As most in our industry are no doubt well aware, Embedded World 2021 is happening this week. Although this year’s event is virtual instead of in-person as it typically is in Nuremberg, Germany, embedded technology innovators from around the world will be logging-in to participate, and Silicon Labs is no exception.
In fact, Silicon Labs will be sharing our IoT expertise throughout Embedded World 2021, with presentations and papers focused on a variety of topics: the compelling advantages of Wi-SUN mesh technology for smart city utility applications, the most pressing IoT security issues the embedded industry faces today, and how to prevent bad actors from penetrating embedded hardware and software applications.
We’ll also be front and center of an expert panel discussion exploring the latest developments in wireless connectivity solutions for IoT, ranging from interoperability to security and reliability, and provide an outlook towards the future.
Here’s the roster of the Silicon Labs experts presenting this week, what they’ll be presenting, and when. We hope you’ll join us for all of them!
We hope you’ll join our embedded IoT experts online at Embedded World 2021. For more information on Silicon Labs’ state-of-the-art security solutions, visit silabs.com/security. For more information regarding the advantages of Wi-SUN for smart city mesh networking applications, we encourage you to read our recent guest blog Q&A with Wi-SUN president and CEO Phil Beecher.
Yes, the title of this post is correct. In 2017, ARC Advisory Group estimated the global downtime in manufacturing industry is in the range of one trillion dollars annually. That is a lot of money, and to put it into a perspective, the global GDP in 2019 according to World Bank was 87.8 trillion dollars. It is not surprising that reducing the downtime is one of the most attractive outcomes industrial IoT can provide.
Why does downtime cost so much and how to reduce it?
What options exist in reducing downtime? Predictive maintenance has proven a cost-efficient application to address downtime challenges and provide ROI to justify projects. IoT Analytics forecasts that the predictive maintenance market is growing at 39% CAGR to $23.5 billion dollars in 2024. What makes predictive maintenance so attractive is that it addresses two key issues at the same time. If the machinery or components like motors, pumps and bearings are run until they fail, there can be more costly damages done to the equipment due to the failure. In addition, there is the time spent by the staff trying to get replacement parts on site and then working overtime to fix the issue. All of this adds to the final cost of an unplanned downtime event and contributes to lost production. On the other hand, if the equipment is over-serviced by changing wearing parts too often or too early, the downtime also increases because of the too-frequent scheduled service breaks. In predictive maintenance, the algorithms use sensor data collected from the machinery and components to warn the operator of a future failure condition ahead of time, allowing ample time to schedule and plan for the maintenance before the failure occurs.
Key care-abouts in predictive maintenance
Predictive maintenance solutions commonly rely on detecting anomalies in vibration fingerprints of motors, pumps, bearings, and other devices that run the industrial and commercial processes. Because cabling costs for adding vibration sensors are immensely high, these sensors are typically leveraging wireless communications and powered from a battery. We have some unique advantages for predictive maintenance solution developers. Our products include industry-leading low-power consumption wireless SoCs and modules. Using the built-in low-power modes, the sensors can benefit from fast wakeup times and balancing time between sleep and active modes. This power optimization translates into longer battery life, which means lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for the end customer because the sensors require less maintenance during their lifetime.
Choosing the best-fit wireless technology for your application
The environments in which predictive maintenance solutions are deployed vary to a large degree. This is why the solution developer should partner with a communications expert like we that can support a wide range of wireless technologies in multiple frequency bands. For longer-range needs, technologies such as Wi-SUN, Mioty, or other sub-GHz options are more suitable. Local networks within a factory or a plant could benefit from Bluetooth and mesh technologies, or leverage existing dual-band Wi-Fi infrastructure to connect the sensors.
Embedded AI/ML changing the landscape for predictive maintenance
Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI//ML) has extended its reach from being a cloud-level application requiring massive computing resources to something that can be efficiently executed at Cortex-M level microcontrollers. Silicon Labs' AI/ML partners have built tools that allow predictive maintenance algorithms to run on just a few kilobytes of RAM memory. The edge pre-processing means that the local radio can be turned off until there is an anomaly that needs to be reported to the back office system and the operator. This can further conserve the precious battery capacity and enhance the TCO.
