HOUSTON—The VME Industrial Trade Association (VITA), which manages a variety of open standards for embedded computing systems, held its annual Embedded Technology Trends (ETT) conference last week just across the street from NASA headquarters. The overall theme of this year's ETT was “Houston, We Have a Problem.” Not because VITA or its members are in trouble, however, but because of steps they are taking to expand the role of standards-based board architectures in solving airborne and space-bound design challenges. Conference topics included discussion of the emerging VITA 48.4 standard for air-cooling of small VPX modules as well as progress in the definition of a space-qualified variation of the Compact PCI modular standard. Marketers also pointed out that the products developed to these standards could serve not just aerospace but wherever ruggedized systems with reduced size, weight, and power are important design requirements, including industrial robotics and transportation systems.
The conference opened, in fact, with an analysis of the industrial systems market by research firm IHS. Mark Watson, senior research manager at HIS, indicated that the market for industrial automation reached $176 billion in 2015. Motors and motor control composed 36.5% of that total, automation control equipment formed 38.2%, and power transmission made up most of the rest. Watson also identified several key opportunities in this market, including Industrial IoT (IIoT), robotics as a labor alternative, and the decentralization of intelligence in industrial control. Further, Watson noted, suppliers to this market are moving to supply services and software as an integral part of their offerings, as commoditization and over capacity are eroding the demand for capital equipment alone.
One of the most-frequently mentioned modular standards was VPX, a replacement for the venerable VME bus standard that replace parallel connections with high-speed serial ones, and its SpaceVPX (ANSI/VITA 78.00-2015) variation that added features essential for spacecraft design. (SpaceVPX received final certification as a standard in April last year.) Ken Grob, director of embedded technology at Elma, for instance, discussed the market forces driving VPX. Grob indicated that increasing use of 10G Ethernet and PCIexpress Gen. 3 on the data plane were stimulating new product offerings, as was growing interest in the IEEE 1508 precision time protocol. In addition, SoC FPGAs and high-performance single board computers (SBCs) for these standards were on the rise. Aitech Defense Systems, for instance, announced a new line of ruggedized 3U VPX products that use a 5th-generation Intel Core i7 processor.