Communication strategies reshape embedded technology

Although embedded devices destined for industrial applications have a wide range of design requirements due to the diverse environments in which they are deployed, almost all systems need some form of wired or communications capabilities. Stand-alone industrial embedded devices are relatively rare, as users now demand remote access for data collection, management, maintenance, troubleshooting, software updates, and system security. For example, businesses need to monitor and collect real-time operational or throughput statistics from individual devices to evaluate the performance of manufacturing systems and methods.

Complex embedded systems can automatically run maintenance and diagnostic routines to evaluate reductions in performance and remotely schedule hardware updates. Many remote systems also require some type of security or surveillance features to detect and possibly prevent physical or virtual attacks. The challenge for embedded designers is to find the right communications technology that delivers reliable, high-performance connectivity in an industrial environment with possible noise, extended temperatures, shock/vibration, and interference.

In this issue of , we asked contributors to take a look at the principal issues and trends affecting contemporary embedded design for industrial applications and found that connectivity was a major topic in most of the articles and interviews. For example, in the Computing section, Mike Holt of Semitech Semiconductor illustrates techniques to optimize for Machine-to-Machine () applications such as automatic meter reading or control and management of streetlights, vending machines, or solar panels. In the same section, Lantronix VP of engineering Daryl Miller offers suggestions for making smart grids smarter by integrating M2M communications features into legacy equipment to enable remote access, control, and troubleshooting capabilities. Andreas Johannsen of Vincotech describes another important design requirement for industrial equipment, especially systems that operate 24 hours a day: power efficiency. Andreas shows how electronic commutated motor drives contained in an integrated power module can be up to 90 percent more efficient than conventional motor drives in industrial applications.

In the Networking/Sensing section, connectivity is a central theme in discussions on applications ranging from building automation to smart parking technology. In a Q&A session, HomePlug Powerline Alliance President Rob Ranck explains the current state of broadband networking over existing AC wiring within the home and outlines new standards that support applications, charging stations, and HD streaming for movies or gaming. In a technical article targeting Building Automation Systems (BAS), Louis-Nicolas Hamer, VP at SCL Elements, describes the industry’s slow progress due to poor interoperability among multiple automation protocols and highlights a new all-in-one embedded gateway controller that can solve this BAS divergence. Citing unprecedented grown in the M2M industry, Mike Ueland, VP and general manager at Telit Wireless Solutions North America, shows how companies are deploying remote monitoring to increase efficiency and cut costs in managing industrial assets and systems. And finally, in a completely different connectivity application, Alicia Asín of Libelium offers a unique solution for automobile parking management that could potentially eliminate billions of hours of lost productivity along with billions of gallons of wasted fuel due to motorists cruising around searching for parking spaces.

This issue also includes our annual Resource Guide with a large number of embedded products divided into dozens of categories to simplify your next industrial design project. You’ll find a wide selection of off-the-shelf industrial systems, small form factor modules, power sources, panel computers, enclosures, and specialized embedded components to solve your unique requirements. You’ll also find embedded support software including operating systems plus and motion control systems. Our aim is to provide a reference source of available products that match your future design projects. If you have suggestions or products for the next Resource Guide, please let us know.

The articles and interviews in this issue include an extensive look at the embedded industry from the industrial viewpoint and should serve as a valuable technical reference for your next design project. In addition to the topic of connectivity, you can gain a wide-ranging perspective on multiple industrial design issues from diverse vertical market areas. Our plan is to continually search the embedded community to deliver guidelines and techniques to keep you on the leading edge and ahead of your competition. Please give us your ideas on print technical articles and online updates that we can provide to support your design efforts.