OEMs face several critical decisions in pursuit of a successful product launch, including whether to take a “chip-down” approach versus a “modular” approach to building their complex, connected devices. Another layer to that decision for those who choose the modular approach is whether to source their SOMs “off the shelf” through a distributor, or directly through a SOM developer. While this decision may in part be driven by minimum quantity order requirements, understanding what a SOM developer partner like Beacon EmbeddedWorks offers and the true value of such a partnership is a key part to determining the best path to launching a product on the market.
Benefit #1: Reduced Time-to-Market
When OEMs choose a modular foundation for their new product, they don’t have to task a team of their engineers with starting from scratch. The SOM provides a platform on which they can build the capabilities they need for their product. This can accelerate an OEM’s development timeline by six months or more. OEMs who work with SOM developers, especially those offering design and engineering services as well as manufacturing services, gain even more efficiencies that can further speed up their timeline to market.
SOM developers test their SOMs as part of greater systems in many of the same ways that an OEM would have to test a chip-down design, which means the OEM can do less work. SOM makers have already analyzed the combination of the processor and memory, performing rigorous testing so OEMs can feel confident it works and can focus their attention on the final product instead of the underlying foundation. This also applies to wireless chip, flash and other peripherals, where testing is done at temperatures beyond typical commercial ranges. Developers share this data with OEMs, which often drastically reduces the testing OEMs must perform to ensure their device stays operational in their specific use cases.
SOM developers with in-house design and engineering can shave additional weeks off their development timeline by having a full system-level knowledge base available and applying that knowledge whenever possible.
Benefit #2: Customization Options
SOM developers work collaboratively with OEMs to customize the developer’s base SOM and alter its usual bill of materials (BOM) for a specific purpose. This can mean both the addition of components that aren’t normally featured on a SOM’s base model, or the subtraction of features that represent additional costs for capabilities an OEM may not need.
These options represent an extra degree of flexibility for the OEM—for instance, an OEM may need some form of connectivity but not necessarily all the options a base model SOM offers. A SOM developer can strip out what an OEM doesn’t want as part of a custom order.
Benefit #3: Certification Assistance
Some OEMs are looking for more than a bunch of parts and some software. They’re also seeking the peace of mind associated with attaining an industry certification and an agreement that their SOM will maintain that certification. SOM developers like Beacon EmbeddedWorks invest in maintaining compliance with the regulatory requirements, notifying customers of changes and forming plans to implement any necessary updates.
All SOM developers continually re-certify their SOMs over time as requirements change. Just because an OEM has launched a product into their market doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be able to continue to ship product as-is indefinitely.
The work SOM developers put into gaining certifications can also help OEMs get closer to attaining their own certification for more specialized purposes, like adhering to FCC regulations for wireless transmitters. Certification processes can cost an OEM pursuing chip-down north of $40,000, depending on the type of certification they require and the markets in which the product will be launched. When an OEM performs their cost-benefit analysis, the time and money it takes to go through the certification process should factor into the ledger.
At times, customers may wish to expand the regulatory compliance beyond what was done for the SOM to either new countries or standards not originally tested. Having in-house engineering services with the background knowledge of the SOM and its testing procedures can also expedite these tests, and having the knowledge experts available can ensure the testing is done correctly the first time.
Benefit #4: Long-Term Supply Chain Support and Availability
SOM developers commit to making their SOMs available for purchase and providing support for their operation for more than 10 years whenever possible. But it may be important for some OEMs to consider a SOM that can credibly make this claim for mission-critical use cases and rough environments. The level to which some developers can actually provide high-level support throughout the entire lifecycle may vary. It’s important to work with a developer who can fully support the SOM throughout its entire lifecycle.
Developers often work closely with OEMs to make alterations to the SOM to keep it viable, like changing to new command sets, performing software development internally to ensure that alternative option works when components start to go obsolete, and keeping customers informed that they’ll get newer versions of the hardware and software when they become available.
SOM developers also perform ongoing validation of new SOM designs and new models of existing SOMs. OEMs can then switch to the new components, often with only minor software changes. SOM developers can also provide customers the software image and info they need to incorporate the updates into their product, which saves a considerable amount of time and hassle.
OEMs also benefit from a SOM developer’s economies of scale on both the early stages and the end of a SOM’s lifecycle. Some developers are big enough to have established a direct line to the big processor suppliers whose products serve as the base for their SOM development. This gives SOM developers a support-side advantage to receive quick answers and fixes if something’s not going quite right with the processor, circumventing the rep and distributor model that smaller companies usually have to rely on.
And despite SOM makers’ best efforts, eventually all products reach “end of life” status. If a SOM relies on a part that is no longer available, and the developer is unable to replace the part, the developer is forced to “EOL” their product. When the developer combines all its customer orders to make that purchase, the silicon supplier will be more interested in fulfilling the order. The SOM developer can negotiate a better last-time-buy and receive better pricing terms, which can be passed onto customers.
OEMs that make products in markets where longevity, reliability and durability are critical, must consider establishing long-term partnerships with a SOM developer. A partner like Beacon EmbeddedWorks has the experience assisting customers with realizing faster time to market, lower costs, and ongoing support critical to getting their products to market and keeping them there as long as possible.