Embedded Prototyping: Why Firms Need Global Leadership with Local Expertise

The embedded computing market is at the centre of an IoT revolution, powering everything from connected medical devices to heavy-duty mining equipment. Through these innovations companies can work smarter, safer and more productively — driving innovation, growth and new revenue streams. But there are roadblocks. Many European organisations can struggle to get the products they want, when they want, on time and to spec — with cultural misunderstandings and differing regional standards sometimes causing problems in the embedded computing space.

Not so Advantech. Our new Design To Order Service (DTOS) approach combines the best of both worlds: a strong focus on CPU engineering and manufacturing from our Taiwan HQ, plus local European design and project management expertise from a new eIOT Europe Project Management Centre. It all adds up to a rapid prototyping service you can trust from an industry leader with a 35+ year history of success.

The problem with prototyping
Whether you’re producing solutions for use in retail, manufacturing, medical, warehouse, fleet or construction environments, time-to-market is an essential requirement for today’s OEMs. They need to be assured that manufacturing partners truly understand their requirements, and have the skills and processes to hand to ensure projects meet customer expectations. Particularly important is ensuring that language and cultural barriers and time zone differences do not get in the way. It’s also vital to ensure that knowledge is not centralised in one particular region, so that customers get the right local support and expertise in development and project management wherever they are.

Sometimes, even if products are built according to local standards, they don’t necessarily fit the expectations of customers on the other side of the world. Areas such as IP, mechanical design, mechanical robustness, electrical stability and serviceability can all vary by geography. This means that even if the standards and rules have been defined upfront, problems can occur.

DTOS: A new way forward
It doesn’t have to be this way. Apple, for example, designs its products in the US and executes production in Taiwan and China to a very high standard. At Advantech we’re proud of our Taiwanese heritage. We’re the biggest IPC and IoT system supplier on the planet, and for the past 35 years have been designing and producing world-leading products to power the next generation of embedded computing devices. When it comes to IPC, everything is done in-house, and we get early access to Intel CPU designs, allowing us to deliver a high degree of precision, quality, and reliability. Our semiconductor fabrication plant is one of Asia’s most advanced facilities, with multiple awards to its name, full test labs and an independent three-step quality control mechanism.

But we’re also aware of the issues that can crop up when prototypes are designed and built without enough local input from Europe. That’s why we developed DTOS: a design-to-order service which provides tailor-made systems or boards to meet specific requirements. It leverages our world-leading facilities and knowledge in Asia and enhances them with European-led engineering know-how, consulting, project management and vertical expertise.

This European expertise comes in the form of our DTOS eIOT Project Management Centre and Europe Engineering Centre — both hosting the skills and know-how consolidated from multiple Advantech acquisitions in the region over the years. Our senior Project Management Centre team has a total of over 50 years combined experience with the company alone. This is important as it means we have tried-and-tested communication channels with our Asia HQ and are well versed in the mechanics of translating European requirements for our colleagues on the other side of the world.

Five stages to success
DTOS customers benefit from daily dialogue with our local project managers as we work through five stages: from concept and planning to development, design validation and customer acceptance. It’s also a huge bonus for them to have local engineering expertise in everything from hardware and software to Wi-Fi, EMI engineering, and RISC and x86 design know-how. We have our own shock/vibration tables and climatic chambers and European certification labs. This means we can do pre-evaluation and testing and make ROI decisions before the customer invests heavily in R&D resources. OEM customers can sometimes take up to three years before they decide on ordering, so getting this work done ahead of time means we can accelerate things once the green light has been given.

Pre-engineering, design, schematics and layout are handled from Europe to ensure customer requirements are met. Even if projects are then handed over for manufacture to Asia, it’s all controlled and managed from Europe — to ensure we understand the mindset and thinking of our customers at all times.

When it comes to CPU modules, for example, the quality from Asia is typically very high. But the benefit our European centre brings is in being able to make design changes based on customer requirements, to ensure they meet even higher industrial-grade standards and long product life-spans. Similarly, Wi-Fi requirements can be specified according to standards, but you need that local expertise to customise kit to specific use cases — and in so doing reduce roaming times from an average of 900-1500 msec to just 150-300 msec.

This kind of customisation capability has helped us deliver a range of ruggedized touchscreen IPCs for use in cranes produced by a world-leading mobile crane manufacturer. Here specific requirements such as support for high temperature differences, low failure rates, power supply stability and resistance to dust and shock were essential. Another DTOS customer, one of the biggest mining equipment manufacturers in the world, used the service to order a range of machine guidance and data capture products designed to overcome stability, moisture, temperature and shock challenges with zero downtime.

Embedded computing is powering the world, but too often OEMs can be let down by suppliers who don’t understand or just can’t meet their requirements. Advantech’s DTOS offers the best of both worlds: Asian expertise with local European understanding, to provide a pragmatic reliable way to manage complex IoT projects.

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