SoM SiP for embedded processing in industrial systems

Scalable solutions to get your STM32MP1 MPU design to market quicker

Overview
SoM solution
SiP solution
Discrete solution
Financial considerations
Takeaways
 
som sip Industry 4.0

Companies in the Industry 4.0 era are facing new technical and marketing challenges, and need to balance capacity, investment, company direction and decision-making processes to deliver viable solutions and win market share.

It is important to understand the risks and the rewards associated with introducing new technologies in the race to be first to market. New working models may be necessary to avoid falling into the 60% category of projects that wind up behind schedule, according to a recent EEtimes study(1), with the two most pressing issues being debugging and achieving milestones.

Consider an application requiring the development of a new industrial-grade microprocessor (MPU) -based system. Such systems typically consist of the processor IC, DDR SDRAM and non-volatile memory, I/Os, a power management and ancillary components or passives that would pose several challenges for engineers attempting to build an in-house integrated solution, including:

  • designing a PCB layout that ensures signal and power integrity and compliance with EMC requirements for high-speed interfaces with DDR memory and high-speed I/O links;
  • designing a robust and reliable power management system.

To accelerate application development and circumvent certain pitfalls, engineers have two increasingly popular integration strategies open to them:

  • The System-on-Module (SoM) approach
  • The System-in-Package (SiP) approach

With analysts forecasting robust growth for the system-on-module (SoM) segment(2) as well as the Single-Board Computer (SBC) market, industry is taking a closer look at these two solutions.

To help you choose the best solution for your project, we explain the opportunities, cost benefits and other important aspects of deploying System-on-Module (SoM) or System-in-Package (SiP) solutions in Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) applications.

In addition to learning about the benefits of using SoM and SiP solutions to implement MPU-based industrial systems, you will also see what is involved in developing a full discrete solution. To help you get started, we have included some useful resources.

Advantages of a System-On-Module solution

What is a System-On-Module (SoM)?
A system-on-module (SoM) is a small PCB embedding the MPU, PMIC, DDR SDRAM, Flash memory and passive components. Optionally, the SoM can also add other functions including Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity. The SoM can be directly soldered on the motherboard or plugged in via a connector. It reduces hardware design and software development time and costs.

Computer-On-Module or System-on-Module (SoM) integrators can help reduce development risks with tested and certified modules that incorporate a microprocessor, power management, DRAM and Flash memories, as well as passive components. On top of the hardware, the SoM maker delivers a software Board Support Package (BSP) to ease the porting of customer applications.

Offering advanced support services, local support teams ensuring the customer development combined with the SoM technical offer enable companies to concentrate their own resources on developing their application's key features and differentiators. This is especially beneficial when adding dedicated resources in regard to software development as well as hardware functions such as motor control or wireless communication. Companies can then reduce the risk of development by focusing their work on their own field of expertise and not on complex PCB design issues.

While reducing project risks, this working model allows companies to reduce hardware platform and low-level software development costs, as well as facilitate the manufacturing and procurement phases. By consolidating these advantages, companies can get their solution on the market(3) much faster than having to develop a full discrete solution as described in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Differences between SoM and full discrete solutions
Figure 1: Differences between SoM and full discrete solutions

In addition to offering SMARC, Q7, microQ7 and other form factors, certain SoM providers even remove connectors so the SoM can be directly soldered on the motherboard, thereby reducing costs even further by removing the connectors and allowing a single-sided PCB.

Whatever the SoM implementation, development teams can safely start their design and get to the production phase much faster than by designing a full application based on a discrete IC implementation.

Figure 2: Overview of advantages of using a SoM approach
Figure 2: Overview of advantages of using a SoM approach

Being the first on the market drives higher market share

While module-based development costs less than full discrete solutions, the unit cost of a SoM solution is higher depending on expected volumes. With this in mind, management teams will have then to make a volume-triggered decision between going with a SoM or a full discrete solution.

The main differences between module- and discrete-based solutions are listed in Table 1.

