Add Real-time Networks to the Smallest PC-based Devices

Compute platforms are achieving incredible power in very small form factors. I’ve been contemplating where we could go with industrial applications built on Raspberry Pi. Then I saw this note from Hilscher. This is the world where that company plays. Here is a complete industrial communications application on the new M.2 format for PCI Express that adds real-time communications to PC-based systems.

In just a few minutes, you can connect PC-based devices, such IPCs, HMIs and robotics, to Real-Time Ethernet and Fieldbus networks. The comprehensive package has all necessary hardware and software components, including protocol stacks, device drivers and network connectors. The M.2 card can be simply installed in new and existing devices to connect with industrial automation networks on the fly.

PCI Express M.2, briefly named M.2, is smaller than the Mini PCI Express format and was designed for very thin computing platforms like notebooks and tablets. Since its introduction, automation manufacturers of PC-based systems, such as Industrial PCs, vision systems, robotics, and human machine interfaces (HMIs), have integrated M.2 sockets into their devices for one simple reason. The tiny M.2 format allows many add-in functions to be included into their systems in very tight spaces. Now, with this Hilscher offering, M.2 cards can provide real-time automation network connectivity.

M.2 formats come in various widths, lengths, and socket keys. For this first M.2 card release, Hilscher is using the A+E key socket arrangement, as that is the PCI Express specification’s generic form factor for connectivity add-ins, such as WiFi and Bluetooth. The M.2 2230 Key A+E card, with Hilscher product name CIFX M223090AE, is part of Hilscher’s cifX family of PC Cards. cifX PC Cards are intended for easy integration of a network interface and fast time-to-market of the manufacturers’ products and features.

At the heart of the M.2 2230 card is Hilscher’s netX 90 multiprotocol communication chip. M.2 card users can choose among loadable firmware for PROFINET IO-Device, EtherNet/IP Adapter, EtherCAT Slave and OpenModbus/TCP. Available in Q4 2020 is firmware for CC-Link IE Field Basic and Ethernet POWERLINK Slave. The appropriate network connector is included with delivery. There are adapters available from third-party vendors for other key formats, if required by the application. Additional firmware options, more card and key formats, and OPC UA and MQTT functionality will be released in the future.

Other benefits of the netX 90 ASIC include its small size, low power draw, reduced heat waste and extended temperature range. These features make CIFX M223090AE the smallest multiprotocol card in the market, at 22 mm X 30 mm, and allow it to operate in conditions from -20 deg C to +70 deg C. With its low power consumption, the M.2 2230 is ideal for energy saving applications.

Choosing the Hilscher M.2 card allows users to future-proof their designs. Hilscher continuously provides new firmware for Real-Time Ethernet, traditional Fieldbus and IIoT protocols. Besides a wide range of industrial protocols, Hilscher also provides device drivers for all major operating systems used in the industrial environment, including Windows, Linux, INtime, RTX, and QNX, as well as a C Toolkit for custom device drivers.

Open Edge Software Platform for ‘Time-Critical’ IoT Systems

In brief: Edge XRT Provides Low Latency, Predictable Real-time Processing Capabilities, Suitable for High Performance IoT Edge Applications.

There are many incumbents with cash-cow platforms who are becoming ever more vulnerable. Whenever a market has experienced consolidation and incumbent products have become cash cows, then the market is ripe for disruption from a totally different direction.

For the sake of innovation and advancement of the state-of-the-art, I hope that today’s younger engineers and those coming into the field in the next few years are not shy about exploring open source and standards and new ways of approaching problems. I’m not predicting that this new product from IOTech will solve all the world’s problems, but this is a very interesting step into the future.

The news: IOTech announced general availability of Edge XRT, a software platform for time-critical and resource-constrained applications at the IoT Edge. It is integrated into IOTech’s implementation of the open source EdgeX Foundry.

Edge XRT greatly simplifies the development of time-critical IoT systems at the Edge and enables application portability, improved supportability and faster time-to-market for new IoT edge applications. XRT runs on commodity hardware, independent of silicon provider and operating system and has complete deployment flexibility, it can be deployed as a native application, containerized and/or into a virtualized environment.

Edge XRT is targeted at IoT applications with a need one or all of the following characteristics – small memory footprint (as low as 100KB); ultra-low latency (from < 100 microseconds); predictable real-time data processing. Written entirely in C, Edge XRT is also extremely portable and can support legacy “brownfield” systems based older hardware, operating systems and development environments.

Edge XRT is designed for high performance edge computing use cases such as industrial control and real-time signal processing applications across different vertical markets including factory automation, oil and gas, utilities, smart energy and renewables. It also enables integration between the real-time edge control systems and higher-level SCADA applications.

With its small memory footprint and efficient use of computing resources, Edge XRT also makes it suitable for microcontroller based IoT applications including instrumentation and equipment monitoring, automobile engine management systems, medical devices, home automation and consumer electronics.

Edge XRT can be deployed independently or as a Real-Time extension to any general purpose Edge Platform. For example, Edge XRT has been fully integrated with IOTech’s Edge Xpert, an industrial grade implementation of EdgeX Foundry the market leading open source edge platform.

The product suite positions the company to support the full spectrum of secure software and hard real-time IoT edge computing needs.

“The availability Edge XRT is the exciting result of over two years of intense development and close collaboration with a number of key partners”, said Keith Steele, CEO of IOTech. “For our customers looking to deploy the next generation of industrial system at the Edge, Edge XRT provides an intelligent and feature-rich IoT platform which can support the most demanding performance requirements while significantly reducing time-to-market for their projects.”

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