BY John Keller
When it comes to backplane enclosures and chassis for embedded computing applications, things are getting smaller, hotter, and more powerful, which is putting pressure on technological approaches like small rugged connectors, advanced thermal management, and the latest high-speed serial switch fabrics.
Designers and integrators of embedded systems, more than ever before, are demanding higher performance in smaller packages; extremely low-cost and low-power processors and circuit cards; the most efficient thermal management possible in the smallest packaging possible, and even backplane enclosures and board products that are smaller than today's 3U systems.
"There are two classes of CPU architectures going into embedded systems–really high performance or really low-power applications," says Bob Sullivan, chief technology officer of Hybricon Products, a Curtiss-Wright Controls Electronic Systems company in Littleton, Mass.
"One of the trends we see is smaller form factors and higher performance. New architectures such as 3U VPX are very attractive for applications such as UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] and small robotics," explains Justin Moll, director of marketing at Elma Bustronic Corp. in Fremont, Calif.
Functional densities of embedded computing power continue to shrink as systems designers seek to cram ever-more computing power onto small platforms such as UAVs, ground robots, and soldier systems. The other side of that coin, however, involves small systems where performance is not so much an issue as is cost and low power consumption.
"The other trend is a very SWaP [size, weight, and power]-constrained, low-power computing solution that is small, light, and inexpensive. This seems to be something people want to leverage," says Jacob Sealander, chief architect of embedded systems at Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing in San Diego.
Small size and low power usually mean high heat, which in backplane enclosures and chassis is putting a premium on electronics cooling and thermal management. Complicating this picture is the widespread adoption of the latest powerful microprocessors from Intel Corp., which tend to be hot chips. The push to small form factors also puts pressure on making systems rugged.