Many of today’s IoT and embedded products demand more compute alongside advanced features. Customized, extensible, and scalable IoT platforms are now the norm in areas like industrial systems, edge computing, smart infrastructure, automotive, and much more. As more companies balance the need for more capabilities with pressures to accelerate time to market, they may look to an external partner to help expedite design and development.
Single board computers are an excellent option for an embedded platform with high compute, but they can be more difficult to design and develop than simpler microcontroller or FPGA boards. Companies that want to implement extensible embedded systems and IoT platforms often find they need to engage with multiple vendors in order to successfully get through the entire design and development process. Instead of engaging with multiple vendors, an experienced electronics manufacturing partner can help streamline the entire hardware and software development process for single board computers.
The Single Board Computer Development Process
Successful single board computer development is multidisciplinary, requiring expertise in multiple areas of hardware design and application development. The required expertise includes component selection, custom hardware design, driver development, and application/OS development. In addition, designs that may be aggressive in terms of form factor require a thorough design review, EMI/EMC testing, and functional testing before entering full-scale production.
The single board computer development process broadly proceeds through three stages:
Important functional and physical requirements need to be defined early as these may limit the hardware that can be used in a single board computer. Functional requirements also relate to application development by dictating some minimum hardware performance requirements. Important points like user interface, connectivity, required peripherals, and logical functionality are finalized during this stage of the development process.
Sourcing and Application Development
The product requirements will determine which low-level drivers need to be developed, which OS is the best choice to satisfy functional requirements, and the required user interface. These elements and much more can be developed ahead of hardware design and manufacturing, which helps decrease overall project time and time to market. Once application development is completed, test cases can be developed in anticipation of prototyping. In addition, the important components needed for the design can be procured during this portion of development.
Board Design and Prototyping
This stage of single board computer development focuses on creation of schematics and the PCB layout. Once the layout is complete, manufacturing data can be prepared and a prototype board can be produced. Once an initial prototype is produced, the new application and physical design can be comprehensively tested against the initial functional requirements. The design team’s responsibility is to identify and eliminate any defects in the new PCB, as well as debug any problems in the application.
PCI’s Single Board Computer Development Capabilities
PCI is best known as an innovative Tier 2 EMS company that also provides value-added design and engineering services for its customers. All design, development, and engineering services offered by PCI are available from an in-house team of experts. As a company that specializes in single board computer development, PCI implements a comprehensive process to help customers quickly develop new computing platforms and scale to high volume production:
- Chipset selection - PCI focuses on NXP i.MX6, NXP i.MX8, and MediaTek platforms for single board computer designs. These chipsets support features like DDR3/DDR4 memory, multiple high speed data interfaces (MIPI, LVDS, USB 2.0/3.1), networking over Gigabit Ethernet or WiFi/BLE, LTE 4G or M1, and GPS navigation.
- Driver development - Any drivers needed to support peripherals are developed in-house and are included in your firmware/software package. Peripherals can include anything from specialty ASICs to display, touch screens, and other HMI elements.
- OS and application development - The preferred chipsets listed above support Linux and Android OS kernels and applications. PCI will develop an OS distribution with custom applications for the new product, as well as a bootloader for the OS image.
- Hardware design - During development, PCI will create all design documentation, as well as source components for the PCB and enclosure. Fabrication, assembly, inspection, and qualification are performed in-house by experienced professionals, allowing PCI to immediately identify and debug problems during prototyping.
Companies that want to develop an extensible, scalable single board computer platform for IoT or embedded systems can benefit from an experienced EMS partner. PCI brings extensive design and engineering experience, as well as comprehensive development and management processes to customer projects. We have more than 30 years of EMS experience focused in consumer goods, industrial, automotive, and medical devices, as well as in Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) and box builds. Our Lean Six Sigma manufacturing expertise enables us to customize our manufacturing line to meet our partners’ requirements.
If needed, we provide our customers the flexibility needed to quickly scale production as needs arise. We provide our partners with high-quality products at lower manufacturing costs thanks to our shorter change-over time and leaner material control. Contact PCI today to learn more about our capabilities.