Designing or customizing embedded products from chips will affect the time to market and cost of products. And the computer module provides an ideal platform for building terminal products of various applications. The following abstract cases based on the actual customer project experience reveal the problems of chip based development, and how the computer module solution to solve these problems.

Harry is the CTO of best ECG, an ECG manufacturer. Bestecg competes with two other competing companies in its business area to provide ECG equipment for local diagnostic laboratories and hospitals. Now diagnostic laboratories and hospitals need more advanced equipment, which can provide 3D display, real-time data acquisition, faster processing, and extend the battery working time as much as possible.

To achieve this goal, Harry decided to use the famous semiconductor manufacturer’s genx processor. Genx processor adopts 14 nm manufacturing process, the highest peak clock can reach 1.2 GHz, supports multimedia, and provides a variety of power optimization technologies. This will bring great performance improvement and low power consumption to ECG equipment. Harry contacted the manufacturer and ordered 200 genx chips. Due to the low quantity, Harry had to pay a higher price. Then, the hardware engineer started the circuit board development and mechanical design. At the same time, the software team began to migrate the existing applications to the reference board based on genx. Several software components need to be redeveloped from the bottom of the system, and the migration process lasted about 8 months. The hardware prototype will be completed in one month. Next, all the software, including application, GUI, device driver and middleware, is tested on the actual hardware together with peripherals. After some modification, the software has been able to meet the requirements of mass production level. Finally, the hardware platform and shell are completed. The project eventually took about 16 months to complete.

Finally, Harry began to apply for medical related certification for the whole product. The whole team is composed of 50 engineers with rich experience in hardware, software and mechanical design, all working on this project. Report project expenses including salary and raw material cost to management. However, just two weeks later, a competitor of bestecg released an ECG Device Based on genx processor. The products have gained excellent market response, and the sales volume of competitors’ products has also increased rapidly. At this point, Harry is very upset because it will take at least two months for bestecg to launch its product. As a result, bestecg will lose huge market share. In the 18 months from project concept to product, the company has spent a lot of resources.

Harry realized that the next products need to speed up the time to market while taking into account the R & D cost and risk. After some investigation, he found that the computer module is the best solution to achieve its goal. He chose toradex as a partner for his computer module.

Compared with chip based development, due to the lower sales of terminal products, Harry has to purchase key components, such as SOC and NAND, at a higher price. If the computer module is used, its cost can be effectively optimized due to the price it pays for the whole platform. Through a large number of business with semiconductor manufacturers, computer module manufacturers can take advantage of economies of scale to purchase these components at a lower price. The computer module provides a ready-made platform with mass production level operating system, device driver and BSP. Harry only needs a team of about 20 people to develop the next generation ECG equipment. Bestecg can also use 50 engineers to develop multiple projects at the same time. The software team is responsible for the application and GUI. The hardware team designs the carrier board with application related peripherals. The carrier board can be connected to the computer module through a standard interface, such as sodimm.

In general, Harry can make better use of engineering R & D resources and develop a variety of ECG devices at the same time, because the same carrier can use pin compatible computer modules with different performance and price. Previous projects took 18 to 20 months of research and development time, but now it only takes 10 to 12 months. At the same time, the potential cost of future products will also be improved. Because the software and hardware provided by the module manufacturer have been tested by various embedded products of many of its customers, Harry can face fewer fallback problems. Most of the problems come from software integration and application layer.

In addition to cost control, Harry can also promise his customers a long life cycle. Once any components on the computer module, such as RAM, SOC, NAND, end of life (EOL), the computer module manufacturer can ensure the smooth replacement of these hardware components. So Harry doesn’t have to worry about component downtime. Moreover, the pin compatible computer module enables the carrier board to meet the requirements of future applications without redesign. On the same board, it can improve the performance of the product by inserting modules based on different processors. If the previous chip based development is adopted, such an upgrade must require redesign.

By using computer module in his products, Harry solved the problems of OEM about long life cycle and low sales. But the development based on chip is difficult to solve these problems.
Editor in charge: Tzh

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