Mentor Graphics Debuts Comprehensive Embedded Suite for Industrial Automation

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Mentor Graphics Debuts Comprehensive Embedded Suite for Industrial Automation

Factory automation has made stunning advances since the introduction of the conveyor belt. Now with the ability to put multiple control applications on a single multicore processor and tie these into an Industrial Internet of Things, the power of cyber-physical systems in manufacturing are making huge strides, speeding production and transforming data into information for the enterprise.


If factory automation began with the introduction of the programmable logic controller (PLC) back in the late 1970s, it has been rapidly developing with the spread of microprocessor and microcontroller-based devices ever since. There was a period when embedded controllers were designed to emulate PLCs, following a known path and building on legacy knowledge and methodologies. That has gradually faded away and today’s factory has developed into an  increasingly complex, interconnected world of embedded controllers networked to each other and to supervisory systems and on up to the enterprise IT realm. But ever-increasing competition, the need for lower costs and higher efficiency along with concerns about security and reliability are pushing the developers of industrial automation systems to greater efforts.

The emergence of the Internet of Things is having the effect of also creating the Industrial Internet of Things in which distributed, connected devices generate data that can be employed for the overall management of operations on up to the executive level and to serve customers as well. The need to increase efficiency and lower costs fortunately coincides with the availability of powerful multicore processors that can be used to aggregate functionality. Thus, what were once discrete devices, each with its own power source, can be combined into a single piece of equipment. This results in power savings, enhanced control and easier reconfiguration.

Mentor Graphics is addressing these developments with its new Mentor Embedded multiplatform solution. The Mentor Embedded industrial automation solution was developed to address the growing challenges of building, extending, and maintaining embedded hardware and software for a variety of industrial automation products. It provides a way to integrate legacy applications, new technologies, comprehensive security architecture, and the latest multicore processors on the same industrial device (Figure 1).

Figure 1
The Mentor Embedded solution for industrial automation is differentiated from other competitive offerings by its multi-platform approach and robust security architecture.

This convergence onto multicore processors allows the use of different applications on different cores with communication channels between them. The cores can be supervised with a hypervisor or used without one. Thus there can be a master application on one core with an HMI that can access some number of control applications using Mentor’s Nucleus RTOS on other cores and bring their operations up on the user interface display. Such consolidation on separate cores with a master communication channel also eases the task of updating or changing applications. Mentor has also adapted its Sourcery Codebench and Analyzer toolset to provide a unified development and debug environment for the entire solution platform.

Power reduction is also inherent in multicore architectures. Rather than speeding up the clock to increase performance, the multiple cores spread the work over parallel units. Thus consolidation inherently increases performance with minimal effect on power consumption. But beyond that, Mentor has implemented fine-grained power control in its Nucleus RTOS, which, according to Director of Product Management Warren Kirtsu, “provides a power management framework that allows you to manage not just the power states of the processor, but also all of the devices on the SoC.”

With Nucleus power management, by knowing the dependencies among various on-chip peripherals, you can select certain devices to turn off while leaving selected ones on before putting the processor into sleep mode. This provides a finer-grained control of power consumption than simply waiting until there is no more activity among devices before going into sleep mode.

Mentor’s framework also has multiple strategies available for implementing safety and security—which are different issues from security. The multicore platform makes it possible to separate applications dedicated to safety and security from the other control applications. This can be done by separating applications from each other and the operating system or by partitioning operating environments, memory and devices through the use of a hypervisor. Mentor also offers the Nucleus RTOS with an optional IEC 61508 safety certification called Nucleus SafetyCert. In some cases, a safety controller that is separate from the automation controller running the industrial processes could be used. This would involve a separate processor and safety applications monitoring, for example, sensors for pressure and/or temperature and independently controlling a relief valve or a shutoff switch.

When it comes to security, Mentor has partnered with Icon Labs and its Internet of Secure Things Initiative, which includes its Floodgate family for developing secure, connected devices.  The platform is designed to ensure that security is intrinsic to the architecture of the device itself and incorporates security management and visibility, device hardening, data protection and secure communications.    These capabilities provide the foundation for the Industrial Internet of Secure Things. Natively securing the devices simplifies protection, audit, and compliance independent of the secure perimeter, reducing the need for expensive and complicated security appliances.

In addition to the network security provided by Icon Labs’ Floodgate Security Gateway, security can be scaled down to devices for such things as catching penetration attempts that the device itself would be incapable of detecting. According to Icon Labs’ CEO Alan Grau, “Including security in these devices is a critical design task.  Security features must be considered early in the design process to ensure the device is protected from the advanced cyber-threats they will be facing now as well as attacks that will be created in the future.  By partnering with Mentor Graphics, we are able to offer a solution in which critical security elements are integrated into the operating system, ensuring security is a foundational component of the device.”

