Making embedded industry impact: CompactPCI continues to evolve

High-speed vision systems provide a prime example of advancements possible with CompactPCI Serial.

3Industrial markets are creating global impact, manufacturing new products through more sophisticated production processes, data sharing, and greater integration of machine vision throughout operations. Data and image processing systems in turn often require a high degree of customization, driving system integrators toward modular platforms that can be developed and deployed quickly. Throughout this industrial evolution, CompactPCI (cPCI) has played an important role as an ideal platform for handling the increasingly high data throughput required on the factory floor.

New and faster point-to-point industrial applications are now possible with cPCI Serial. These platforms capitalize on the fundamental change from bus-based systems to more integrated, serial communication-based systems that leverage an efficient star topology. New designs using this platform can benefit from a proven standard with a healthy ecosystem enhanced with new options for high-bandwidth I/O. Understanding the flexibility and capabilities of cPCI Serial offers a significant competitive edge for industrial Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) - and keeps industrial applications poised for whatever comes next.

Industrial embedded markets keep designers very busy, working with a diverse and demanding range of vision-based applications. Machine vision covers the spectrum and can be found in automotive or electronics manufacturing, packaging, medical technology, surveillance systems, traffic and road safety engineering, or general healthcare. These essential systems handle localization and identification, measurement, and inspection tasks such as identifying, counting, and measuring objects or reading product codes and labels, for example. They may inspect product quality in a manufacturing line, constantly controlling and documenting quality throughout production processes.

In a very simple definition, one or more matrix or line cameras are installed and connected to a computer to execute high-speed video data analysis in a rigorous physical environment. These systems not only enable more efficient production processes, but also provide resource tracking and asset management; sophisticated systems enable a competitive edge through detailed and useful analytics applications based on real-time data gathering and sharing functionality.

Systems vary broadly but do have a common thread, tasking developers to continually increase efficiency, reliability, productivity and performance. Evolving and emerging network capabilities are taking hold as well, and systems must meet the requirements of new trends such as cloud computing and high-bandwidth mobile communications that rely on IP/Ethernet-based communications.

Even if identical imaging jobs are being carried out, one deployment environment can be completely different from another. Factors such as speed of the manufacturing line or individual imaging tasks; footprint of the system itself; or the shape, color, and surface contours of the part to be tested define the actual solution required for the job. The optimal design of an image processing system has to perfectly fit the application, so flexibility is essential.

Enter cPCI, or PICMG 2.0, the industrial computer bus specification completed by PICMG in 1995. Built specifically for high-end industrial-grade computer systems, cPCI leveraged the parallel PCI bus to connect the processor board’s system slot with up to seven peripheral boards. Related board and system sizes, connector and pin-out, and rear I/O capability requirements were also defined by PICMG, enabling a modular approach to building embedded computing systems. Later versions of the cPCI specification included hot swap capability and system management.

PICMG 2.0’s robust features were found to be particularly well suited for modular, high-end computer systems deployed in harsh environments. The platform ensures high reliability and enhanced shock and vibration capabilities using a pin-and-socket connector with card guides on two sides; cards are firmly held in position by a sturdy face plate that screws directly into the card cage. Further, cards are mounted vertically to enable designs with natural or forced airflow cooling. These primary features have established cPCI as perhaps today’s most accepted and deployed modular standard; it’s thriving globally and beyond, and even Curiosity, the Mars Rover is powered by 3U cPCI boards (Figure 1). The logical evolution capitalizes on these values for significant processing improvements – moving from proven parallel bus designs to modern point-to-point serial connections.

Evolving in step with high-performance CompactPCI Serial

Silicon economics started driving manufacturers away from the parallel interface and toward serial interconnects in the late 1990s. In step, Intel created the PCI Express (PCIe) bus, converting parallel PCI and its large connectors and many wires and pins into something small, efficient, and fast. Serial interconnects ultimately became the defacto choice for embedded chip manufacturers.

In turn, PICMG members modernized the cPCI standard, using the same mechanics and board sizes of traditional cPCI, but replacing the old parallel PCI bus with high-performance serial interconnects for cPCI Serial. This retained all the advantages of market familiarity, compatibility, and broad vendor support while adding tangible performance value and a wider selection of chips for design use.

Contrasted to the classic cPCI standard, cPCI Serial enables completely new, flexible, and more powerful system configurations in which multiple processor boards execute processing via advanced algorithms. State-of-the-art, high-performance interfaces such as Gigabit Ethernet (GbE), USB, PCIe, and SATA are fitted onto the backplane, and it’s important to note that the latest interfaces such as USB 3.0, SATA 6 Gigabit per second (Gbps), and PCIe Gen 3 are already supported. Each system also provides up to 8x GbE, 8x USB 3.0 and 40x PCIe lanes via the backplane.

Detailing CompactPCI Serial

cPCI Serial gives developers a powerful new platform for high-performance installations requiring massive bandwidth. Serial advantages are enabled by a completely new connector, delivering higher signal density and supporting faster transmission frequencies through modern point-to-point connections. Designers have a ready path to leverage PCI Express, SATA, Ethernet and USB, all available directly on chipsets and CPUs, and now prevalent in next-generation embedded systems.

cPCI Serial features advancements beyond its connector, including a guide element on the backplane and backward compatibility with earlier generations of the standard. All interfaces are available simultaneously, and the system slot is defined as the central star point for PCI Express, SATA, and USB. Ethernet is realized as single star or full mesh on the backplane.

