Friday, April 19, 2024

Why And How To Choose A System On Module For IIoT Applications

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Explore the concept of system on module (SoM)—a versatile solution for achieving modularity and flexibility. Let’s delve into the world of hardware development, where SoMs bridge the gap between hardware and software, simplifying, accelerating, and streamlining the path to success.

In the world of hardware development, complexities often arise, especially for those deeply rooted in the intricacies of hardware. As the government pushes for advancements in hardware, the industry faces a challenging decade ahead. In this landscape, the field of research and development (R&D) grapples with numerous challenges, particularly with high-speed technologies. This is where the system on module (SoM) concept comes to the rescue—a solution that offers modularity, flexibility, and ease of use. As we embark on this journey, we’ll explore SoMs and learn why and how to choose them for your next hardware development project, whether it’s in the realm of IoT or any other emerging applications.

Perils of traditional hardware development

In an era of rapid technological progress, the proliferation of billions of devices generates vast data and innovation opportunities. Artificial intelligence (AI) leads this transformation, reshaping industries and thought patterns. AI and edge computing enable process optimisation, automated decision-making, and valuable insights, particularly in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sector. This AI revolution promises to reshape industries, but hardware development challenges persist, often following rigid, time-consuming paths such as the waterfall model, despite the availability of more agile methods.

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With tight budgets and uncertainty in the R&D and proof-of-concept phases, hardware development can spiral into costly, ongoing loops due to evolving ideas and unclear requirements. Rapid technological evolution can render hardware obsolete upon commercialisation. The interplay between hardware and software results in debates on computation distribution, protocol placement, and collaboration between hardware and software teams. Unlike software, hardware changes late in development, incurring additional costs and delays. Technological advances outpace development, with processors and memory doubling every few years. Constant customer demand for the latest technology fuels the cycle of upgrades.

A strategic choice for embracing SoMs in hardware development
The decision to incorporate SoMs into hardware development projects is a strategic move driven by several critical factors. The key considerations that can simplify and enhance hardware development endeavors are:

Reduced supply chain complexity. Opting for SoMs streamlines the supply chain by benefiting from economies of scale. Manufacturers produce SoMs in bulk, ensuring consistent availability and simplifying procurement, reducing supply chain challenges, and enabling a focus on the project’s core aspects.

Application-specific customisation. SoMs are a versatile foundation for tailoring application-specific boards, aligning hardware precisely with the needs. Custom boards enable unique features and superior performance, reducing development time and costs by leveraging SoMs as a sturdy base for specialised projects.

This contributes to a smoother and more cost-effective development process. This strategic choice streamlines development and positions success in delivering innovative and highly specialised hardware solutions.

The SoM solution

Enter SoM, often referred to as a “computer on module.” SoMs offer a modular approach to hardware development, akin to versatile Lego bricks that serve as foundational building blocks for various projects. Think of them as mini-computers equipped with processors, memory, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and more, ready for customisation.

What sets SOMs apart is their generic nature; they are not application-specific. This versatility allows developers to create custom application boards tailored to specific industries or use cases while relying on a standardised SOM as the foundation. Whether you are working on an automotive project, an IoT application, or any other endeavor, SOMs offer modularity and flexibility.

One ongoing challenge in hardware development is resource allocation between hardware and software components. Deciding whether to handle computing at the edge or on the backend, choosing the placement of protocols, and resolving disputes between hardware and software teams are routine issues. SOMs have emerged as a game-changer to address these challenges and offer greater modularity and flexibility in hardware development. SoMs, or computers on modules (CoMs), provide a crucial bridge between hardware and software, offering numerous advantages that we will explore.

The anatomy of an SoM

An SoM is a comprehensive hardware solution comprising diverse components, such as processors, memory modules, connectivity interfaces like Ethernet and Wi-Fi, and audio codecs. Despite its inherent generic nature, an SoM serves as a foundational platform for crafting application-specific boards tailored to the unique requirements of a specific industry or use case. This strategy streamlines the hardware development process, notably reducing complexity and associated costs.

This prompts the question: Why opt for an SoM? There are several compelling reasons to choose an SoM as a core building block for your hardware development strategy. Here are some of the key advantages:

Modularity and flexibility

SoM separates core computing components from application-specific elements, allowing the creation of custom application boards while keeping the SoM consistent. This modularity fosters adaptability and future-proofing. While SoMs offer a generic starting point, they can be customised with additional peripherals or interfaces to meet the specific demands of your application.