How to get started?
If you want to take part in solving this trillion-dollar question, a good place to start is by exploring our Thunderboard Sense 2 Evaluation Kit. This kit integrates wireless communications with an array of sensors, including accelerometer and temperature, which are the most common in predictive maintenance applications. You can also browse our Design Network for partners, who can help you to design solutions that run on our wireless SoCs and modules. Finally, take a look at our recent case study on Sensemore, which chose our pre-certified Bluetooth modules for its predictive maintenance sensor. This decision allowed them to fast-forward their development efforts and get to the market quicker.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Dave DeMona, Arrow Electronics’ engineering manager for lighting, about Arrow’s new smart horticulture platform: Arrow Growhouse. Concerns about global population growth, sustainability, and ecologically friendly farming are encouraging growers to adopt innovative technologies to improve farming practices.
Late last year, Arrow Electronics – one of the leading electronics distribution companies – introduced a new IoT platform with superior lighting controls. These controls help the commercial farming industry improve crop yield and gain better control of their indoor crops, decreasing water, space, and pesticide usage. The platform also equips growers with remote wireless control and monitoring of indoor farming operations and conditions. The demand for smart agriculture products such as this one has been growing rapidly. Dave explains below what prompted Arrow to build the scalable and smart horticulture system and how exactly it works.
Can you tell us about Growhouse?
The Arrow Growhouse platform is a flexible, scalable, smart agriculture solution for monitoring and controlling key aspects of a commercial growing environment. It combines environmental and plant-level monitoring and multichannel lighting control into a single, cloud-based user interface with both a web and mobile app. It's compatible with most of the horticulture luminaires currently in the market, and the underlying architecture allows for easy development of additional sensing and control modules based on a customer's individual needs.
What components are included in the platform?
The system can be bought either piecemeal or as a complete system, depending on what the user needs. The basic kit includes a gateway that communicates back to the cloud and a multichannel LED controller that connects to the horticulture luminaire itself, allowing the user to control the different color channels. The kit also includes a soil sensor to monitor the moisture level and the pH of the soil. Customers can add more sensors and controllers as needed.
The architecture of the system is customizable: if a farmer has unique needs and wants to monitor aspects of the system that the base package doesn't cover, it's easy for us to develop additional sensor modules to fit their needs.
What was the inspiration behind creating this smart horticulture solution?
Over the past few years, we've been involved with a number of different horticulture and horticulture-adjacent customers. We noticed that – although clients had great ideas on how to optimally grow plants – there was an underlying set of fundamental requirements. This client base is predominantly growers, not hardware and software experts, so we thought: What if we built a base platform that could be individualized and customized for their unique needs?
How long has the product been available?
The product was launched last year and was enabled by a combination of recent technology advancements:
The maturation of LED technology enables practical implementation of controllable LED luminaires for horticulture. Suddenly, farmers could control the spectrums that a plant sees throughout its growth, which can trigger specific characteristics.
In addition, advances and cost reductions in communication and sensing started to allow for better monitoring of what's happening at the plant level.
These combined factors sparked a revolution a few years ago and this reflects on the feedback surrounding Growhouse to date. Systems have historically been disparate and manual (such as lighting, environmental controls, and fertigation), but Growhouse integrates all of the monitoring and control capability into a single, intuitive user interface.
Why did you select Silicon Labs’ technology for your platform?
Like many IoT platforms, Growhouse involves a gateway, end devices, and communication to a cloud and a user interface. Communication between our end devices is via Zigbee, and communication for commissioning is via Bluetooth. We chose Silicon Labs Zigbee modules for the radio because it’s a high-performing, integrated dual technology that tackles our needs.
What are the primary market drivers of smart horticulture?
Growth in the market is due to a variety of needs: resource conservation, population growth, a desire for local production, reduced transport of produce and grown items, and the reduced use of pesticides and fertilizers. A lot of these needs tie back to the intent of creating an ecologically sustainable method of farming.
