In the midst of rapidly changing markets and technologies, can you visualize your business in three years?
Part 1 of the RZ/T1 discussion provides tips for planning for the future of technology including how the Internet of Things (IoT) and real-time machine-to-machine communications (M2M) are revolutionizing factory automation, what effects they have on efficiency, how the performance of previously existing microcontrollers and microprocessors (MPUs) was insufficient for the IoT/M2M era, and how Renesas' RZ/T1 removes the need for FPGAs or ASICs in controlling servo motors by offering a built-in encoder interface and providing multi-protocol support.
The Need for Disruptive Innovation: Real-time M2M is Revolutionizing Factory Automation
In factory automation, production equipment, sensors, and so on are networked to each other and to the cloud via the internet. These devices use big data to improve efficiency and predict defects. A discussion with Katsuhiko Neki of Ubiquitous Computing Salon (UC Salon) and engineers from Renesas Electronics about the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine communications (M2M) is provided below.
Participants in This Discussion
How IoT/M2M Can Improve Factory Efficiency
What effects have IoT/M2M had on factory automation?
Neki: Factory automation is undergoing a major revolution now. In the past, all that was necessary was for each individual equipment to run properly. Even after the rise of networking, all we had to think about was networking the equipment within a factory. Now that industrial networks have become common, the scope of this network is now spreading to connection with a central computer, and even further to connection to the Internet and the cloud for IoT and M2M. In the age of IoT/M2M, the needs of industrial equipment manufacturers are becoming increasingly complex and diverse.
Please give us an example of IoT/M2M.
Neki: For example, when a large industrial motor breaks, it's a serious problem. Before, you would only first find out that strange data had been recorded when you went to inspect the damaged motor. But now with IoT/M2M, motors are networked and you can monitor their condition in real time.
Kojima: Renesas Electronics (henceforth, Renesas) is currently performing experiments to improve factory efficiency by collecting and analyzing highly precise data from the innumerable sensors and motors inside a factory. I think this is another good example of IoT/M2M.
Motor Control Without FPGA/ASIC
Motors are essential for factory automation, aren't they?
Neki: That's right? A large number of motors and sensors are used in factory automation. Let's talk about the control of servo motors, which are often used in industrial robots and so on. Microcontrollers (MCUs) used to control servo motors control rotation speed and so on. These microcontrollers also need to provide feedback from the rotary encoder for determining the exact position of a motor. The servo motor that is used is often selected by the user, so in those cases there is no telling what sort of encoder protocol will be used. For this reason, almost all of our customers need to use an FPGA or ASIC in addition to a microcontroller. However, there are very few engineers who can handle FPGAs.
Kojima We've also heard from many of our customers that maintenance of inherited technology is an issue due to the limited number of engineers that can handle FPGAs. Therefore, we've thought a lot about ways to control motors without using an FPGA or ASIC. Renesas' RZ/T1 is capable of controlling servo motors without an FPGA or ASIC. The RZ/T1 has an Arm® Cortex®-R4 processor CPU core with FPU, and delivers up to 600MHz high performance. This is more than double the real-time performance of existing high-end microcontrollers for industrial applications.
Neki: In the age of the IoT/M2M, the performance of existing microcontrollers and microprocessors (MPUs) was insufficient. If a general-purpose processor were used for servo motor control, run time would fluctuate due to cache miss/hit, so real-time performance could not be achieved.
Kojima: The RZ/T1 also has a built-in encoder interface. Because this portion changes greatly depending on the characteristics of the servo motor, many customers employ an FPGA or ASIC. The built-in encoder interface of the RZ/T1 has multi-protocol support, so there is no need for an external FPGA or ASIC.
FPGAs or ASICs are often used in servo motor control, but there are very few engineers who can handle them.
We've thought a lot about ways to control motors without using an FPGA or ASIC, and solved this problem by building in an encoder interface.
There Was No MCU/MPU Suitable for IoT/M2M
Neki: Going back in time a bit, when always-on internet connections started to spread from around 2000, it was clear that IoT/M2M would be in our future. However, the microcontrollers used to control home appliances in those days had insufficient power, so modules or boards were used to implement the network connection. Come the age of IoT/M2M, there is a need for a single-chip microcontroller that can connect to a network. However, it is hard to obtain high-performance chips in small quantities. So for small-quantity use, the only option was general-purpose processors. Board design for a general-purpose processor is difficult because external high-speed DRAM is required. On the other hand, single-chip microcontrollers lacked the processing power. As a result, there were always very few microcontrollers and microprocessors that were suitable for IoT/M2M.
Kojima: Renesas' RZ Family fills a gap in the embedded system performance distribution map. Up until now, you couldn't even think of using a microcontroller, which only had several kilobytes of RAM, to perform applications such as image processing. The first product of the RZ Family, the RZ/A1, made this possible by possessing several megabytes of RAM.
Ogawa: The RZ/T1 also employs a tightly coupled memory (TCM) structure where the CPU core and memory are directly connected. This enables it to achieve a balance of high and real-time performance. The use of industrial Ethernet is also becoming common. With the built-in R-IN Engine, Renesas' accelerator for industrial Ethernet communications, you can build an application that has multi-protocol support for industrial Ethernet without additional large-scale integration (LSI).
Flexible Hardware Sparks Innovation
Neki: In order to satisfy the wide variety of needs of industrial equipment manufacturers in the IoT/M2M age, a wide variety of peripheral circuits need to be developed. And since general-purpose processors can't be used for servo motor control, a big issue is how to speed up development under these conditions. The flexibility gained by making FPGA and ASIC unnecessary is extremely significant. I think this flexibility will bring disruptive innovation to the servo motor control and factory automation fields.
In Part 2, we'll show you a new control concept for motor control, which is essential for the factory automation of tomorrow, along with an inside look at development. We look forward to seeing you then.
Disruptive Innovation is Brought About by Flexibility
Originally, digital devices were designed using full logic. Full logic has great capabilities, but poor flexibility. This weakness was resolved by embedding into the device a computer that had acquired flexibility through stored-program architecture, and using this computer as a controller. This is what we now call embedded design or development. Furthermore, rather than a bulky computer that included a board and casing, a single semiconductor chip that incorporated the necessary limited capabilities and functionality was developed to fulfill this role. This was how the microcontroller was born. The result was an unprecedented product that was inexpensive, small, highly reliable, and could be treated as a component, although performance was sacrificed. The microcontroller brought "disruptive innovation" to digital device development.
Disruptive innovation is a concept that was coined by Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen. It describes an innovation that is temporarily viewed as a step back in capability or functionality, but possesses another characteristic that captures the need of a future market. To someone who has been developing mainstream products, the capability that is being sacrificed is clear, and it is often difficult for this person to understand the value of the potential of the innovation.
In the age of IoT/M2M, the needs of industrial equipment manufacturers will continue to be increasingly complex and diverse. Developers face the challenge of securing the resources to develop peripheral circuits to meet these widely varying needs, as well as the challenge of meeting the need to speed up the development process. With the Renesas RZ/T1, you can change functions simply by changing a configuration file. That is to say, the RZ/T1 offers the important characteristic of flexibility, the same characteristic that once brought about disruptive innovation, and could do so again.