The future of industrial automation with embedded systemsPublish Date: May 20, 2022
As we immerse ourselves in a digital, connected, and automated world, almost every facet of our lives are powered by an invisible yet inseparable driving force – the embedded systems. As the name suggests, embedded into a device is an exceptionally compact, versatile, adaptable, particular-purpose computing technology increasingly becoming an integral part of our everyday lives. From home appliances such as microwave ovens, washing machines, gadgets like computers, mobile phones, and wearables to security systems, heating systems, ATMs, cars and automotive vehicles, and even the traffic signals; the proliferation of embedded systems in our lives is endless. Industries such as aerospace, automotive, defense, and healthcare harness embedded system deployments widely.
What makes the embedded system so critical in today’s world?
In this digital economy where we strive for a highly automated and artificially intelligent future, embedded systems accelerate innovations around automation technologies. These low-cost, low-power-consuming, compact technologies are typically easily installed and integrated into any device and can easily communicate in the IoT network. They are often designed with a programmable or fixed task to operate with minimal human intervention.
By providing an edge to any device such as a machine, app, or sensor that uses chip design, embedded systems enable intelligent and automated asset monitoring and tracking, generating real-time data visibility into the operational status and quick response systems. Their application can range from specialized ones in aerospace, defense, and medical devices to not so niche ones in automotive and consumer devices. Embedded systems are continuously evolving to accommodate the needs of an explosion of data in IoT gateways, indisputably transforming the future and revolutionizing our lives. According to a research report from Markets and Markets, the embedded system market size will reach USD 116.2 billion by 2025 from USD 86.5 billion in 2020, at a CAGR of 6.1% during the forecast period.
Embedded Systems in Industrial automation
The growing ubiquity of embedded systems is widely visible in Industrial automation across industries, including agriculture, food, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, automobiles, industrial machines, and others. Industrial embedded systems are widely used to supervise specific operations such as production, testing, packaging, or safety management within a more extensive mechanical or electrical system. They can be as basic or complex as technologies, streamlined to perform one or a few operations that can be programmable or have fixed functionalities. Let us first understand the basic anatomy of embedded systems to understand the functionalities better.
How does an embedded system work?
Generally, embedded systems resemble miniaturized circuit boards that comprise a processor, power supply, and memory and communication ports to communicate with other parts of a more extensive system. The processor may be a microprocessor or microcontroller.
Systems on Chip (SoCs) which include multiple processors and interfaces on a single chip, are one of the most popular trends in embedded system technology. They are often used for high-volume embedded systems. New design methodologies and product and solution developments have moved up with SoC in the industrial IoT (IIoT) ecosystem. Real-time operating environments are often suitable for SoC embedded technology that are generally fast enough and tolerant of slight variations in reaction.
Now, consider a couple of industrial automation scenarios with robust embedded systems.
First, let’s take an example of the factory automation of a plastic bottle manufacturer. Embedded industrial machinery comes into play to automate many workloads, most of which can be programmable with a specific task. For example, the gear ratios can be automatically adjusted with embedded technology in motor-driven types of machinery used for manufacturing the bottles. They are also used in controlling the temperature of the machinery. The whole assembly line activities can be monitored and controlled by adjusting the speed of the assembly line according to the output of the plastic bottles. High-speed machine visions can conduct control checks of bottle components or inspection of final plastic bottles for defects. In the IoT realm, the disparate elements of embedded microprocessors communicate directly with other components of an industrial embedded network and the cloud to have a single and reliable flow of information.
An embedded system can enable factory automation and increase factory productivity and efficiencies. They can be embedded in any device, traditional or new machinery, and have customizable and extendable systems that help in the optimization of machine functionalities as well as production lines performance. The continuous tracking of machine health also helps reduce equipment maintenance costs while improving product quality. They unify and centralize the control over production architecture. A PC, tablet, or smartphone can control machines with embedded systems. It can also enable the production process remotely through instant alerts in case of irregularities. The embedded systems thus allow a new era of cobots, bringing the perfect collaboration between man and machine to create a productive and safe environment.
Now, let’s consider another case of a hazardous gas leak. Through machine monitoring, any SoC embedded industrial application can review a system’s condition, measuring power, pressure, temperature, vibration, flow rate, etc. A gas leak will automatically be monitored, and the alert /alarm can immediately be generated by leveraging the existing network connections to a centralized server or cloud-based gateway. Any such disruptions that earlier required immediate human intervention or could just be captured from feeds in CCTV can now be managed remotely from any device with the power of embedded device and web server technology in real-time. These systems can also leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence and recommend operators acting as the human interface to make real-time, intelligent decisions. Through the power of embedded systems, organizations can predict or prevent potential dangers and address issues with minimal human intervention.
Future of embedded systems in industrial automation
With Industry 4.0 gradually coming to fruition, we are transitioning from the first to the fourth generation of the industrial revolution propelled by the concepts of the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics, and artificial intelligence. The discrete embedded system can only produce the raw data. But when integrated with the industry 4.0 technologies, they create valuable insights for a robust digital infrastructure, broadening the spectrum of automation and innovation. Embedded modules are getting more sophisticated than ever, enabling machines to predict or prescribe solutions that could supplement human decision-making or perform tasks at a higher speed much beyond human capabilities. They are making machines more intelligent, safer, and more effective, gaining higher control over industrial automation. For instance, embedded systems are expected to push the frontiers of industrial control further by expanding on IoT applications, such as wearables, sensors, drones, video surveillance, 3D printers, and smart transportation.
However, the architecture of embedded systems is much more complex than a traditional computer software system. Achieving a stable, seamless, and secure embedded architecture requires experts with end-to-end embedded engineering capabilities across all the build, connectivity, and management phases. With a portfolio of embedded systems and IoT, a seasoned technology service partner such as YASH can accelerate the returns from connected intelligence with minimum friction. For more information, visit https://www.yash.com/
Vice President & Global Head - IoT & Embedded Practice & CoE
Sacheen has over 26+ years of experience in the Engineering/Industrial services & IT services company and predominantly worked for Manufacturing, Transportation/Automotive, Healthcare/Medical Devices and Energy & Utilities Industry Verticals sectors.
Vice President & Global Head - IoT & Embedded Practice & CoE