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Demystifying the Raspberry Pi Industrial Computer

By ·Categories: Tech Explained·Published On: February 24th, 2023·22.7 min read·

The Raspberry Pi has moved from the makerspace to the industrial IoT edge. For this episode of OnLogic Live, we spoke with OnLogic Product Manager, Mike Walsh, and Travis Cox, Chief Technology Evangelist at Inductive Automation, to help shed some light on why Raspberry Pi is now a viable option for industrial projects. 

For one thing, the Raspberry Pi platform offers an impressively high capabilities to cost ratio, and that its compact size enables it to fit just about anywhere. But it takes more than that to be a good choice for your next industrial deployment. That’s where the Factor 200 Series of industrial Raspberry Pi computers comes in. Watch the broadcast or read the recap below to learn more including: 

  • What makes an industrial Raspberry Pi industrial 
  • Why an industrial Raspberry Pi is so appealing for many use cases
  • How an industrial Raspberry Pi can be used in an Ignition environment

Watch the video: Industrial Raspberry Pi, Why now?

Introducing our speakers

Mike Walsh: I’m a senior product manager here at OnLogic. And for those who aren’t familiar with OnLogic, we do computers for tough use cases out at the edge. We’ll talk today about industrial manufacturing strategy, but, we’re also seeing applications in smart cities, smart buildings, smart agriculture and more. It’s really about getting intelligence and computers out to the edge.

Photo of Mike Walsh, senior product manager at OnLogic

Travis Cox: I’m the Chief Technology Evangelist for Inductive Automation. We are a software company and we provide an industrial application platform called Ignition to build any kind of industrial application.

Photo of Travis Cox, Chief Technology Evangelist for Inductive Automation

What led OnLogic to develop the Factor Series – a Raspberry Pi industrial computer?

Mike: It’s all about the edge where so much is happening. We’re at this amazing tipping point where data is becoming more and more valuable and the cost of acquiring that data is coming down. It’s completely changing industries. When we created the Factor Series using ARM, we were able to hit that low cost parameter and also low power consumption. 

We wanted to ensure that our customers could put these computers almost anywhere. So we industrialized them and made them able to survive in tough environments that might include dust, dirt, humidity, temperature extremes, as well as vibration and impact forces. 

Its capabilities to cost ratio is just off the hook and it’s small enough to put nearly anywhere. That really opens up many opportunities to collect data and get value out of that data. I’m really excited to offer two special versions of our Factor Series which are preloaded, ready to go with Ignition Edge: the IGN800 and the IGN802.

The Ignition community and Raspberry Pi

Travis: Our customers are trying to solve the challenges of getting access to data and bringing it up to their applications. From even our very beginning, we’ve been helping customers with hub and spoke architectures. That’s where you put those spokes out there to do local data collection and do a store and forward and potentially also have a local HMI on critical assets. 

So to start, they’re trying to get these proof of concepts (POCs) out there and Raspberry Pis were just so easy to get a hold of to try it out. And they worked to solve the problems. But then moving from PoCs to actual production, there’s the realization that you need a more reliable and ruggedized solution. They need the right hardware for the right solution. 

Bridging the gap from the proof of concept makerspace to industrial hardware

Mike: The Factor Series is an Industrial Raspberry Pi and it is our first foray into ARM technology. As Travis mentioned, a lot of people were already using Raspberry Pi for their PoCs. A lot of our engineers also use them at home for home automation. 

In fact, our engineering team was pretty excited to work on this project. Anytime you can get an engineering department excited, it means you’re probably going to get a pretty doggone good product out of it. 

Raspberry Pi – the partner 

In addition, the market position of Raspberry Pi was really important. They are a super great company with well-established hardware, great user base, and amazing community support. So, we were thrilled to death to work with them – they’re a fantastic partner. We’re very proud to have been accepted into the Powered by Pi program. 

This solution has enabled us to do some different things, turn on new additional interfaces, as well as getting into new spaces.

When in doubt, bring it out

Working with my lead engineer Dave, we had a philosophy: when in doubt, bring it out! By that I mean that if there was an interface on the Raspberry Pi compute module and we thought it might be useful to our customers, we brought that out externally to enable access to it. For example: analog in, digital in and out, thermocouples, current sense, voltage sense – we tried to give as much flexibility as we could. We had a “let’s see what happens attitude” and it’s giving our customers a chance to experiment and see what works.

Factor 200 for building automation

Here at OnLogic, we believe in, as they say, “eating your own dog food”. We’ve deployed our Factor 200 Series – our industrial Raspberry Pis to power the building automation in our new facility. We’re learning a lot from our experiences and it’s helping us think about the next generation of products down the line. 

Screenshot of Mike Walsh, Travis Cox, and Darek Fanton during OnLogic Live, Industrial Raspberry Pi

Home automation using the Factor Series

Travis: I’m really a big fan of home automation and big enthusiast of it, and I like to connect everything in my house. I use the Factor 200 to collect the data and bring that data into the Ignition Maker Edition. Now I am able to see the data and visualize that around the house. 

For example, since I have the I/O, I’m able to connect to my hot water heater. For the recirculation pump, I can turn it on and off when we actually need it rather than relying on a schedule.

I can also plug in a Google Coral stick to do real time object and dog detection from the cameras I have around the house. It’s really versatile, easy for people to get access to and do a lot of great things. There is a lot of material out there in the makerspace to have a little fun.

