The world has come a long way since the days of dial-up internet. Today, devices can communicate with each other over a variety of wireless protocols. IoT has become something of a buzzword as a result, but industrial IoT in manufacturing has the potential to provide real productivity gains to advanced manufacturers. The Association Connecting Electronics Industries (IPC) is now defining a unified framework for data formats and communication in connected factories, and this will bring industrial IoT into the mainstream.
While many proponents of industrial IoT in manufacturing tend to focus on software and networking, none of these gains can be seen by industry without the hard work of PCB designers. PCB designers will face many challenges when integrating required industrial IoT capabilities into new manufacturing assets and developing electronics for integrating legacy systems. The hardware architecture of industrial IoT devices is critically important, and PCB designers should consider their design options when creating industrial IoT infrastructure and devices.
Industrial IoT in manufacturing will soon become mainstream.
Essential Elements for Industrial IoT in Manufacturing
Any PCB designed for industrial IoT devices will need to include some important elements. These elements are critical for gathering measurements, processing data, and facilitating communication between new and legacy manufacturing assets.
Radio Communication and Network Architecture
Industrial IoT devices require one or more wireless communication protocols to share data between devices and to send data to a base station. Protocols like Bluetooth and WiFi are ideal for manufacturing assets that are confined in small spaces, but an LPWAN protocol is ideal for wireless communication between assets that are spread over a much larger area.
The network architecture used for industrial IoT in manufacturing is also important. Multiple factory assets will need to communicate with each other, but they will also need to send data to a central control room. One option is to use base stations/beacons to implement a star topology over WiFi or Bluetooth. This would allow data collection from sensor nodes on different equipment, and data could be shared between nodes via Ethernet. In factories in which the connectivity between assets is changing (such as when manufacturing assets are mobile), a mesh topology over a standard wireless protocol is a better choice.
Mixed Signal Capabilities
At some level, manufacturing assets are purely analog devices, particularly legacy systems. Newer manufacturing systems will include sensors that output measurements as digital data, but adding monitoring to older systems requires integrating sensors with the board so that analog signals can be measured and converted to digital data with an ADC. When the radio communication capabilities are added to these boards, these devices are operating in the mixed-signal regime and should be designed accordingly.
While electricity costs are always a consideration, not all monitoring devices will have the luxury of being supplied by a wall outlet. Monitoring devices that must be mobile or that cannot connect to a nearby power source will need to run off battery power, thus the components should consume as little power as possible. This requires judicious component selection and a power regulation scheme that is specialized for battery-operated devices.
The points listed above should highlight the other requirement for integrating industrial IoT in manufacturing. PCBs for these systems will inevitably require significant customization in terms of form factor, component arrangement, and embedded software to integrate with new and legacy systems. COTS single board computers and development boards may not be appropriate for every industrial IoT system.
These board may not provide the level of customization required for industrial IoT in manufacturing.
Devices for industrial IoT in manufacturing will also need to fit into tight spaces and be mechanically secured to a piece of equipment. This places constraints on the sizes of components and connectors, as well as their arrangement. Accommodating all of these points requires extreme customization that may not be achievable with standard PCB manufacturing processes. This is where a new manufacturing process is required to produce these complex, low-volume devices.
Additive Manufacturing for Industrial IoT Electronics
As devices for industrial IoT in manufacturing must be highly customized and produced at relatively low volume, using an additive manufacturing system to produce these products is ideal.
Additive manufacturing provides many other benefits to PCB designers beyond fixed lead times and predictable cost structure. These systems eliminate the design constraints that are imposed by the traditional PCB manufacturing process. This gives PCB designers the freedom required to create complex electronic devices for industrial IoT monitoring and communication.
New electronics for monitoring legacy manufacturing assets and providing connectivity throughout a factory must be highly customized and will often be one-off designs. An additive manufacturing system is ideal for producing these devices. Designers can produce, assemble, test, and deploy a single PCB for a new monitoring and communication system in a matter of hours.
Devices created with an additive manufacturing system can also be fully customized to have nearly any geometry. Using an additive process to produce boards for manufacturing assets allows designers to experiment with unique interconnect architecture, component and antenna embedding, and complex shapes. This freedom to design the architecture and shape of a PCB will help designers create customizable solutions for industrial IoT in manufacturing.
Any electronics designer developing new products for industrial IoT in manufacturing can take greater control over product quality and enjoy greater design freedom when they work with the right additive manufacturing system. The DragonFly LDM additive manufacturing system from Nano Dimension is ideal for the in-house PCB fabrication of complex electronics with a planar or non-planar architecture. Read a case study or contact us today to learn more about the DragonFly LDM system.