According to a recent article published on Embedded Computing Design, the growth of embedded applications is outpacing the availability of electrical engineers, which is forecast to grow only 7% annually through 2026. In contrast, software engineers are projected to grow 24% through 2026. This makes conditions right for further acceleration of three growing trends:
- Traditionally, customers looking for an off-the-shelf board had already decided which specific processor, or at least which brand, they planned to use for their system. This left them looking for and evaluating suppliers who offered solutions around that chip. Today though, we see more customers starting their selection process equipped with only their IP, and no hardware designer on staff to help navigate the process of developing a prototype. They often don’t know what processor they’ll use, let alone whether a CPU, GPU, or FPGA will be the best fit. They’re looking for a solution, but even more than that, expertise to support their development.
- The traditional make-versus-buy threshold is increasing rapidly, as vendors embrace their value-add and focus investment and innovation on building IP. This trend is compounded for companies with a lean or software-focused internal staff, where an off-the-shelf board-level solution is a necessity as much as it is strategy.
- Open-source hardware like Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and Beaglebone help fill the void created by a shortage of hardware designers. These platforms have been proven game changers when it comes to fast prototyping and enabling cost-effective innovation. In cases where these designs go to volume production, there’s a growing trend of vendors looking for industrial-quality SOMs and SBCs to transition to for long-term production, rather than design their own board and manage the long-tail production support that comes with it.
Each of these trends point to the growing role off-the-shelf hardware plays in industrial designs. Evaluation criteria now goes beyond the hardware itself, with developers placing more importance earlier in the process on things like long lifespan, manufacturability, and factory support for design efforts.
Amber Thousand is a Director at Critical Link, a supplier of SOMs, embedded imaging solutions, and custom electronics for industrial applications. She has a degree from Elon University, and Masters in Business Administration.