Simplified development

SoM reduces the complexity of high-speed PCB design by providing pre-built modules. This streamlines development, reduces errors, and saves time, offering a simplified starting point for hardware development. It eliminates the need to design these elements from scratch.

Cost-efficiency

Custom boards often require more layers, which increases costs. In contrast, application boards using SoM can be simpler, more cost-effective, and quicker to develop. Leveraging an SoM takes advantage of economies of scale, as these modules are mass-produced, resulting in significant cost savings compared to developing a custom, one-off solution.

Time-to-market

SoM accelerates time-to-market by employing pre-tested and certified modules. Instead of worrying about the complexity of core hardware, one can focus on application-specific requirements. Building custom hardware can be time-consuming, whereas SoMs accelerate development by providing a ready-made foundation, reducing the time required to bring your product to market.

Stability and reliability

SoMs are thoroughly tested and certified, ensuring hardware stability and reliability, reducing the risk of unforeseen issues in the development process. SoMs are designed to be scalable, allowing you to choose a module that suits your current needs and easily upgrade to a more powerful version as your requirements grow. They are often thoroughly tested and validated by the manufacturer, ensuring higher reliability and reducing the risk of hardware-related issues.

Focus on core competencies

By utilising an SoM, your development team can focus on the unique aspects of your project, such as software development and application-specific features, rather than getting bogged down in the intricacies of hardware design.

Opting for an SoM is a strategic choice that streamlines hardware development, accelerates progress, reduces expenses, and enhances adaptability. This decision empowers you to concentrate on crafting the optimal solution tailored to a specific industry or use case.

Simplifying high-speed electronics
Simplicity is key in high-speed electronics like 10Gbps or 5G. SoM design simplifies complex chip-down approaches, offering efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and fewer errors, especially in demanding applications.

Chip-down design complexity. Chip-down design custom-builds PCBs from scratch, integrating microprocessors, memory, and more for flexibility but adds complexity, especially in high-speed applications.

The SoM solution. It simplifies chip-down design challenges in high-speed applications. It is a compact, integrated computing platform with a single module housing a processor, memory, and more.

As the demand for high-speed electronics continues to grow, the advantages of SoMs over chip-down design become increasingly evident. SoMs simplify the development process, reduce complexity, and offer cost-effective solutions, particularly valuable in demanding applications. By harnessing the power of SoMs, engineers and developers can meet the challenges of high-speed electronics with confidence, efficiency, and reduced risk.

Selecting the right SoM

In the ever-evolving landscape of hardware development, one critical decision stands out as pivotal: choosing the right SoM for your project. This crucial choice requires meticulous consideration of various factors to ensure the endeavor’s success. The essential considerations that will guide you towards selecting the ideal SoM for your specific needs are as follows:

Form factor

Consider the physical space for hardware and any mechanical constraints. SoMs come in various forms, so choose one that fits your needs.

Cooling requirements

Determine whether the project requires a fanless system or if cooling mechanisms are necessary. Some processors generate more heat than others and may demand specific cooling solutions.

Interoperability

Ensure that the chosen SoM can support the desired software stack, including any operating systems or frameworks one plans to use.

Customisation

Evaluate whether the SoM manufacturer can accommodate customisation to match specific requirements.

Pin-to-pin compatibility

Check if the SoM offers pin-to-pin compatibility for easy hardware upgrades or changes.

Customer support

The availability of reliable customer support, comprehensive documentation, and a helpful community can be invaluable during the development journey.

Certifications

Depending on the application, certifications like EMI/EMC, safety standards, and compatibility with industry-specific regulations may be essential. Ensure the chosen SoM aligns with these requirements.

When it comes to hardware development, SoMs offer a bridge to the future where modularity and adaptability reign supreme, ensuring that your hardware solutions remain agile and competitive in an ever-changing technological landscape. It is time to leverage SoMs as a powerful tool in the hardware development toolkit and confidently embrace the future. SoMs have emerged as a powerful solution in the world of hardware development. Whether working on IoT projects, automotive applications, or any other hardware endeavor, SoMs provide a versatile foundation to build upon. As technology evolves, SoMs will play an increasingly pivotal role in the hardware landscape, simplifying development and accelerating innovation.


This article is from a tech talk session at EFY Expo 2023, Pune, by Aagam Jain, CEO, Trunexa, Transcribed and curated by Akanksha Sondhi Gaur, Research Analyst and Journalist at EFY

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