or layout is placed as a macro 1:1 in the carrier board. From a functional perspective, this corresponds to a module carrier board solution and has the advantages of freer form factor and lower production costs. In this way, the entire software ecosystem of the standard module can be used and only in a few cases further optimization is necessary. And even then, only absolutely necessary macro functions of the customer’s application. The goal is always to use the macro of the module (or parts of it) and customise as little as possible.

Of course, the prerequisite for an optimized single board solution is that many different processor modules are available as macros. Avnet Embedded has over 120 experienced Development Engineers in Aachen, Neufahrn/Munich, Stutensee and Freiburg, working to advance standardized and customer-specific embedded modules. Their task is to translate the ideas and requirements of the customers into a new pioneering product of the future.

Picture 2 gives another example of how an existing SMARC 2.0 module (top left) can be integrated into an application board.

Does a single board design pay off? Absolutely.

By using a pre-defined processor module macro, custom development can be implemented at a similar speed and cost of a full custom SBC, as compared to a module/carrier board solution. Because Avnet Embedded provides the macro free of charge and the customer only pays the additional development share, it’s simply a case of assessing the suitability of the individual circuit in their application. The identical core can be evaluated in advance, based on the standard module and state-of-the-art design tools, teamed with an extensive database of building blocks ensure short development times. From here, the prototypes are verified against the specification.

For series production, however, special test equipment must be developed due to a different arrangement of connectors. Software design can be kicked off immediately with an optimized Avnet Embedded Starter Kit and a ‘Board Support Package’ is available to optimize product development time.

Single board solutions

A smart controller, based on an energy-efficient SMARC 2.0 standard module, is a typical application for the single board solution.

The MSC SM2S-AL board family is 82mm x 50mm and designed for low power dissipation between 6 and 12W at high speed (see Picture 3). The compact platform integrates Intel® Atom™ processor technology E3900 in different variants (or alternatively Pentium® and Celeron® processors – code name “Apollo Lake”).

MSC SM2S-AL modules provide numerous interfaces such as USB 3.0/2.0, Gigabit Ethernet, PCI Express ™, SATA III and MIPI CSI-2 for connecting cameras. With DisplayPort ++ and LVDS/embedded DisplayPort (eDP) up to three independent displays can be connected. The module integrates a fast yet energy-efficient quad-channel LPDDR4 SDRAM with a capacity of up to 8 GB and optionally a 64 GB eMMC Flash.

Single Board Designs also feature Avnet Embedded’s nanoRISC family of compact modules that integrate the latest low-power RISC controllers. The 70 x 50 mm MSC NANORISC-AM335X is based on the Cortex ™ -A8 CPU from Texas Instruments and is designed for the temperature range of -40 to +85 ° C.

Picture 3 shows The MSX SM2S-AL module family in 82 x 50 mm short size, which integrates Intel® Atom ™ processor technology E3900

Comprehensive expertise, from development and system integration to manufacturing.

Embedded products are used in virtually all areas of industry, medical technology, in the transportation sector and in building automation and Avnet Embedded’s ability to seamlessly interlink all product phases ensures consistently high quality. Using the critical criteria of Design for Manufacturability (DFM), Design for Test (DFT) and Design to Cost (DTC), our high-performance embedded products are mass-produced for a global market at our facility in Stutensee, Germany and this production facility is impressive for its high degree of automation and use of flexible machines. Modern, fast SMT lines, selective soldering systems and 3D AOI systems are standard, and intelligent shop floor management, functional and structural test systems are also all in use. It’s this full-service offering and critical expertise that gives a competitive edge to customers of Avnet Embedded worldwide.