Form, Fit, and Functional Replacements: More Than Just Component Upgrades

January 30, 2020 GT Hillard, WINSYSTEMS

Designing long-lifecycle systems goes hand-in-hand with long-term decision making when it comes to your embedded platforms. If chosen carefully, these decisions can help you avoid a myriad of minor inconveniences and potential system-scrapping problems years or even decades down the road, depending on the application.

For example, issues like equipment wear and tear and outright component obsolescence are inevitable in any long-lifecycle deployment. So, rather than redesigning or retrofitting an entire piece of electronic machinery, why not just find a form, fit, and functional match?

Taken at face value, simply swapping out damaged or out-of-date electronic subassemblies for upgraded replacements seems simple enough. However, there is much more than meets the eye.

Inexperienced engineers may view a form, fit, and functional replacement simply as hardware with the same mechanical measurements, connector pin-out, and equal or better performance. A more practiced hand will know that things are rarely, if ever, that straightforward. Form, fit, and functional replacements almost always boil down to software compatibility.

A case in point, there is the nature of updating device drivers, which can range from relatively simple to impractical and potentially cost prohibitive. If you assume that a system outfitted with a mechanical “form, fit, and functional” replacement will have to run the same application at the same or improved performance, updating those drivers to integrate these new components could mean rebuilding significant portions of the application software or even modifying the underlying operating system (OS) and/or firmware. 

If the system and application in question have been running in the field for years or even decades and the original designer(s) are no longer available, management may have to be informed that a simple component upgrade will cost hundreds of hours of engineering time, resulting in unexpected costs. No one enjoys being in this type of situation.

One customer I worked with in the past was presented with a similar situation when looking to upgrade a system based on a legacy real-time OS (RTOS). Because the RTOS was no longer supported, the end user would have to pay the RTOS vendor to port drivers from the current versions to the previous. Ultimately, we were able to support them through the development process providing a refreshed solution with another 10+ years of product life, but the customer paid significantly for the driver updates and validation to a third party.

WINSYSTEMS’ PPM-C412 SBC fits the PC104-Plus form factor. Featuring a DMP Vortex86DX3 processor, its small size, low power, rugged design, and extended operating temperature suit it for industrial IoT and embedded applications.

Products like WINSYSTEMS’ PPM-C412 PC104-Plus form factor single-board computer (SBC) based on the latest-generation DMP Vortex86DX3 SoC processor illustrate our heritage of blending de-facto industry technologies with the upgrade capabilities needed for modern embedded use cases. And with 38 years of experience developing software, drivers, low-level firmware, and embedded hardware solutions for critical industries, our FAEs are well-versed in early-stage decisions that can have a negative impact down the line, even decades later. They can also help prepare contingencies for eventual system degradation.

Long-lifecycle systems aren’t a one-time NRE investment. Rather than a sprint, they’re more like a marathon. Make sure you run with a quality technology partner.

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