System Integration


 
Introduction

System Integrators (SIs) have application domain expertise that their clients leverage to implement new solutions that can fulfill needs faster than other means.  Modern technologies are intricate and maintaining mastery requires frequent use of them.  It can be very expensive for clients to maintain this expertise.

System Integrators generally write software to integrate elements of a system.  This software executes on industrial, or embedded, computer systems.  Some SIs build their own computer systems but with the ready availability of modular industrial computers, this is becoming increasingly hard to justify.  One justification is to get the exact and specific input and output (I/O) that a system requires but this, too, is getting hard to justify given that firms exist that specialize in I/O development for standard computer form factors and ecosystems - like the Raspberry Pi.  EDATEC is such a firm.

EDATEC is an “Industrial Pi” solutions provider.  We have hundreds of I/O configurations available in metal-housed, rugged enclosures that include an integral Raspberry Pi module that is cooled without using a fan in order to reduce CPU-frequency downshifting, wear, noise, and ingress of dust and contaminants that are possible with fan-based systems.  As a vertically integrated hardware provider that is plugged into the Raspberry Pi organization’s official supply chain, if our standard I/O configurations do not meet your need, we offer custom configurations of hardware for annual production volume of as little as 500 units per year.

EDATEC is the electronics hardware provider to many SIs and the more SIs partnering with us, the more varied and competitive our solutions are.  We invite you to ask us for a quote or a conference call to learn what we already have or what you need built.

This webpage is organized into 4 more sections: Section 1 explains why anyone might want to hire or outsource a System Integrator, Section 2 discusses the pros and cons of building your own hardware in a world of highly integrated, capable, low cost modules like Raspberry Pi's, Section 3 presents how to become a System Integrator on your own right, and Section 4 is on how to team up with EDATEC what are our requirements.

Section 1: Why hire or outsource to a System Integrator

You are building or remodeling an office complex and you want it to be low maintenance and efficient to minimize your operating costs.  You want to automate heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), door access, and building security along with remote access from anywhere in the world.  Or perhaps you have a business plan and financing to build a network of Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) charging stations that accept credit cards and track energy consumption and statistics in a geography lacking such charging stations.  Still maybe you design high performance race cars and you want to incorporate an improved engine controller or incorporate new telemetry sensors onto an existing vehicle.  New plant layouts and new machinery in those plants are some of the more popular issues requiring engineered, custom or semi-custom solutions for reduced plant operating cost and improved efficiencies.

The above are examples of actual applications that System Integrators implement.  In fact, the list of applications is virtually endless; there are experts in just about any field that are available for hire to the pleasure of their clients.

However, there are reasons to “roll your own” solution.  Of course, you will need the human resources, ideally with experience implementing the solution you need and, if not, you’ll need enough time for your team to learn what they need to know.  You will also need the instruments and equipment to complete the job.  These are available to you just as they are to the System Integrators.  Considering the cost of mistakes and oversights due to lacking experience and possible rework, these costs can be quite high but worth it.  The best reason to do this is probably because your solution is proprietary, represents a competitive advantage, or you have a recurrent need for your development resources.  You could obtain intellectual property protection in the form of patents but they, too, are expensive.  It is difficult to detect violations of your patents and expensive to defend.  The best form of intellectual property protection is to keep your invention a trade secret as there is no expiration date on a trade secret.  However, after all, you must keep your invention secret which is hard to do unless you release information only to those on a strictly need to know basis.  The Coca-Cola recipe was kept proprietary for over 130 years; an incredible feat considering that most people like to talk about their inventions.

