Embedded computers: Hidden power at the service of business

Embedded computers play essential roles as part of larger systems, helping to make processes in factories and companies smarter and more efficient.

Embedded computers are essentially small computer systems, composed of dedicated hardware and software, designed for specific uses and installed as part of larger mechanical or electronic devices. An embedded computer integrates processing units, storage and interfaces typical of the industrial world (such as serial and VGA), mechanical components and dedicated software. All in a compact design, capable of ensuring high performance and long operation. The aim is to have a complete PC but in a small form factor ready for integration.

In the present day, embedded computers are used within all systems with electronics and can be defined as the backbone of modern industrial equipment.

Embedded computer benefits

With their small size and efficient power consumption, embedded computers are particularly suitable for use in situations of size, weight or power constraints. These solutions require less maintenance than overall systems and, because of their independence, are optimal for tasks that require little or no human intervention, as is often the case in industry. Their robustness, reliability and longevity make them particularly suitable in sectors such as manufacturing, logistics, transport, and medical electronics, where performance and resistance requirements are extremely high due to complex operating conditions and the need to ensure process continuity and safety.

The main benefits of embedded computers include the following:

  • HW/SW integration in a plug&play system that significantly speeds up the design of the final solution, reducing the time to market;
  • A rugged design that ensures functionality in high-temperature environments, even in fanless configurations;
  • refractoriness to moisture, electromagnetic interference, vibration and shock;
  • modularity, achieved through the use of technologies that allow I/O and other functionalities to be expanded according to specific needs or types of use;
  • scalability, which allows you to easily upgrade and adapt your systems to meet new needs.

Also because of these characteristics, embedded computers now play a key role in the Internet of Things (IoT),since they increasingly constitute the heart of connected devices: by processing the data collected by sensors, they support data-driven decisions that promote innovation and process optimisation.

A key role in the industry

The industrial world is increasingly making significant use of embedded systems to increase automation and coordinate and optimise operations, minimizing human error and increasing accuracy. This not only speeds up processing times but also improves the production and quality of finished products.

More specifically, in industrial automation, embedded computers enable the control and coordination of various equipment and processes, receiving inputs from sensors, processing data, and producing output signals. Real-time data collection and analysis provide a clear view of production performance, enabling timely and targeted interventions. Practical examples come from areas such as the following:

  • manufacturing: embedded computers can regulate and coordinate the operation of CNC machines, industrial robots, and assembly lines, providing precise control of speed, timing, and synchronization;
  • robotics: they can autonomously manage the movements and actions of robotic systems in industries such as automotive manufacturing, and warehouse logistics for specific tasks such as welding, pick and place, and packaging with high accuracy and reliability;
  • energy management: they allow the continuous monitoring of various energy consumption parameters and analyse the data collected to detect patterns and trends, to optimize the usage of energy in industrial plants;
  • machine monitoring: built-in sensors and interfaces enable the collection and control of real-time data such as temperature, pressure, or humidity. Processing and analysing this data with Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL) algorithms facilitates early malfunction detection in production environments, predictive maintenance, and quality control to maintain high standards in production processes.

More generally, the following are the benefits that embedded systems generate in the field of industrial automation:

  • optimisation of processes through real-time monitoring and control, which give companies a clear view of production performance, allowing timely and targeted interventions;
  • improvement of productivity and efficiency through the automation of repetitive tasks, which frees personnel from monotonous, low-value tasks, allowing them to focus on more strategic tasks;
  • proactive risk management thanks to advanced technologies such as IoT, ML and AI, which predict potential problems before they become critical to reduce downtime and maintain high safety and reliability standards;
  • creation of new opportunities with advanced data analytics, identifying hidden trends and patterns in manufacturing data to facilitate actionable decisions that improve overall business strategy.

A complete offer for industrial systems

In the industrial field, the ability to integrate complex systems is now crucial to meet specific market and corporate needs. SECO has developed in-depth skills in system integration, design and assembly of mechanical parts integrated with electronics. Such expertise includes making mechanical parts using technologies such as injection moulding for plastic elements, extrusion for aluminium parts, and die-casting, which ensure high-quality products.

Software customisation is another distinctive element provided by SECO. From pre-installing the customer's software to creating Roots of Trust to ensure the security of IoT devices, SECO is committed to providing solutions that are adaptable to individual needs. Furthermore, the ability to develop custom wiring ensures effective management of the connection of all devices in complex systems, which include numerous electronic boards or modules.

Integration capabilities extend to monitors and touchscreens, which can be installed directly on the industrial machinery to display data and perform monitoring tasks.

SECO offers an extensive catalogue of fanless embedded computers based on Arm and x86 architectures. These off-the-shelf solutions provide a cost-effective approach for industrial and IoT applications, reducing development time and ensuring rapid deployment.

All SECO embedded computers are supplied with a basic operating system optimised to interact with the Clea software suite for IoT, which allows the retrieval of data from devices, transfer of the data to the cloud, data analysis and the enabling of services such as fleet management and remote updates. This comprehensive integration provides an end-to-end solution that meets the needs of the industrial world.