Smart agriculture also provides a highly controlled environment, so growers end up with not only faster-growing crop yields, but more consistent yields with less waste fallout. Adding control to different aspects of the growth environment allows the grower to ensure their crop is behaving the way they want it to, when they want it to.
There has been a boom in indoor horticulture in recent years. How is indoor farming better for the planet?
It really is all about the control of the plant environment. When you're growing outside, you're subject to the whims of the weather. With indoor horticulture, the grower has complete control over that environment, leading to significantly reduced water usage and needs for fertilizers and pesticides. Indoor agriculture also allows for farming in regions that may be unsuitable for certain outdoor crops. For example, in some areas in Africa where you really can’t grow certain crops in the ground, growing food within a warehouse or container allows people to cultivate locally.
How do you see IoT technology supporting sustainable agriculture in the future?
We look at the evolution of farming as the evolution of human history. Until recently, we haven't had a lot of insight and data into how to farm better. The direction I see IoT going in smart agriculture is in the implementation of AI: doing something with all the newly derived data now being gathered on a more and more granular level. I think we will see a continuation of automation from the time the seed is planted in the ground until it's ready to harvest.
Everything will be based on the sensors' data and the rules developed, enabling better quality and crop consistency, less fallout, and more locally grown crops. We'll start seeing smaller versions of these systems at a local level – whether that be for a small city or a college campus – all the way to the point where we may have these systems in our own homes, much like a micro-garden in your kitchen. Regardless of how green your thumbs are, you'll be able to create quality produce at home, and get rid of all the transportation needs and other external factors.
We are excited that Dr. Manish Kothari has joined Silicon Labs as Vice President of Silicon Labs India. In this role, Manish will grow our company's wireless engineering talent, build scalable infrastructure, and foster local partnerships in Hyderabad, Silicon Labs' newest and fastest-growing wireless development center.
Manish brings more than 20 years of technology management experience, most recently serving as head of wireless software product development at Qualcomm Hyderabad. He has built and managed teams of more than 1,000 wireless developers, holds more than 100 patents, graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, and received his MS and Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Manish as he steps into this new and important role for the company.
MS: Could you share your high-level vision for our Hyderabad development center?
MK: The Hyderabad development center is Silicon Labs’ fastest-growing site, playing an important and strategic role in helping the company as a whole scale to meet the huge demand for Silicon Labs’ solutions.
My vision is to build a world-class development center here that embodies Silicon Labs’ culture and engineering best practices, with a highly motivated and talented team that has a passion for execution, innovation, collaboration, integrity, and fun. We will also remain very customer-focused and strive for continuous improvement. Another key goal is to become an industry-leading technology center of excellence for Wi-Fi, including Wi-Fi 6. Silicon Labs’ 2020 acquisition of Redpine Signals’ Wi-Fi and Bluetooth businesses included a very strong IP portfolio that expanded and accelerated the company’s ability to be a true leader in low power, secure Wi-Fi solutions.
MS: What is your management style and philosophy?
MK: My management philosophy is grounded in humility (I know that I don’t know everything and there’s something to learn from everyone), reliability, accountability, integrity, a thirst for learning, and respect for everyone. The technology industry can be a very intense environment, so I seek to inspire, empower and motivate teams by setting the same standards for myself as I do for my teams and work with a sincere focus to help ensure successful outcomes. Work-life balance starts with all of us enjoying the work we do, and I am always mindful about making the office a fun place to be.
MS: From your point of view, what are the most exciting things happening in IoT?
MK: The IoT is already improving productivity and quality of life in a variety of consumer and commercial settings. In my humble opinion, the most exciting things in IoT are still to come and perhaps not yet even imagined. Here’s an example of one such possibility: the creation of powerful, decentralized AIoT (artificial intelligence IoT) networks with ubiquitous wireless end nodes. In this scenario reliability, privacy, and security improvements promise to be huge, much like the key underpinnings of Satoshi-San’s bitcoin, because there won’t be a single point of failure anymore. This scenario also shifts power away from centralized ecosystem/cloud and opens new possibilities and the benefits that come with a decentralized system.
