Design News, February 2013

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and similar form factors have been around for decades, but the increasing need for high-speed and high-density PCB design has triggered engineering teams to look at standard off-the-shelf options more than ever before. Instead of trying to build everything from scratch, why not let someone else take on the risk and expense of designing some of the most complex parts of the system? The rising trend of using computer on modules (COMs) and system on modules (SOMs) is a great example of how the most common hardware needs of an embedded system can be served by commercially available boards yet still be customized through software and I/O electronics for specific embedded tasks. The total market for COMs and SOMs is expected to double in less than five years, making it the fastest growing segment in embedded devices (see figure). These boards often include all the memory and support circuitry surrounding the processor, as well as standard communication interfaces and connectivity for system-level integration. With hundreds of off-the-shelf embedded processing boards and modules to choose from, design teams can decide how much of the overall system to integrate with standard pieces or customize themselves. As standard boards and modules help meet some of the challenges in complex hardware design, the second part of a complete embedded platform is having an integrated software framework to take full advantage of the hardware. Placing a processor and an FPGA on the same board or in the same chip is helpful only if engineers have the right tools and expertise to program them. This is the next major hurdle in the evolution of engineering design tools. There's been a lot of focus on this over the past few years, with hardware and software companies using high-level synthesis (HLS) technologies and offering development environments with code-generation capabilities to help address the issue. Some technology providers have chosen to use C-to-gates tools to make it easier for software engineers to program FPGAs. As software design tools continue evolving to more easily represent hardware architectures, engineering teams can reduce the amount of time and effort they spend on component implementation and low-level design tools, and spend more time on adding the most value through their core application competencies. Working at a system level, they can explore more ways to perfect application-specific algorithms or other types of "secret sauce," and further differentiate the products they're designing while still getting to market faster. Highly integrated hardware and software platforms are particularly important for competitive industries such as energy, medical, and transportation, which feel tremendous pressure to deliver new and innovative ideas to market faster. They can use commercial platforms as another potential factor when deciding how to balance project trade-offs for schedule, risk, and cost. For the last 50 years, Dynapower has been producing high-voltage, high-current power converters for industrial automation, mining, and high-energy physics applications. The company focuses on efficiently addressing complicated power-conversion challenges by using the most advanced digital control technologies available. The design team recently adopted FPGA technology to implement its control and processing algorithms, and was able to achieve 40 times more processing performance per dollar than the traditional DSPs they'd used in the past. Development time went from 72 weeks to just 24 weeks by using a standard off-the-shelf platform with proven hardware and an integrated software tool chain. DN Vineet Aggarwal is the group manager for embedded systems products at National Instruments (NI). Read more about the role of embedded platforms in next-generation designs at For More Information: National Instruments: Quality Transmission Components Belt and Chain Tensioners - available from stock - Improves the operation of belt and chain drives by keeping tension constant. Tel: 516.437.6700 Fax: 516.328.3343 Design News | february 2013 | www.d esign n –51–

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