Customer challenges Full discrete solution SoM-based solution Comments
System risk * *** Reduces risk when designing new applications
Lower development cost * *** Strengthens engineering teams' IP development and value-added features
Manufacturing sourcing * *** Eases production cycle - just one item to order and maintain
Sourcing longevity * *** Sourcing becomes the responsibility of the system provider
System cost * ** Optimizes PCB implementation and the number of layers of the motherboard
Time-to-market * *** Being first on the market triggers earning market share
Table 1: SoM vs discrete solution selection guide

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Advantages of a System-In-Package solution

What is a System-In-Package (SiP)?
A system-in-package (SiP) module is a single component that embeds in a BGA package all necessary components of an electronic sub-system such as MPU, PMIC, DDR, passive components and crystal oscillator. The SiP module is then soldered on top of the motherboard. It simplifies the design of a complex electronic system.

The SiP concept involves combining all the required ICs in a single package. In this case, the microprocessor, power management IC, memories, crystal oscillator and passive components can, for example, all be integrated into a BGA package with a smaller footprint than a discrete solution.

The SiP approach is ideal when developers already have an advanced design and know the required code size. This still allows companies to reduce implementation risks and concentrate on developing key application features, as long as the code has been optimized and assessed.

The SiP solution combined with a low-cost PCB implementation favors space-constrained applications. It can also include a Board Support Package (BSP) to help the customer with their software development and streamline manufacturing and procurement phases.

Figure 3: Differences between SiP and full discrete solutions
Figure 3: Differences between SiP and full discrete solutions
Customer challenges Full discrete solution SIP-based solution Comments
System risk * *** SiP solution reduces risk when designing new applications
Lower development cost * *** Strengthens engineering teams' IP development and value-added features
Manufacturing * *** Eases procurement, just one product to order and maintain
SiP solution increases end product yield
Sourcing longevity * *** Transferring third-party ICs and passives sourcing is the responsibility of the SiP provider
System cost * ** Optimizes PCB size and number of layers for the motherboard
Size optimization * *** Strongest advantage of the SiP when size is n°1 criteria
Time-to-market * *** Being first on the market triggers earning market share
Table 2: SiP vs discrete solution selection guide

On-demand webinars

Advantages of a full discrete solution

What is a full discrete solution?
When talking about high volume goods, the large quantity of sales absorbs much of the development costs. In this case, it is worth looking at a full discrete solution where all the necessary ICs are soldered directly on the main PCB.

ST & Distribution Field Application Engineers can help customers in their development phase by solving technical issues. They also provide specific training on ST technology including embedded software and the STM32 development ecosystem.

An alternative way to get your solution on the market faster consists of leveraging the ST Partner Program. Approved partners offer many different skills and services including training, software development, security features, and graphical design among others. These companies can help make sure that you do not lose time in the early phases of development.

Figure 4: Recommended steps and services to take into account prior to starting an MPU design with a full discrete approach
Figure 4: Recommended steps and services to take into account prior to starting an MPU design with a full discrete approach

Financial Considerations

The cost of project development and manufacturing, as well as its maintenance and support, must be carefully analyzed. A recent study(1) shows that resources for software development are an average of 50% higher than those for hardware.

In addition to lowering hardware design costs, using a SoM or SiP implementation with accompanying Board Support Packages (BSP) will help optimize software development.

While clearly requiring an initial investment, project development costs for discrete IC solutions can be strategically absorbed inside the overall financial projection for price-sensitive applications and high-volume opportunities.

Customer challenges Full discrete solution SoM-based solution SiP-based solution Comments
Unit price *** * * Development costs absorbed thanks to high volumes
Technical support ***     Local ST & Distribution Technical Support
SoM and SiP makers no longer involved
Partner support (Software, security, graphics, and more) *** *** *** Added value of the ST Authorized Partner Program: ST, SoM and SiP makers have support from other partners to help final customer
Table 3: Full Discrete solution selection guide

Takeaways

We discussed the different MPU implementations that system manufacturers can choose from depending on their requirements and constraints: technical support, application size, flexibility of the solution, targeted volume, sourcing, risk of development, etc.

ST provides a scalable business model which can fit each expectation and implementation requirement: from SoM, SiP and full discrete solutions based on our comprehensive STM32MP1 multicore microprocessor portfolio. The extensive ST Partner Program ensures that system manufacturers and innovators worldwide fully benefit from their growth in market share and volume.