In baseball and in life, to advance a career you need to go through training and practice. When you get to major leagues, you have left behind a great deal of competitors and have develop a set of skills that allow you to be successful. This is similar to knowing when to use developer boards or industrial boards.
Originally, developer boards, like Raspberry PI, Jetson Nano, and Arduino, were created for education and product prototyping. This means that these boards include all main features of a micro-controller or micro-processor in a single board reducing time and money involved while prototyping products. In addition, these boards allow students to easily work on school projects to develop skills and knowledge they will require in their future careers.
However, when it is time for mass production, developer boards can oversize hardware components for the specific application. They can add hidden material costs and complexity to manufacturing. Furthermore, some developer boards are not equipped to withstand industrial harsh conditions.
Below you will find details about the application of developer and industrial boards.
As we said before, these boards were created for educational purposes. They feature good processing capabilities, small footprints, and standard IO options, plus they are cost effective. Engineers are usually comfortable using them because they have applied them in their school projects.
The problem arrives when you are leaving the prototyping phases behind, and your product is reaching mass production. We will discuss more about this in the next section.
There are a couple of applications for developer boards in the industry. The first one is legacy equipment. If you want to connect this equipment to the Internet for monitoring or want to add new automation features, you probably will want to use a cost-effective solution. In this case, you are not developing a new product. You are retrofitting existing equipment in your facilities to leverage the remaining usable life.
The second consists of low volume production runs. If your product is designed for mechanical products, like conveyor belts, in specific locations, you will probably build less than 20 final products. In that case, the cost of designing a custom industrial board is not justifiable when you can add industrial protections and features to a developer board. Within this type of applications, you might also find that if your production runs are going to be less than 500 units at a time, the custom industrial board costs can’t be diluted per unit. In that case, you might still include developer boards with industrial features.
Note that typically developer boards are not able to withstand harsh environments in terms of dust, water, or high temperatures, simply because they were not created for these and lack the required protections. Hold on! There is a solution for that!
Some hardware OEMs are aware of these applications and have developed HAT (Hardware Attached on Top) Cards that will allow easy installation of developer boards within industrial equipment. These cards facilitate IO connections and offer a power supply within a regular industrial range.
For example, Raspberry PI works with 5 Volts and its pins use 3.3 Volts. In an industrial environment, it is possible that the electromagnetic noise compromises communication signals. This also means that the board does not offer enough power to carry signals to sensors or correctly activate actuators. However, if you install HAT cards, you can overcome these issues.
Once your product is ready for the major leagues, it is time to change the developer boards for industrial solutions. As a result, you will work with an experienced OEM to review requirements to make sure you get rid of unnecessary features for your application and that you meet industrial features. In fact, you need to source boards that can work between 12-34 volts (24 Volts ideally) both in the input and output.
You will also adapt footprint and study industrial standards and protections. Finally, you can analyze your whole product offering to see untapped potential to re-design several boards. If you use the same board for several products, you can improve inventory management and reduce costs. This is particularly important with the current market conditions. Read a success story here.
That is the secret, if you control the design and partner alongside a trustworthy OEM, you manage the lifecycle of your product which translates in capital and operating expenses savings. Consequently, you will reduce manufacturing complexity and reduce the amount of inventory to hold on your facilities.
Let’s not forget about user experience. Industrial solutions tailored to your application will perform best. They were designed and created for your specific software and offer 100% compatibility with your system. In short, when you use customized industrial solutions, you are looking for a business partner that helps you navigate certifications and guarantee availability of components for longer periods.
Both developer and industrial boards are necessary and important. They are just used in specific applications. This is where you need to be careful. Just like the minor and major leagues need each other, at some point you will have to work with developer and industrial boards. Just keep in mind your objective and the specific requirements of your application to guarantee that you are leveraging your investment to the fullest.