Embedded Devices - Development from Scratch?

Thursday, April 16, 2015
Quad core

Quad core In my previous blog, I asserted that product development from scratch or chip-based development is not effective in alleviating the challenges faced by OEMs due to low sales volume and long product life of embedded devices. In this post, I will try to defend my assertion.

Usually, OEMs prefer to develop the embedded platform from scratch as it offers them total control over the project and they can customize the platform based on their requirements. The hardware components such as SoC, memory, power supplies, multimedia & connectivity interfaces, peripherals, display, etc. are integrated over a printed circuit board (PCB). The software stack including device drivers, board support packages, user-interface, etc. are developed either in-house or some parts are outsourced by the OEMs.

As I have mentioned earlier, rapid technological advances ensures that embedded products becomes outdated sooner than expected. With shrinking process nodes deployed in manufacturing silicon components, the silicon components (SoC, Memory) gain economic benefits, power efficiency, and smaller footprint. Future market expectations in terms of higher performance and lower power consumption, can only be served by migrating to latest technologies. However, in a product development from scratch, the silicon components are tightly associated with the surrounding I/Os on a single PCB, thus it is not possible to upgrade the platform without a hardware redesign. Such a redesign involves development risk, cost and time.

It is obvious that embedded product development from scratch involves high NRE cost and fixed cost as OEMs get involved in variety of activities and overheads. Further, product development time increases, leading to inflated cost and increased time-to-market. The net high input cost means long time to hit the break-even sales volume. So, OEMs may need to reuse an embedded platform without any redesign over a long period of time. Low sales volume also eliminates the possibility of leveraging economies of scale in silicon components procurement, thus stretching the input cost further. Chip-based development also adds significant risk to the project. The probability of things going wrong is high as the entire development happens from scratch. This may stretch the input cost and time-to-market further.

In my view, off-the-shelf or ready-to-use embedded platforms shall definitely help OEMs in limiting the development cost, time and risk. With an application-ready platform, OEMs can focus more on adding value to the application part that enhances end-user experience and creates competitive advantage.

Single Board Computers (SBC) are widely used in the embedded market to develop variety of end-products. These are off-the-shelf platforms that can be used to develop any embedded device. Although they can cut down development cost and time significantly, SBCs have many constraints. I will explore this further in my next post and also explain how Toradex tries to improve this situation for embedded developers.

Author: Prakash Mohapatra, Product Manager, Toradex
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