The world of consumer electronics migrates on at the speed of Moore’s Law. Cost and performance have been increasing uniformly for the last 20 years. The cellphone in your pocket is a more powerful computer than the one you had at your desk five years ago (give or take).
The track record in the industrial community is quite different. Major aspects of the consumer electronics industry pervade the industrial controls landscape. Windows CE is the dominant OS for operator-to-machine interface devices. Ethernet communications is by far the dominant communications layer between systems. Internet access and Bluetooth networking is so pervasive that industrial controls vendors are making individual sensors “net aware” and writing applications for your mobile computing device to be able to connect at will.
Pretty amazing stuff.
Yet the mainstream of industrial control does not seem to be innovating at the same rate as consumer electronics. Yet much of the industry is taking advantage of consumer componentry. The whole notion of “Industrial Computers” would not exist without the massive volumes of Intel multicore processors, ARM 7, 9 & 11 processors, DSPs, etc. Yet the controls industry isn’t seeing the same cost decline as consumers are seeing in their market space.
Not that there isn’t a declining cost, it’s just not happening at the same pace. For which there might be some justifications.
Industrial products are required to meet more stringent testing. If you look at the number agency approvals that are listed for products like Wago I/O, its incredible. The cost for each test submittal is quite high and this leads to a huge cost burden for each component. Testing for explosion proof performance and military grade shock and vibration rating is similarly expensive. These are tests that consumer products are not required to meet.
On the other hand, reliability testing for consumer products is pretty grueling, just different. If Apple is going to produce 200,000 a month of some new product, they want to avoid any potential for a recall. My guess is more money might be spent on consumer product testing for different reasons, but it is amortized over many more units, so the impact is less noticeable.
Industrial control products use software applications that are highly focused and require complex testing. Basically, software testing has roughly the same dynamics as hardware testing.
At the end of the day its about economies of scale and volume. If the most successful I/O product in the entire industrial marketplace shipped 200,000 units a year, then the scale of the consumer market is 10 to 100 times larger than the industrial market. So it should come as no surprise that consumer cellphones and tablets are making their way into the industrial control environment.
More on this next week.