Graphical user interfaces for embedded systems are now almost unanimously considered essential. Mentor’s framework has adopted the Qt graphics software for both its Linux and Nucleus environments. Quietly but surely, Qt has moved into a status of being almost an industry standard. For Linux, it has adopted the industry standard offering. For Nucleus, Qt has been enhanced with memory and performance optimizations and is scalable down to small and extremely low-power devices. It also comes with integrated tooling and instrumentation for debug and optimization making it particularly suited to spanning the range from small devices to the larger Linux environment.

Graphical user interfaces have also evolved thanks to the emergence of tablets and smartphones. Users now tacitly expect almost any UI to behave like their familiar phones. Since Qt spans Linux, Android, iOS, Windows and a number of RTOSs including Nucleus, it is a natural for use in mobile and handheld devices that also communicate with the factory floor.

Mentor’s platform, while comprehensive, is also modular. So developers can select the components they need. It provides developers with integrated and tested capabilities and features that enable equipment manufacturers to focus on strategic competitive differentiation across the spectrum of industrial devices (Figure 2). These include industrial controllers, process automation controllers, PLCs, data acquisition devices, and motor driver controllers, along with motion, vision, and SCADA systems. This enables convergence of the product features and capabilities necessary to increase profitability by minimizing footprint saving floor space and reducing the number of individual units. It also reduces power usage, lowering electricity costs and decreases downtime by assuring greater reliability as well as reducing security vulnerabilities.

Figure 2
The Mentor Embedded multi-platform approach provides a broad portfolio of embedded systems solutions for industrial automation from end nodes and the industrial enterprise to the Cloud. It enables the creation of feature-rich, power-efficient, connected, reliable, safe, and secure systems for the breadth and needs of industrial automation equipment manufacturers.

High Performance Computing Embedded Applications

The advent of what is being called High-Performance Embedded Computing (HPEC)—also explored in a section by that name in this issue of RTC— is bringing the capabilities of high-performance computing into the embedded world, enabling massive number crunching, rich interactive displays and other functions that were previously only possible on high-end desktop machines. One example of how high performance computing has now come to the world of embedded computing is a military system developed by One Stop Systems.

. HPEC Applications utilize similar computing elements as HPC applications but they may require more rugged packaging and additional I/O capabilities. Applications such as defense require high performance embedded computing appliances. In the defense industry, precision is vital. Because of this, defense applications such as geospatial visualization, Synthetic-aperture array radar (SAAR) and many others accumulate vast amounts of data. One Stop Systems has developed HPC appliances that can provide the compute power and storage capacity necessary to process and store this data.

Geospatial visualization (geovisualization) applications, used by the military to create real-time mapping of the terrain, require high compute acceleration to provide necessary data quickly. Traditional static maps are helpful for getting around but on the battlefield, a map that shows real-time data is much more valuable for ground troops (Figure 3). The Blue Devil 2 program is an example of how geospatial visualization would help the military. Cameras in a blimp gather data, computers analyze the data quickly and then send it to troops on the ground.  Today these calculations are performed with specialized software such as Eternix Blaze Terra or GeoWeb3d running on GPU cards, coprocessors, or FPGA cards. The military gathers vast amounts of information from a variety of sources that needs to be manipulated to generate the 2D and 3D mapping required by field operations. GPU cards, with thousands of cores each, offload the number crunching and image processing from the CPUs.

Figure 3
Satellite imaging combined with data from synthetic aperture array radar can produce real-time maps of terrain to help troops adapt to changing conditions.

SAAR is a form of radar that is used to create images of landscapes and other objects. The SAAR antenna is usually mounted on a moving aircraft or spacecraft that flies over the target region and uses the motion of the antenna to provide very detailed spatial resolution. The resolution achieved with SAAR is far more than is possible with traditional beam-scanning radars.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) employs the OSS Accelerator because it can accommodate demanding signal processing applications, such as those with high bandwidth input, high computational requirements, and high bandwidth output. Real-time image and radar processing (such as SAAR) are examples of this type of processing application. The High Density Compute accelerator can hold 16 NVIDIA GPUs, so it enables the high performance signal processing chain to achieve much higher performance than it would get without accelerators.

OSS compute accelerators support from one to sixteen double-wide PCIe cards and can be cabled up to four host computers through PCIe x16 Gen3 connections each operating at 128Gb/s. The all-steel construction chassis house power supplies, fans, and a system monitor that monitors the fans, temperature sensors and power voltages. For embedded applications, One Stop can custom design more rugged chassis to account for conditions found in embedded environments, such as a military Humvee in the desert. Front panel LEDs on the chassis signal minor, major or critical alarms. The compute accelerators are transparent and do not require software except for the drivers required by the PCIe add-in cards. Compute accelerators are the best appliance for applications like geovisualization and SAAR that require a large amount of compute power.

Mentor Graphics
Wilsonville, OR
(503) 685-7000

Icon Labs
Des Moines, IA
(515) 226.3443

One Stop Systems
Escondido, CA
(877) 438-2724