Design considerations of an industrial Raspberry Pi

Mike: The big switch is when you move out of the PoC phase where you maybe started with a consumer Raspberry Pi that you picked up on Amazon. You can’t take that device and put it out in an oil field for example. It probably wouldn’t survive the first day. 

The first thing that you need to do is industrialize it. We spoke to that a little bit already – how it can survive tough environments. But, it’s more than just the environment – it’s also EMC and regulatory compliance. These are major factors for anybody who’s done a project that’s subject to regulatory compliance. You have to think about that during the design phase – we wanted to take that stress off of our customers. And we thought about wide deployment – meeting the standards of different countries. 

Power capabilities

There are some other things that you may not think about. For example, a standard Raspberry Pi has a little power supply adapter where you can plug it into a standard wall socket. Where these things need to be deployed, there’s no AC sockets to be found. For example: in-vehicle, on trains, shop floors, or on a DIN rail, you’ve probably got 24 volt power. So we wanted to make sure that the device could accept DC power and make sure that we could accept wide power because a lot of the times it varies. 

The Compute Module 4 (CM4)

The heart of it is the CM4 Module. When Raspberry Pi developed an industrialized Raspberry Pi module – the CM4, it really opened the door for us. That gave us the heart, and then we built around that. For example, the M.2 drive – eMMC can be great, but if you’re going to collect and store a lot of data, do store and forward, or any sort of light analysis, you’ll need something a little more robust like an M.2 SATA SSD. 

Available cellular connectivity

For connectivity, you may not have an ethernet connection or WiFi. For those sites we offer cellular connectivity with a 4G LTE option so that people can get to their data. The days of sending somebody out on a two hour drive out to that wellhead to collect that information, then drive on back to the office – those days are long past. So we created a deployable and useful solution so that our customers can gather that valuable data and get it back to the office where you can make use of it. 

Use cases with the Factor 200 Series 

Mike: We’re seeing a variety of use cases – starting with the obvious one – connecting legacy equipment. The reality of the world today is there’s a lot of existing stuff out there that works absolutely fine. Some of these old PLCs and sensors, they’re not easy to replace, nor would you want to replace them. So you can drop in a small Factor 200 and all of a sudden you can get remote access to that equipment.

Cellular connectivity for data accessibility 

Once in place, you can do some data collection and maybe a little bit of lightweight data processing. Cellular connection opens up a lot of opportunities to make the data accessible and usable. We also are seeing people use them for viewing stations, HMIs, digital signage, building automation, and more. 

Security use case

One of my favorite use cases is a security company that we’re working with. And to me, the cool thing about this use case is showing what you can do with limited power. This is Raspberry Pi. It  is not a Xeon processor. This is not server grade. This is not a $3,000 – $5,000 unit where you’re going to do AI.

This company is using sensors to do very simple triggering of potential security events. That includes proximity detectors, door opening detectors, movement detectors and more. They’re capturing that image, video and audio and bringing that into the device, doing some simple processing and then sending that up to the cloud. From there, it’s evaluated to see whether it truly was a security event.

We are at a tipping point

To me, that’s really cool to get really useful application data using very simple technology. This data is becoming more and more valuable and isn’t going to cost thousands of dollars to capture – more like hundreds of dollars. That’s why we are at a tipping point. 

What excites Inductive Automation users about the industrial Raspberry Pi? 

Travis: Historically, since Ignition has an unlimited license model, users deploy a single server and then want to connect to all of their devices and bring all that data in. Well, of course, they bring what’s important for the HMI, for what they need to run that facility.

But there are certain industries where there’s connectivity issues. Of course you’ll see that with oil and gas or wastewater. You’ve got remote telemetry out there so you could lose the connection to the remote site. But even within a manufacturing site, you might have different buildings. I’ve seen forklifts cut the fiber to a building. And if your system was purely central, you could lose data, you could lose visibility, you could lose control.

Industrial Raspberry Pi for the Edge

And so from the very beginning we called this hub and spoke architecture. Now we officially call this architecture “Edge”. Each spoke end is at the edge and we’re putting something out there close to those devices so that we can eliminate some of these connectivity issues. We can connect that data locally and we can potentially pull the data at faster rates to get it sent up to a system more efficiently.  

This solution can scale. We had scalability issues with just one centralized server. But now by distributing out the architecture, we can combat not only latency and connectivity issues, but get more data – data is gold!

Architecture Diagram showing how OnLogic’s Industrial Raspberry Pi can be used to scale and Ignition solution

90% of the data is stranded in the field – go get it!

Analysts say that approximately 90% of data gets stranded in the field. This gives us the ability to connect to that data, bring it in and democratize it to make it available to more places. And I think that’s really key to solving those challenges here. And at the same time, have a local HMI on a critical asset – there’s a lot of great use cases for it. 

It’s kind of a no-brainer for oil and gas, wastewater and those remote areas. But also for manufacturing where it’s all about getting access to more data and being able to do more with that data. Manufacturing if doing more with AI and ML. They need all that information in the cloud. We need to make it accessible. 

Fleet management

I also get really excited about fleet management. We’re seeing these devices on vehicles where they’re now able to capture real-time data and have that stored and sent up through cellular. These systems are providing an avenue to solve these challenges, plus allow for the ability to do more. With that open compute, there’s more possibilities that it opens up architecturally.

Q&A session

How much data can actually be processed by these types of Raspberry Pi powered devices? What are the possibilities?