A Separate Place for “What Changes Most” Puts Risk in its Place: Q&A with American Portwell Technology

Digital signage, automation, healthcare and other applications benefit from a modular architecture’s role in minimizing risk.

Editor’s note: American Portwell Technology, a Premier member of the Intel® Internet of Things (IoT) Solutions Alliance, has close to 10 years experience offering COM Express products. Frank Shen is the vice president of product marketing at American Portwell Technology, and he responded recently to questions from Embedded Intel ® Solutions about the COM Express form factor, the Industrial IoT and the need to accommodate change cost effectively. Edited excerpts follow.

Embedded Intel Solutions: How have you seen the Industrial Internet of Things change thinking?

Frank-Shen_photoFrank Shen, American Portwell Technology, Inc: The IoT has gradually changed the industrial user’s mindset on return on investment, especially for the cases where an industrial business needs services. For example, a smart factory management system could collect data about the robotics used in factory automation and store that information in the cloud. The management system can then analyze the data, compare it against a failure mode database and maintenance history, and send an alert or notice to the service team if any critical part is falling closer into failure condition and needs to be replaced. Or it can indicate when services need to be put in place to prevent conditions that could lead to unplanned interruptions in factory operations.

However, IoT projects are different from traditional embedded computing projects. The key difference is that an IoT project typically would require more collaboration on the part of different players in the ecosystem, particularly demanding expertise in software application and implementation, such as analytics, connectivity, data security, data storage and project management. The market is still in the early stages for Industrial IoT. It’s going to take vision, ideas and effort on the part of both users and suppliers to bring the Industrial IoT to greater maturity over the coming years.

Embedded Intel Solutions: Of course even before the IoT, change and the need to future proof for change have been part of the picture. How does your recently announced COM Express Compact module address this requirement?

Shen: The advantage of the COM Express form factor is how it separates out the CPU—the portion of the system that changes most with the market—onto an upgradeable module and the system-specific I/O onto the carrier board.

Feedback from our customers confirms that this modular architecture (Figure 1) speeds up their time-to-market for custom-made applications because it provides them with the flexibility for functional expansion.

Modular architecture that offers flexibility is integral to, for example, the PCOM-B633VG COM Express module that Portwell introduced earlier this year targeting digital signage, healthcare and retail sectors. And modular architecture is also key to the company’s recently announced PCOM-B636VG COM Express module, based on Intel® Celeron® or Pentium® processor N3000 series (codenamed Braswell), put into action in a network appliance platform. When a network appliance has been designed with an Intel® Atom™ processor-based COM Express module, the next generation of that appliance can easily upgrade to this latest COM Express module from Portwell, without having to change its carrier board design. What’s gained are more processor resources and performance for software features, while the COM Express module consumes the same or even less power than it did before.

Figure 1: COM Express modular architecture enables upgradability, flexibility, expandability and faster time to market.

Figure 1: COM Express modular architecture enables upgradability, flexibility, expandability and faster time to market.

Some of the ways in which we anticipate the module will be used are, for example, industrial automation, where the module’s watchdog timer can reset the system and continue the operation if the system hangs. For medical life science analysis, the enhanced graphics performance comes into play, and the Intel Celeron and Intel Pentium processor N3000 series upon which our COM Express Compact module is based also meets the low power requirements of thin client systems.

Choosing the COM Express form factor can help minimize design risks. This approach can also keep development time and costs in line during the initial phase of development. Faster time-to-market, a simplified future upgrade path, scalability and an increased application lifecycle are the results.

Embedded Intel Solutions: Thank you, any closing thoughts?

Shen: Just to emphasize that when you have the flexibility to upgrade your system without having to change existing carrier boards and operating systems, you can take advantage of, for example, USB 3.0, one of the enhanced features supported by the Braswell architecture over the previous generation entry-level CPUs, which is 10 times faster than USB 2.0, putting you in position to benefit from faster response or higher efficiency in control or communication. And last but not least, Portwell has accumulated extensive embedded computing and engineering experience in providing customized COM Express solutions and module and carrier board design and manufacturing.

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