By Dr. Harald Schmidts, Global Product Manager for SMARC & Qseven form factors at ADLINK
Isolated systems symbolize the past. A network of sophisticated, smaller form factor devices with power-saving thermal characteristics signals the future. When this network makes Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) applications possible, it does so by achieving both low power consumption and healthy computing performance from control devices, such as IIoT gateways.
Designed to play an essential role in a network that enables intelligent industrial applications is the Smart Mobility ARChitecture (SMARC™) computer-on-module form factor. Supported by a number of embedded computing module vendors and held by the vendor-independent Standardization Group for Embedded Technologies (SGeT), SMARC provides an open-standard definition for both ARM-based and x86-based SoC embedded computing solutions, optimized for low power, cost efficiency and high performance.
SMARC: A Unifying Architecture for IIoT Devices
As SoCs do not need the support chips of a PC platform and draw less power, the amount of board space that needs to be reserved for power converters and power supply lines is greatly reduced. This allows the use of a smaller form factor, facilitating use of SMARC-based computer-on-modules (COMs) in low-power portable equipment. SMARC CPU modules are expected to have an actual power intake between 2 W to 6 W, allowing for passive cooling and further reducing subsequent design effort and overall cost. The standard allows for up to 9W continuous power draw for more demanding scenarios.
Based on the proven connector as it is employed by Mobile PCI Express Module (MXM) video modules, SMARC defines two sizes of module: a full-size that measures 82 mm x 80 mm, and a short module for more compact systems that measures 82 mm x 50 mm. The edge connector supports 314 electrical contacts. For systems that are used in harsh environments, shock- and vibration-proof versions of the connector are readily available. The temperature range of the connector extends from −55°C to +85°C.
The SMARC MXM connector guarantees a high degree of signal integrity, required by high-frequency serial interfaces. For example, on 2.5 GHz signals as employed by PCI Express Gen2, the insertion loss of the connector is just 0.5 dB. In comparison, the insertion loss encountered on the connection scheme used by previous generation MXM connectors is significantly higher at 3 dB. SMARC also supports a wide input voltage range, reducing the need to use additional DC/DC converters on the core module and overall power dissipation. A SMARC module can support input voltages from 3 V to 5.25 V. Originally designed to support PC-class hardware, the many other formats are restricted to a nominal 5 V input.
The SMARC module is designed to support a combined height above the carrier of less than 7 mm. The PC heritage of most computer-on-modules has led to the assumption that all COM boards will be used with a heatspreader, which adds to the overall height of the package. The typical combined height of the processor board and heatspreader alone is greater than the height of a package that includes both the SMARC COM and carrier board. Many SoCs do not require a dedicated heatspreader because of their lower overall power consumption. The SMARC format allows for this, making it more suitable for use in systems where space is at a premium.
Case Study: SMARC-based IoT Gateway Powers Machine Failure Prediction Application
Industrial machinery is subject to nearly constant shock and vibration, which generates fatigue and wear on materials and components. Forecasting potential problems in order to implement preventive measures and maintenance or equipment replacement is critical to sustain performance and avoid costly downtime and damage.
The advent of cloud-based IIoT solutions has vastly improved the field of machine failure prediction, with real-time data transmission, remote monitoring and control, and enhanced accuracy, efficiency and economy. IIoT solutions require a vertical integration of networked field devices such as sensors and data loggers, IoT gateways (controllers) and cloud servers. The IoT gateways collect data from the field, implement primary data analysis (“fog computing”) and push the analyzed data to a cloud server for more advanced analytics. At each point, network connectivity is critical.
IIoT gateways powered by x86-based SMARC boards include characteristics that make reliable connectivity and secure data transfer possible. These gateways can offer a fanless, compact footprint that delivers both low power and high performance. Combined with cloud services, SMARC-based IoT gateways can push data to the cloud, deliver remote monitoring and control capabilities, and offer rich libraries and tools allowing OEM customers to easily configure and design intuitive GUIs viewable on any browser-based device for 24/7 data access.
Industry Impact of Low Power Improvements
In this new era of connected computing technology, intelligent systems add global value as standalone systems evolve from their foundation into connected networks that communicate with each other and the cloud. OEMs and developers can anticipate a convergence of increasingly connected devices, answering demand for real-time data gathering and sharing, nonstop communication, new services, enhanced productivity and more. Systems will solve business problems by being smart and connected, which is becoming a priority, adding business value such as cloud economics for compute and data operations.
As IIoT strategies unfold—for example in healthcare, smart metering, digital signage/POS and retail banking, factory floor systems and connected buildings—the business case for intelligent services increases. Minimal power consumption is a primary driver in this renaissance. Low-power designs powered by SMARC-based building blocks support mobile, portable or embedded devices. And they capitalize on thermal characteristics to manage fully enclosed, passively cooled designs as the key to enabling connectivity anywhere. Thanks to its focused support for low-power architecture and backing from multiple vendors, SMARC is the key form factor for a new generation of embedded computing applications.