Embedded computer systems in industry

Embedded computing systems exist in several aspects of our everyday lives and work. Embedded systems, also referred to as embedded computers, are any special-purpose system that’s completely enclosed. Whereas a general computer system could perform a spread of tasks with many choices for add-ons and integration with alternative or additional systems, embedded computer systems fulfil one singular, central task. This usually means that they’ll be designed so as to best fulfil their singular purpose, without needing to consider the requirement for flexibility or further purposeful abilities.

Embedded systems can be tiny. They are often small devices central to a larger system and are designed to perform one function. The systems are typically equipped with real-time computing constraints. These permit it to work within a bigger system. These smaller systems act in a similar manner to cogs in a machine, performing their singular tasks but collectively allowing the larger system as a whole to perform more complex functions. Whereas one embedded computer will usually perform only 1 core function, several utilised together may act as part of a complete system to perform a sophisticated task or function.

Instead of being operated by traditional input methods such as keyboards, mouse buttons, or touchscreens, embedded systems operate through sensors, actuators, and other alternative modes of communication. Many embedded devices / systems are designed to run on their own, without the requirement for human interaction.

When people typically think of embedded systems they usually think of embedded devices such as cell phones, TV’s, ATMs, printers, thermostats, microwaves and gaming systems. However, the list becomes for much longer once you consider the numerous totally different embedded computer systems currently being used in the manufacturing and industrial automation spaces.

In factories, plants, and many other typical industrial settings, the utilization of embedded computers is wide spread. They’re used in a multitude of ways, typically anywhere where a repetitive task can be automated such as checking and reporting a temperature, or performing the same physical task at set intervals like opening a valve, blowing a timed jet of air on a production line and other such tasks. While embedded computers are often used to automate repetitive tasks they are also heavily used for monitoring and reporting, such as monitoring the environment for things such as vibration levels and humidity and reporting this information back to another device where it can be processed / interpreted. Having embedded systems that contain no moving parts, are fanless and are completely enclosed means they can be suitably designed for almost any situation, high moisture levels, high temperatures, high vibration levels, high levels of dust are all things that would break everyday computers but embedded systems can work unaffected in these hostile environments.

Embedded computer systems can come with their own set of drawbacks. While they can be designed to suit extremely harsh environments, if they are not suitable for a particular environment, failure will occur just like with any other type of computer system. Embedded systems also need to have more processing power than you would suspect. In some cases they may only be doing simple tasks but they are often performing them extremely quickly over and over again at incredible speeds, or else are submitting sensory data in real-time. They are also often fanless, and so must be able to perform their tasks without overheating, simply keeping an embedded system cool enough can be a challenge itself in the harshest environments.

For more information on how embedded computer systems are used in industry please see this informative YouTube video below: