Industrial Strength IoT

The immediacy of edge and fog computing brings connected devices closer to the data sources. Capitalizing on this proximity, WinSystems has incorporated the Intel Atom E3900 series in its latest series of industrial boards for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications.

One of the problems encountered with the ever-increasing Internet of Things (IoT) is that more data and processing needs are being pushed to data centers. The increased traffic places demands on bandwidth. It is also creating quality issues. For example, data sent to a server for processing can suffer loss due to video compression and travel time. Processing data at the device, or the edge, is an advantage for many applications, from industrial to retail projects.

In October 2016, Intel introduced the latest Intel® Atom™ processor, the Atom E3900 series. It is designed specifically to support edge and fog computing. Edge computing is where processing and storage are the functions of the connected device, and fog computing is where processing and storage functions are performed by connected devices between the data source and the Cloud.

Among its feature set is the ability to handle more sensors and tasks across a wide temperature range (-40 to +85°C) for industrial and other applications. It also increases computing power compared with the earlier, generation 3 processors by a factor of 1.7, to increase bandwidth and memory speeds.

Figure 1: Machine vision benefits from reduced latency from edge computing.

Figure 1: Machine vision benefits from reduced latency from edge computing.

The Intel Time Coordinated Computing (TCC) technology synchronizes the peripherals and networks of connected devices for determinism. By enabling one microsecond timing accuracy across a network, it also addresses latency issues in industrial applications, such as a robotics or control. Within the industrial sector, the processor also lends itself to predictive maintenance and remote management. Its graphics engine enhances 3D graphics and video capabilities for visual data identification and analysis as well as manufacturing inspection.

Formerly known as the Apollo Lake processor platform, the Intel Atom E3900 is built into a compact Flip Chip Ball Grid Array (FCBGA) and is based on the company’s latest 14nm silicon technology. An automotive-qualified version, the Intel Atom A3900, will address in-vehicle applications, such as dashboard and vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

Industrial PC/104 Form Factor

One of the first companies to incorporate the Intel Atom E3900 series is WinSystems. It has produced the PX1-C415 single board computers (SBCs), believed to be the first PCIe/104 OneBank single board computers based on the Intel Atom E3900 processor. In addition to the PCIe/104 OneBank expansion to support rugged applications, the SBCs can withstand temperatures in the range of -40 to +85°C and have dual Ethernet ports, dual video interfaces, four serial powers, 24 bi-directional general purpose input output (GPIO) lines and USB Type-C and M2 connectors. The SBCs support Windows 10 and Linux OS.

Figure 2: The PX1-C415 SBC maintains a compact form factor.

Figure 2: The PX1-C415 SBC maintains a compact form factor.

WinSystems designed the PX1-C415 to take advantage of the E3900’s industrial temperature and ECC RAM support, says George Hilliard, Technical Sales Director, WinSystems. The design allows for mounting to an external heatsink when required and supports -40 to +85°C fanless operation. “Leveraging the USB 3.0 and DisplayPort performance, along with eMMC SSD and M.2 expansion, delivers a low-power, single board computer solution designed for the rugged, industrial environments our clients require,” he adds.

Operating temperature is critical to the industrial environment, together with security. “The key features we considered when selecting the Intel E3900 series were the operating temperature range, ECC support, and improved Intel Security Engine,” says Hilliard. “As security concerns continue for the plethora of IIoT applications, providing platforms with hardware encryption engines will become increasingly important. The low-power E3900 SoCs balance performance and power efficiency to support the latest operating systems such as Windows IoT Enterprise, Linux, and RTOS support.”

Space to Differentiate

The PX1-C415’s expansion options allow opportunities to expand and meet specific project requirements. In addition to the GPIO, the SBC provides Intel I210-IT Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, eight USB 2.0 channels, a SuperSpeed USB 3.0 channel, four serial COM channels, stereo audio and a watchdog timer.

Figure 3: Expansion and connectivity options for the PX1-C415 include OneBank, USB 3.0 and M.2.

Figure 3: Expansion and connectivity options for the PX1-C415 include OneBank, USB 3.0 and M.2.

Choice is important as IIoT requirements vary greatly, points out Hilliard. “Access to an ecosystem of data acquisition modules through USB 3.0, OneBank, and M.2 allows the PX1-C415 to be used in numerous applications,” he adds.

Space is constrained in many industrial settings, so the size of embedded computing is an important feature. The PX1-C415 uses the PC/104 footprint with ever-increasing density, asserts Hilliard, to achieve dimensions of 4.55 x 4.28 inches (115.6 x 108.6mm). The company uses technologies in application processors, with expansion form factor to provide the required functionality that the IIoT demands, notes Hilliard. “Five years ago, a stack of four or five modules would be required for the same functionality now deployed on the PX1-C415 alone. Low profile expansion with OneBank and M.2 provide even more functionality in a very small overall package,” he says.

Pre-installed OS and the ecosystem of expansion options and accessories free the engineer to focus efforts on the data acquisition and application software for the SBC. It is this which will differentiate the final embedded system solution, says Hilliard. “By providing expansion options such as PCIe/104 OneBank, M.2, and USB 3.0 Type C, the designer can maintain flexibility to add proprietary designs and be comfortable with future expansion options. It is a formula that has been proven successful for years and continues to be an advantage for small to mid-level production applications with minimal investment. Once an application has proven marketing viability, we often work with our clients to migrate to customized solutions utilizing the same or similar IP blocks to reduce costs and minimize any unused features.”

Development samples of the PX1-C415 have been shipped and pre-production units will be available in Q1 2017. Full production is scheduled for early Q2, 2017.

hayes_caroline_115 Caroline Hayes has been a journalist covering the electronics sector for more than 20 years. She has worked on several European titles, reporting on a variety of industries, including communications, broadcast and automotive.

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