Section 2: Pros and Cons of building your own hardware

Many years ago, when working for a major electronics and semiconductor distributor, I noticed that a radio frequency (RF) module made by one manufacturer on the distributor’s line card incorporated a semiconductor chip made by another manufacturer on the same line card.  I decided to look up what companies were purchasing the RF module and then look up what companies were purchasing the lower-level chip.  To my surprise, a very large original equipment manufacturer (OEM) was buying production quantities of both the module and the chip.  I was dumbfounded.  Here was a company capable of producing a solution at the lowest possible production cost.  They had specification writers, development engineers, production engineers, test engineers, purchasing departments, and managers.  They had design archival systems for design retrieval and product life cycle support.  They had an engineering change order (ECO) system with testing and calibration requirements documented.  They had Manufacturing and Enterprise Resource Planning (MRP & ERP) systems to record where products were used, where they were stored, what they paid for each part and when, who they bought the parts from, and so on.  They had everything they needed to optimize the cost and the performance of an electronic system, yet they did not utilize all that they had.  Instead, they bought an RF module that had already passed compliance testing.  Then I realized the reasons why.

They might not have had the time to meet a market window.  Maybe they were confident of the market size and that their intrinsic costs would not be covered by a custom design.  Still if the market was larger than they thought, they could still customize a design.  Perhaps the performance of the commercial off the shelf (COTS) module was simply good enough or better than their application needed at a competitive cost to all alternatives.

Today, with ready availability of finished products such as compute modules, system on modules (SoMs), system on chips (SoCs), and system in packages (SiPs) access to canned expertise has never been more accessible.  Furthermore, software infrastructures like operating system (OS) ecosystems, open source software functionality like over the air (OTA) updates of programs to already deployed products are readily available.  One such COTS hardware and software ecosystem is Raspberry Pi.  In addition to all the items named above, Raspberry Pi also has a huge number of followers who are generally anxious to help answer any questions and large numbers of users mean that bugs and latent problems are discovered sooner than later.

Section 3: So, you want to be a System Integrator

To be a System Integrator today, you practically need to write software.  You must also have domain expertise.  Someone is hiring you to leverage your knowledge.  You need to be capable of delivering 100% turnkey solutions.  Your reputation counts.

You also need a professional network both to help circulate your name and also to know people you can ask for help, perhaps to cover a weakness of yours.  You have liability as a System Integrator.  There is risk and you need to be able to quote a job based on its risk.  For example, a quote in the form of a “Not to exceed” cost puts the risk on you.  You must know most of the known unknowns such as knowing that it will snow in the winter but you don’t know when, you will also beneficially know the kind of unknown unknowns that can surface and what impact to cost, quality, and time they had in past projects.

I was once exposed to a study of contractors and one trait that I remember is the importance of being in relative close proximity to one’s client.  There will be meetings to attend and systems to observe.  It’s important for the client to know you and feel comfortable that you will be there when needed.

Thankfully, whereas you need to know and understand all low level details of hardware, you will have to know the interfaces between the products or components of the system you are integrating.  But you won’t have to design those hardware interfaces.  They are readily available from EDATEC.

Section 4: Teaming up with EDATEC

EDATEC launched a System Integrator Program in 2024 that provides discounts for sample quantities of its products to help SIs test and evaluate hardware platforms.  There is a production discount too.  Being accepted to EDATEC’s SIP gives you access to its engineering staff and leverages their marketing for your services.

EDATEC benefits from the SI, too.  Our focus and aspiration is to lead in industrial and commercial products based on Raspberry Pi platforms.  Signing new SIs means sales of more products and more end customers.  EDATEC also learns from issues confronting SIs.  This broadens our product lines and feature sets.

Becoming a SI as part of our SIP starts with a conference call to explain yourself to us while we detail the program for you.    We look forward to meeting you and you can find how to contact us below.

Next, you must complete an application form and we must approve your inclusion in our program.  You must have at least one specific domain expertise but you might have multiple domains of expertise.  You will need your own customers and sales and marketing expertise to grow your business.  A record of pleasing customers for a long enough period is required, too.

Section 5: Popular products used by Sis
  • IPCs
  • HMIs
Section 6: More information
USA & Europe: Randall Restle 
randall@edatec.cn
+1 859-653-0800
 
Asia: Jason Liu 
sales@edatec.cn
 


NOTES

Section 2: Pros and Cons of building your own hardware