Building New Bridges

3rd June 2013
ES Admin
Increasing engineering support is an effective solution to aiding successful new product development. Mauro Pasqualini, Director, Supplier and Technology, with Silica, takes an in depth look in this article from ES Design Magazine.
Successive generations of standard ICs provide new opportunities for product developers to add extra functionality to new products and at the same time optimise form factor and maximise battery life. However, this increase in device complexity intensifies the challenge facing engineers; to access the full potential of new ICs within their time-to-market constraints.

To address this, Silica has developed its ArchiTech program, intended to help engineers continue to shorten time to market for complex new products. Seeking to bridge the engineering gap between silicon vendors and the requirements of customer design engineers, the program builds on close relationships between the distributor and its suppliers to deliver tailored design support products that are fully supported by Silica technical teams.

With a European customer base that has a strong industrial focus, the first ArchiTech tools focus on human-interface, connectivity and wireless application development using leading-edge devices from top manufacturers. At launch, six boards were introduced under the ArchiTech program, and Silica will further expand the range of extension boards with a variety of specialist functions.

In partnership with strategic supply partners, Silica is combining devices from more than one manufacturer in ArchiTech tools, to deliver tangible advantages for customers. An example can be seen in the ArchiTech Brooklyn board, which bridges the Maxim Pmod family of compatible plug-in peripheral modules to Freescale’s modular Tower System for microcontroller development. Within the Brooklyn solution, original Maxim software examples for Pmod modules are ported to the Freescale MQX RTOS for the Kinetis K70 family of 32-bit low-power microcontrollers based on the ARM Cortex-M4 core.

The Xynergy-M4 board provides another example showing how ArchiTech design tools can further addresses project-design challenges beyond using a single-vendor solution. Xynergy-M4 is the first in the market to merge the STMicroelectronics STM32F417 ARM Cortex-M4 microcontroller with a Xilinx Spartan-6 low-cost FPGA (XC6SLX16) in one design.

Open Design Platform

Another of the original six tools released at the launch of ArchiTech is the low-cost Pengwyn single-board computer based on Texas Instruments’ Sitara AM3354 ARM Cortex-A8 microprocessor running at 720MHz. This board has built in solutions to optimise cost, power management and time-to-market challenges facing today’s designers of industrial computing, networking and HMI applications. It creates a reference design which can easily be replicated for production.

In particular, the large number of power rails needed by Cortex-A designs, which typically calls for some 23 power inputs, presents complex issues for design engineers; not least in terms of ensuring correct sequencing on power-up. However, the design of Pengwyn recognises that ultra low-power modes are not a high priority for industrial applications. Accordingly, this has enabled a simplification of the power circuitry, which is based on TI’s TPS650250 Power-Management IC (PMIC) instead of the TPS65910A commonly used in Sitara microcontroller designs. This eases the design process considerably.

In addition, the board integrates DDR3 DRAM as the most cost effective dynamic memory and also the generation preferred to assure maximum longevity on new products. Running at 303MHz, the high-bandwidth memory prevents data bottlenecks that can otherwise restrict the microcontroller’s performance.

The Pengwyn also tackles the issue of Flash selection. Although NOR-Flash is the most reliable, it is relatively expensive in relation to density. This can be a serious disadvantage, especially for designs that require an operating system. SD is a lower-cost alternative, but is typically not robust to withstand mechanical stress. NAND is the lowest-cost solution but the initial configuration could take time, especially if the boot loader does not support the specific memory part number. To overcome this hurdle, Pengwyn is supplied with a 1GB NAND chip complete with tested software configuration.

Pengwyn is also supplied with a DVI video interface on-board, based on a QT graphic library ready for use in, for example, Human-Machine Interfaces. The 3D accelerator embedded on the AM3354 microcontroller allows QT apps to be smooth and responsive.

Built-In OS Support

Pengwyn supports two of the more popular Operating Systems, Linux and Windows Embedded Compact 7. Linux is the de facto standard in a wide variety of applications. The open-source nature of Linux allows companies to invest confidently in internal knowledge that can be reapplied to future projects. Windows Embedded Compact 7 is a strong choice where real-time performance is mandatory and in applications where the end customer expects a familiar desktop-like Graphical User Interface.

Pengwyn solves important embedded system-integration challenges

For Linux development, Pengwyn currently offers two possibilities: an image, based on the Arago project, preinstalled on Pengwyn NAND Flash or the TI Linux Ez Software Development Kit available as a preconfigured VirtualBox virtual machine. Out-of-the-box functionality allows engineers simply to run the virtual machine, connect the USB (or optional Ethernet) cable and run/debug an initial ‘Hello World’ application. Additional tools for Linux development flow for Pengwyn are also expected.

Expansion Boards

A range of expansion boards for Pengwyn is planned. These will be Plug & Play boards, delivered with on-board memory, and ready to run software and applications. Kernel modules will be auto-loaded and demo applications will be published through the Silica website.

Expansion boards scheduled for introduction include the LSR TiWi5 Wi-Fi module based on Texas Instruments’ WL1273L Wi-Fi IC, for use in IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4GHz and 5.8GHz) applications as well as Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, Class 1.5 and Bluetooth 4.0 including Bluetooth Low-Energy. There will also be a 4.3in TFT resistive touch screen display module, and a Gigabit Ethernet expansion card based on the TI DP83865 Ethernet PHY transceiver.

Launched at the beginning of 2013, the Silica ArchiTech Design Tool’s team has 15 specialist engineering tool developers. This core team is able to develop and deliver new tools within 12 to 20 weeks. As each tool is completed and introduced to the market, all Silica FAEs are trained in the use of the tools to provide technical support to customers.

So far, Silica has released three other ArchiTech development platforms, targeting RFID and automation applications. The Tusa Mbed daughter board and Seriz II development board provide rapid access for designers to NXP Semiconductor’s CLRC663 RFID/NFC transceiver IC, leveraging NXP’s LPCXpresso IDE. Finally, the ArchiTech PorFid development board for RFID/NFC and data-logging applications combines STMicroelectronics’ CR95HF 13.56MHz contactless transceiver and M24LR16E dual-interface EEPROM. Silica will introduce nine further ArchiTech boards during 2013.

With the introduction of ArchiTech, Silica is recognising the need to offer customers more than just off-the-shelf development kits. By providing a full solution and single point of contact for all requirements related to design tools, this initiative should enable customers’ engineers to deliver new products to market offering differentiating features, within today’s ever-tightening cost and time constraints.

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