Embedded modules simplify processor integration

This article presents the advantages provided by the new TI Sitara AM572x processor integrated in the modules offered by Phytec.


By Florian Gross, Texas Instruments and Ralf Orschau, Phytec          Download PDF version of this article


Industrial customers face significant challenges whenever they introduce a new process platform, regardless of whether they design it themselves or prefer to purchase a third-party module instead. This is mainly a result of the on-chip analog sections of increasingly complex processors nowadays, which have higher hardware and software requirements than previously. This can lead to costly and lengthy development cycles.

As a solution to this dilemma, module vendors readily integrate EMC-critical components at the module level. As a manufacturer of embedded modules, Phytec has many years of experience concerning EMC-aware layout for high-speed signals. Relevant components are integrated into the module, which plays the role of an additional component on the carrier board. This separation between processor environment and application greatly simplifies the design of the carrier board.

Figure 1. Block diagram of Texas Instrument ARM Cortex-A15 processor AM572x

 

Each module comes with a hardware-specific Board Support Package (BSP). Phytec adapts the BSP to its hardware, which leads to significant time and cost savings for the customer. Designing the software for new processors usually takes as much time as the design of the hardware. Upon request, the company will also make any module-related driver adaptions for the final products. Based on the long-term relationship between Texas Instruments and Phytec, the module manufacturer has access to selected processors like the AM572x processor in an early development stage. This shortens the time-to-market, meaning the module can be made available to customers earlier. Based on a single- or dual-core ARM Cortex-A15 architecture, the AM572x processor is available in different configuration levels featuring up to two C66 DSPs supporting the main processor in HMI applications, etc. In the past, this would have required two separate processors. Automotive applications benefit from the processor Profibus protocols and its temperature range of -40 °C to 105 °C.

When it comes to performance, the two ARM Cortex-A15 cores clocked at up to 1.5GHz (3.5DMIPS/MHz) and the two C66 DSPs are supported by 2 x 32 bits of DDR3/DDR3L memory, with one of these memories featuring ECC (Memory Error Detection). For the first time, the SGX544 dual-core 3D graphics acceleration unit and video acceleration for a 1080p HD stream have been integrated in a TI Sitara processor, enabling the MCU to drive multiple displays.

For industrial automation applications, the AM572x processor provides significant benefits resulting from its two on-chip instances of the PRU-ICSS (Programmable Real-time Unit – Industrial Communication Subsystem), providing support for almost all industrial fieldbus protocols. Cooperating with third-party suppliers, TI provides stacks and firmware for Profibus, EtherCAT, Profinet, and EtherNET IP slave operation. In addition, master configurations are planned for Profibus and EtherCAT. Stacks and firmware have been integrated and tested in the TI System Development Kit (SDK) for TI-RTOS (Real-Time Operating System), which can be downloaded for free at the company website. The TI-RTOS kernel is a basic real-time operating system specifically designed for TI products. The on-chip C66xx DSPs provide an additional advantage for industrial automation applications. For instance, they can be used to implement motor monitoring and error detection schemes. For this purpose, the DSPs are accessed via OpenCL in order to perform a spectrum analysis based on the FFT algorithm (Fast Fourier Transform). By detecting motor frequency variations, this reveals any imbalances or other faults.

Figure 2. Comparison of different AM572x processor variants

 

Phytec develops the phyCORE-AM57x processor module based on the AM572x processor. With the feature set described above, the module lends itself particularly to HMI, aviation control, industrial automation, machine vision, medical imaging, and networking applications. Using the phyCAM-P interface, cameras and automotive sensors can be connected to the phyCORE-AM57x processor module. To suit different market requirements, the company uses mechanically robust connectors on the module. Alternatively, the module can be directly soldered to the carrier board using the company’s proprietary DSC technology. The components were selected based on their long-term availability, their suitability for industrial applications and their extended temperature range. If required, a protective coating is also available for the module.

A development kit for the phyCORE-AM57x processor will be provided, facilitating a quick entry into the design of a custom carrier board and corresponding applications. The kit consists of the phyCORE-AM57x processor module suitable for industrial use and volume production, a universal carrier board, circuit diagrams and a comprehensive software package. The latter includes a build environment based on the YOCTO project. All relevant documentation is also included. In addition, free support is provided for the start-up phase. The complete microelectronics stage is manufactured by Phytec at its Mainz factory. The company provides customers with insight into the production process in order to negotiate any customizations that might be necessary in the manufacture of certified products.

Figure 3. phyCORE-AM57x processor embedded module and possible applications

 

The example described demonstrates how module providers can cooperate with semiconductor manufacturers in order to design modules matching the high performance and complexity level provided by modern processors. The integration of EMC-critical components into the module also reduces the time to market and the design effort required for customer projects. Consequently, module design can start while the processor is still prepared for volume production. In addition, the modules provide guaranteed long-term availability and are suitable for industrial applications. By letting all project partners concentrate on the core competencies, this concept brings sustainable advantages for industrial customers who also benefit from the elimination of lengthy and costly in-house development projects.


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