Over recent years more and more SoM solutions have become available in the market. How can this trend influence your time to market and development organization?

The use of System-on-Modules is becoming more and more popular. A major benefit is the reuse of development- and production expertise in combination with design complexity reduction and time-to-market. Companies have the choice of developing their own flavor of SoMs or buying a Common-of-the-Shelve (CotS) device.

For a company to decide either to make a dedicated design themselves or base the design on a commercial available SoM in combination with a custom carrier board, there are a number of important constraints to consider. For instance, do I have the right or sufficient technological expertise to realize the SoM circuitry? When not, how much time and budget am I prepared to spend on the learning curve? Is gaining this knowledge a business requirement for realizing my project/product goal? Do I have the right people with the right skills in my company to realize this? How am I going to organize the life-cycle-management of the often complex boards with the ever shortening lifecycle of components and related End-of-Life (EOL) issues? A factor often forgotten is the involved software cost for development and maintenance of a good quality software Board Support Package (BSP). A lesser quality or incomplete BSP results often in a time consuming driver development tasks.

These are typical make-or-buy decisions, driven by the expected economic life cycle of the SoM: what does my development cost, how much does is cost to maintain and what are the production and production management cost? A beneficial outcome of the “make” approach is that once the large investment in time and money of developing such a SoM are absorbed, the cost per SoM board is low: just the production cost. CotS SOMs are more expensive, as the development cost are amortized in the product price. However, SoM boards are today available and development costs are divided over many more projects then just your production volume.

System-on-Modules are currently available in many physical variations and various processor choices. As technology complexity of platforms increase, new boards for niche specialized markets are become available. Regarding the BSP, the landscape is variable. Some SoM suppliers offer a BSP as a starting point. Other vendors offer a maintained and optimized BSP for that particular SoM including full maintenance over the lifetime of the board. The last mentioned BSP scenario can be of huge benefit to customers as this expertise is required less within the development organization as they can count on a maintained BSP as an integral part of their CotS SoM solution.

SoMs are standard products. Many domains often require specialized components as part of their solution. This implies development of customized carrier boards to meet these requirements. A new growing market is evolving to service this need. Some CoTS providers are offering carrier board customization services as part of their business model. The costs for the customers are often much lower compared with own board development as the customizations can be added to the standard SoM carrier boards. Turn-around times are short and design quality is high due to high level of reuse. The predominant factor in turn-around time is hence often the physical production time itself and not the development effort. This enables CotS customers to go very fast to market with their own custom-made products or platforms.

Conclusion: platform complexity is increasing rapidly, having a huge impact on longer time to market. We see the need for CotS System-on-Modules drastically increase over the upcoming years. When you consider to make your “buy rather than make” decision, take the above aspects into account to guarantee a smooth fit of a CoTs SoMs into your development process.

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