A software-defined approach

Increasingly, design engineers are turning to software-defined approaches to industrial communications, eliminating the need for costly hardware and providing a more straightforward, cheaper, and more scalable architecture. For example, it is possible to “frame” the digital data stream to/from the microcontroller using software. By doing this, smart industrial devices can align with the requirements of any Fieldbus protocol. Significantly, this is simply not possible using a hardware-based approach that limits an industrial device to a single Fieldbus implementation.

So, what precisely are the advantages of an embedded software approach to industrial communication? And how might that boost your product designs? Here’s a quickfire primer that provides the answers you need within a two-minute read:

  1. Cheaper and more scalable

Using a universal software platform for lightning-quick development of embedded industrial control using a non-industry specific process helps save time and money throughout the development process. Also, the one-off upfront cost of developing the software communications stack provides the ultimate economy of scale, as jettisoning the hardware module means costs don’t rise as volumes grow. 

  1. Encourages flexible custom solutions

For the product developer, using a hardware module puts you entirely in the hands of the supplier, and custom solutions are, in principle, impossible to achieve. Software-based communication stacks provide greater flexibility, allowing companies to build embedded systems that better match individual requirements.

  1. More elegant product design

For certain products, the smallest physical footprint is critical – and the addition of a hardware module represents a cumbersome means of managing industrial communications. Embedded software comms offers a more elegant solution that is better suited to support the concept of miniaturisation and, therefore, more optimised design. This is crucial for products where ergonomics is essential, such as IoT-connected screwdrivers commonly used in industrial environments.

  1. Reduces the bill of materials

Hardware modules for industrial communication represent an addition to a product’s bill of materials (BoM). That increases supply chain complexity and increases the chance of manufacturing errors onsite. With software negating the need for hardware modules, the BoM is effectively streamlined – presenting production efficiencies and boosting profitability.

  1. Shortens supply chains

Removing the need for a hardware module also has supply chain considerations. The electronics sector is currently encountering a shortage of many critical systems and components, exacerbated by bottlenecks at ports worldwide. A software-defined approach to industrial control effectively eliminates the need for one layer of sourcing, shortening the supply chain and helping drive out risk.

  1. Less inventory and warehousing

Finally, the reduced BoM and shorter supply chains have practical implications, too. It reduces the need for inventory and warehousing, resulting in more streamlined onsite operations. Less inventory also allows companies to adapt and adjust more rapidly to changing market and industry conditions and encourages shorter product lifecycles and more agile working.

We can see, then, that a software-first approach to industrial communication presents a credible alternative to using hardware modules – presenting advantages financially, logistically, and operationally. RT-Labs are experts in software platforms for industrial control systems. They have developed a unique method that makes them more skilled and faster than in-house developers or external consultants. The RT Labs approach doesn’t involve expensive consultation that can increase exponentially. Instead, it delivers results at a fixed price and a warranty to provide peace of mind.

Click here to discover how RT Labs develops software solutions that can supercharge your product development process.

Industrial communication is becoming a fundamental feature of any new product design as end-users demand access to more connected data in support of the trend towards digitalisation.

Traditionally, external communications modules have been deployed to connect equipment like sensors with the cloud, establishing a link over a Fieldbus protocol such as Profinet or Ethercat. But this method isn’t the only means of achieving that aim.