There is a vast range of industrial I/O components and expansion cards available for this standard, making it a fundamentally sound solution for industrial OEMs and machine builders. As a result, cPCI Serial is applicable to a much wider range of high-end industrial system configurations. For example, GbE- or USB 3.0-based cameras can easily be attached using cPCI Serial’s high-speed interfaces. A range of appropriate connecting cards are already available, enabling fast data collection of several cameras; cards in development shall include additional features such as Power over Ethernet (PoE) in order to connect to high-definition cameras with just one cable in the future. PCIe-based CameraLink framegrabbers can also be integrated with the use of appropriate carrier cards.

Introducing a high-performance Ethernet network of up to 10G on the cPCI Serial backplane further allows systems to perform ahead of rising transaction and traffic loads; designers can more easily anticipate future performance requirements in evolving embedded designs and communication networks. Currently, CPU boards are not equipped with 10G Ethernet controllers because their power consumption is prohibitively high. cPCI Serial realizes 10G communications today by defining two fat pipe slots connected to the system slot via PCIe x8 links, which make them ideally suited for implementing 10G communication via 10G network controller boards. The PCIe x8 interface further allows sufficient headroom to transfer data coming from two 10G Ethernet interfaces.

Powerful yet flexible, cPCI Serial enables advanced machine vision performance for machine and plant control, including integrating several vision systems into a single chassis to create ultra-high-performance, small-footprint solutions.

CompactPCI Serial in action

Next-generation machine vision systems complete highly complex tasks, possible only through very powerful systems like ultra-fast USB 3.0 cameras or multiple GbE vision cameras with high resolutions and color depth. Offering higher resolutions, frame rates, and processing speeds that optimize quality inspection and pick–and-place tasks, these systems rely on complex algorithms, enabling capabilities such as real-time contour detection in 3D.

cPCI Serial boards are being used here to communicate in the system via GbE, PCIe, SATA, and USB connections through the backplane. Designs are future proof, and interfaces such as USB 3.0, SATA 6 Gbps, and PCIe 3.0 are already supported. Using serial connections, systems can now transmit several Gbps of data compared to a cPCI system with a 32-bit/66 MHz PCI bus where the highest possible data throughput is 0.264 Gbps. Serial backplane connections also enhance design flexibility, allowing scalable modular system solutions that can be extended at any time if necessary. System configurations are flexible, and it is possible to implement hybrid systems that retain investments in classic cPCI boards while integrating the horsepower of cPCI Serial (Figure 1).

Figure 1: CompactPCI Serial (cPCI) processor boards offer a flexible solution for OEMs still relying on classic cPCI. For example, designers have the option of using the Kontron CPS3003-SA in combination with a cPCI extension module, allowing both the serial and classic cPCI boards to operate in a hybrid system. This solution prevents the need for redesign or replacement so OEMs can easily continue using existing cPCI boards.

cPCI Serial delivers openness, longevity, modularity, robustness, and reliability – key advantages that are of specific value for applications that require high-speed serial interconnects for network, storage, or PCIe data throughput (Figure 2). Migrating from cPCI to cPCI Serial is handled by adding a second backplane to the chassis – one backplane for classic cPCI and a second for cPCI Serial. The only additional building block required is a bridge between cPCI Serial and cPCI, which can be readily implemented as a feature of the processor board’s extension card.

Figure 2: The Kontron and Q.VITEC application-ready image processing system is based on CompactPCI Serial (cPCI Serial) and the modular image processing software Vision Q.400.

Rear I/O, fat pipe capabilities, and multiple peripheral slots translate to other new design possibilities. No changes are needed to existing housing or cooling, as systems are compatible with the mechanical form factors defined in IEC 1101 and can be reused from the standard cPCI platform.

CompactPCI Serial moving forward

A large and well-defined ecosystem guarantees broad availability and consistent, long-term supply of cPCI technology. cPCI Serial-based system configurations are only limited by OEM ingenuity and market demand, and readily supported by a healthy ecosystem. This fits the bill for high-performance machine vision applications that often warrant unique, high-performance features that can be optimized through high-powered modular designs. System components must match perfectly, and standards-based design expertise is essential to avoid pitfalls. cPCI Serial empowers designers to offer a high degree of standards-based customization, capitalizing on a proven standard supercharged with new options for high-bandwidth I/O. OEMs are furthering the cause with pre-configured platforms that leverage cPCI Serial as the foundation for application-ready platforms.

cPCI Serial maximizes the advantages of new and faster point-to-point industrial applications, making the most of serial communication-based systems that leverage an efficient star topology. The standard’s performance features maximize system usage and longevity, ultimately reducing the end user’s Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Designers also have an ideal and simple migration path for existing cPCI-based deployments, boosting performance and opening new possibilities for cutting-edge, high-end system configurations. Diverse machine vision deployments will illustrate the value of cPCI Serial, and its flexibility and capabilities offer a worthwhile competitive edge for industrial OEMs.

Sandra Korsinek is Technology Manager, 3U CompactPCI/CompactPCI Serial at Kontron.