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Tech Papers

Box Systems Drive Advancements in Vision Control Applications

by Ron Mazza, CEO - EFCO

Smart applications in factories, cities, and transportation often rely on high performance box systems to advance their roles in a connected world. As these systems become continually smaller, even while proving rugged, thermally viable, and high performance enough to drive mission-critical applications, they are also getting smarter. Tapping into Computer-on-Modules (COMs) to enable ready upgrades, long-term scalability, and easy customization, these adaptable systems are capitalizing on flexible I/O to integrate features such as Power over Ethernet (PoE). The ability to directly power visual systems is opening even more opportunity for how and where these proven systems can add value and drive markets.

Customization continues to be essential to this effort and is in its strongest ever market position with well-established collaboration between manufacturers of COMs and carrier boards. Designers in machine vision, mission critical surveillance, factory automation and more are capitalizing on a strong COM Express ecosystem, 7th Generation Intel® processors, and I/O flexibility to drive smart vision control applications deeper into connected markets.

Box System Ideals
Compute in a box is a small form factor design approach that streamlines development and advances products quickly. COMs further enable box systems to be small, smart, and suitable to a wide range of applications. The two-board solution is crafted for easy customization, separating primary computing functions from customized I/O. A CPU module handles the standard core functions of computing and is then mounted on a carrier board containing speci?c functions and sized for the customer’s end-use application. Some view the carrier board as a custom I/O card for the overall solution.

Modules can be swapped for higher performing options with no impact on customization. This flexibility ensures uniquely simple upgradability over system lifetime, reducing development timelines and improving the total cost of ownership. To help capture market leadership, OEMs can also simultaneously release entire product lines, offering good/better/best performance by choosing various processors to perform with the same carrier board. This flexibility and ability to address the market can be illustrated by the EFCO SmartMOD box system. SmartMOD integrates congatec’s conga-TC175 as its core module, a COM Express Type 6 Compact module. The conga-T175 incorporates an Intel® 7th Generation Core™ SoC processor for diverse industrial applications. Price to performance is protected, as the system can be adapted with Intel® 7th Generation Core™ i3, i5, or i7 options without impact on the customization contained within the design’s carrier board.

Box system manufacturers further their role in accelerating time-to-market by adding thermal intelligence into the design process. Ideally, their resources include:

  • Deep thermal expertise across a range of embedded markets
  • Understanding of SOM/COM thermal applications and requirements
  • Access to off-the-shelf products and models for most COM form factors and processors
  • Next-gen software tools for fast simulation and flexible thermal customization.

For example, fanless architectures are essential in compact box systems, part of advanced thermal design that optimizes heat dissipation in challenging physical environments. With the ultra-low voltage (ULV) Intel 7th Generation processor family, these optimized systems deliver a thermal design power (TDP) of 15W. 

Gaining a Deployment Advantage with Power over Ethernet
All these factors combine to ensure box systems meet a spectrum of high computing-performance applications such as Industrial control systems, surveillance systems, machine vision control systems, auto optical inspection equipment, and test and measurement equipment. For vision control applications in particular, such as machine vision or security/surveillance, their flexible I/O enables developers to access connectivity such as Power over Ethernet. IP cameras can be powered directly from the system, driving real change in where and how these systems can be deployed.

Power over Ethernet (PoE) enables vision solutions without additional cabling for the camera itself. A single CAT5 or CAT6 network cable delivers both power and network connections. Solutions are more stable, always connected, and powered directly by the box system. Two options, standard PoE and PoE+, handle different power differently. Found on most IP cameras, standard PoE uses the IEEE 802.3af (or 802.3at Type 1) protocol, which allows up to 15 Watts of electricity to the powered device (PD). PoE+ is based on the IEEE 802.3at Type 2 protocol, which allows greater wattage to the PD. EFCO’s SmartMOD, for example, taps into PoE+ for up to 25.5 Watts per channel, enabling more powerful cameras for a greater variety of applications, including outdoor surveillance.

PoE in Action
In the quest to reduce development cost of vision applications, PoE capabilities are breaking new ground. Where cost previously included expensive electrical work or construction to retrofit power in places where surveillance has become critical, today a single cable allows creativity and freedom in placing cameras. Next-gen vision applications are no longer limited to new facilities that can be outfitted with electrical capabilities at early stages of construction. Retrofitting critical infrastructure spaces—for example the stadiums, airports, and train depots that have demonstrated the need for greater public safety—is faster, cost effective, and unencumbered by electrical demands. PoE enables service as well as safety, for example crowd control is improved with real-time management of wait times and traffic.

Solving Vast Urban Challenges
Smart cities represent improvements in lifestyle, safety, and business, tapping into citywide improvements to create a better quality of life. Analyst firm ABI Research notes the increasing demand for disruptive smart city technologies, citing robotics, smart road infrastructure, citizen engagement, smart waste management, e-governance, environment monitoring, smart parking, first responders, Wi-Fi Kiosks, and electric mobility as key areas poised for impact.  Compounding these needs with fast urbanization, OEMs’ ability to address obsolete infrastructures is becoming critical. For example, the more automated today’s modern city becomes, the more visual are its applications. Surveillance and remote process monitoring are fundamental to ensuring non-stop performance in smart city applications. PoE in small form factor systems, particularly systems with a long-term upgrade path, will enable opportunity and a competitive role for OEMs driving digital transformation.

Making Intelligent Transportation Applications More Accessible
Rugged and compact box systems featuring PoE allow applications outdoors, for example eliminating the cost and deployment challenges of wiring electrical resources to roadside cabinets. Cabling is minimized, no small feat in the mission-critical settings that ensure safety of passengers, cargo, and facilities—and proximity to the compute source is eliminated as a deployment concern. As transportation security requirements continue to increase, OEMs will take the lead with PoE-driven vision systems, deployable where no system could go before.  

Creating Factories of the Future with Remote Vision Systems
Machine vision plays a role not only on the production line, but in providing overall visibility into operations and helping uncover opportunities to further improve the shop floor. Activities can be monitored in real-time, for example through video analysis that allows early detection of quality issues or dangers to employees. Even the tiniest anomalies can be detected and prevented from causing harm or failed production. With more flexible, accessible, and mission-critical vision systems, OEMs can anticipate driving change in the manufacturing business itself, not just production.

Capitalizing on a Smart COMs Ecosystem
As flexible I/O capabilities such as Power over Ethernet increase deployment opportunities and drive new smart applications, COMs-based designs are not only on the rise, but also leading the embedded industry into new ground worldwide. Given the role COMs-based systems play in global markets such as smart factories, cities, and transportation, collaboration offers crucial value.

The COM Express ecosystem benefits from strategic relationships in the design and engineering community. For example, EFCO chose congatec as its key supplier for COM Express due to the firm’s extensive history of leadership in the COM space. Leveraging congatec’s engineering and support teams via shared schematics, insight on customization, thermal performance, I/O, and more enabled EFCO to develop a class-leading modular box solution viable in a number of vertical markets. With the potential for customization across tens of thousands of products—and leadership in smart, compact designs—design partnerships like this are considered strategic rather than competitive. Designers in all markets benefit by this unique approach, and it is an asset that furthers this proven platform globally. 


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