June 26, 2020 | Denise Rael
Moving intelligence to the edge can lead to systems with better real-time performance, better power efficiency and enhanced security. But more intelligence requires more code,...
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is all about making manufacturing, asset management and other areas of industry more efficient by optimising operations and maintaining equipment proactively.
At the heart of the IIoT are large numbers of sensors, detecting the state of a machine or asset, its outputs, and its environs. Coupled to these you need other components, such as processors, memory, and connectivity to actuators, external processing systems and the like.
A lot of microcontrollers now combine many of these functions on a single chip, but most IIoT kit still requires further components to fulfil its purpose. Think specialist inputs, or outputs to displays, motors, switches or actuators, or the signal-conditioning circuits required to ease compatibility with external components.
Even boards that seem relatively simple can contain tens or even hundreds of components. Specifying, sourcing, purchasing, integrating and testing all of these is technically challenging and time-consuming.
There are other drawbacks, too: even when you pick the most suitable off-the-shelf component for your design, there will almost inevitably be technical compromises around capability, size, weight, power consumption or other characteristics. In other words, when you use off-the-shelf components on a printed circuit board, you can’t always deliver exactly the functionality you want within your budgets (financial or power), or within the physical footprint, you have to work with.
Then there’s the risk of obsolescence: many manufacturers of off-the-shelf components update their designs frequently, often centred around relatively short consumer electronics lifecycles. You, as the manufacturer of IIoT devices that are expected to be produced for many years, won’t want the risk of a component becoming obsolete and having to go through every part of the aforementioned technical integration and testing process again – particularly when you have so many components to think about.
Finally, there’s the real possibility that a competitor could reverse-engineer your board to create something similar (or better).
With all of this in mind, it’s not surprising that IIoT device manufacturers are looking for technically better ways to produce their kit. And this is where the custom integrated circuit is increasingly popular: a totally bespoke chip that incorporates much or even all the functionality you need in a single unit.
By creating a fully custom circuit design for your product, you can ensure you’re getting exactly the technical functionality you need, in a package that’s usually smaller, lighter, cheaper and more efficient than one made up of numerous off-the-shelf components.
Differentiation becomes easier, and your intellectual property is simpler to protect because a single chip is much harder to reverse-engineer than a board.
The all-in-one approach also makes the process of designing, integrating and testing your end product cheaper and faster, because you have far fewer components to deal with. And by working with a partner specializing in custom integrated circuits, you can enjoy the peace of mind of knowing you’ll be able to produce the same devices for years to come, eliminating the risk of component obsolescence.