Silicon Labs is uniquely positioned to disrupt the industry as these “not so simple” wireless end nodes leverage AI and machine learning to become more intelligent (and powerful) over time. And history is on our side. After all, technology disruptions typically occur from the bottom up, as detailed in the famous book Innovator’s Dilemma. We are only limited by our imaginations, as the saying goes, and I consider myself fortunate to be part of this incredible journey of disruption where Silicon Labs is right at the forefront.
MS: What do you like to do outside of work?
MK: I love spending time with my family, especially my two boys, and participating in their various activities like losing badly in NBA 2K/FIFA on PlayStation. I have always been an “outdoor” person and love to travel. Both my wife and son are certified yoga instructors, so I am a (sometimes forced) fitness freak. Sports is a big deal in our family, and almost every major sport is a topic of discussion during dinner time. I love traditional dance, called “Bhangra,” and I used to teach it to school kids when my boys were younger. For me, dancing is my go-to stress buster!
MS: Thank you, Manish, and best of luck to you!
Silicon Labs’ Hyderabad site headcount has grown approximately 30% since the Redpine Signals acquisition. The company continues to hire hardware and software engineers in Hyderabad, and candidates may review and apply for open positions here.
From the types of power switches you use to the layout of your printed circuit board (PCB), numerous design decisions will affect the robustness of your high-power inverter designs. In this Power Hour webinar, Staff Product Manager, John Wilson, and Sr. Staff Applications Engineer, Long Nguyen, describe the key issues and solutions to consider when designing high-power inverter systems. They introduce the Si828x isolated gate drivers and explain how they can benefit your high-power designs. The following highlights are some key takeaways from the presentation.
One of the first decisions to make when designing your high-power inverters is the type of power switch you will use. Power switches have unique capabilities and requirements, such as voltage limits, temperature ranges, and operating frequencies, that will drive numerous design decisions for your high-power inverters, including which type of gate driver to use. The four main types of power switches are:
Working voltages are another essential factor to consider. Designers must evaluate the maximum voltages the system will be exposed to under normal conditions and ensure that the gate drivers and power switches can meet these power requirements. For the gate driver, the working voltage rating will exceed maximum expected peak voltages. For switches, a rule of thumb is that the maximum expected voltages should be less than 80% of the device family’s voltage rating.
Gate drivers and power switches have critical protection needs that must be addressed in the design. For example, undervoltage issues generate heat and efficiency loss. Overvoltage can cause switch damage. Fortunately, these issues can be mitigated with solutions such as desaturation detection, using a Miller clamp to prevent switch parasitic turn-on, and careful PCB layout techniques.
There are also application dependencies to consider. For example, a stable, high-power application, such as a steady-running industrial motor inverter, may not need much protection. In contrast, a dynamic application, such as an EV traction inverter, may require extensive system protection.
PCB board layout is also an important consideration when designing a power electronic circuit because it determines the power circuit's performance, efficiency, and reliability. A well-planned PCB layout minimizes parasitic inductance and capacitance and improves reliability and efficiency.
A final consideration is determining how to supply power to the secondary side of a half-bridge device. This task can be accomplished discreetly or in an integrated fashion.
As you design your high-power inverters, look for power switch technologies and gate drivers appropriate to the working voltages required by your system application. Consider the critical protection needs and choose gate drivers that can provide solutions accordingly.
Silicon Labs offers a full spectrum of solutions with our Si828x isolated gate drivers. An integrated dc-dc converter within these devices simplifies layout and provides each driver with its own power supply, which translates to reduced noise and inductances and a more compact and smaller PCB.
The Si8285 has all the apps and features of the Si828x family (desaturation detection, Miller clamp, etc.), as well as an industry-leading noise immunity of 125 kV/us. We also have a robust reference circuit that enables adjusting various parameters based on the type of power switch you are using.
In addition to the Si828x series, we offer an extensive isolated gate driver product family that is suitable for inverters. Altogether, these devices offer a broad range of benefits, from power robustness to extensive flexibility.