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Securing your IoT deployment—from the device to the cloud

Author Jonathan Cassell takes a look at some of the measures engineers are undertaking to secure their IoT deployments and the critical role that a cloud-based IoT management system plays in each activity.

Cybercrime is a big business—a $600 billion market that’s larger than many legitimate industries, such as the global markets for education, water / sewage, and arts / entertainment. Like any other industry, competitors in the cybercrime business naturally will gravitate toward the largest available markets. Today, the internet of things (IoT) represents a massive opportunity for cybercriminals, with each of the world’s 7 billion IoT devices representing another chance to ply their dark trade.

Because of this, security has become a paramount concern in IoT devices and in the edge-computing systems that serve them. IoT device manufacturers are increasingly employing built-in security measures to prevent online hacking. However, securing the IoT involves far more than simply hardening devices.

Instead, what’s needed is a comprehensive solution that applies a combination of cyber- and physical-security measures that are managed through a cloud-based system. Using such a system, IoT engineers can protect the safety of data no matter where it resides—whether in a device, an edge-computing system, or the cloud.

Security is in the chips

IoT security starts at the device level, safeguarding the data collected, stored, processed and transmitted by specific end-nodes. However, some IoT devices share large quantities of data with the cloud. Thus, security solutions in IoT devices not only must protect the device itself, but information transferred across networks.

These security solutions are implemented within microchips, with IoT devices sporting built-in encryption, authentication and security-key hardware. This allows the devices to securely transfer data over networks.

These solutions also secure the microprocessor or microcontroller running the system, integrating features designed to ensure data integrity. They can even encrypt data transferred between chips within the IoT device. Because IoT devices are often located in remote, unprotected places, secure chips also incorporate physical security systems, including anti-tampering schemes that erase data if their enclosure is penetrated.

Here, it is worth stating that the growth in number of IoT devices at the edge is exponential. And with such aggressive growth potential predicted for the foreseeable future, the concerns regarding a security breach is growing for not only end users but for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) developing them as well.

What’s more, breaches are fast becoming common place and the costs of not protecting the IoT is becoming severe. From CSO online:

“Ponemon Institute estimates an average breach cost of $3.5 million in 2017, with a 27% probability that a U.S. company will experience a breach in the next 24 months that costs them between $1.1M and $3.8M.”

While there are monetary costs, the costs go beyond simple dollars and cents: they can negatively impact a company’s reputation, time spent dealing with the breach and more recently, legal consequences through legislation like the European Union’s General Data Protection Act (GDPR) and legislation such as the recent California Bill: Senate Bill No. 327 CHAPTER 886.

“This bill, beginning on January 1, 2020, would require a manufacturer of a connected device, as those terms are defined, to equip the device with a reasonable security feature or features that are appropriate to the nature and function of the device, appropriate to the information it may collect, contain, or transmit, and designed to protect the device and any information contained therein from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification, or disclosure, as specified.”

With all of this being said, it is becoming increasingly obvious the growing importance of implementing security in the IoT devices at the edge. Fortunately, companies like Arrow Electronics have invested to help secure the Internet of Things at the device level. Secure programming and provisioning technology is based on a highly secured and reliable chain of trust that enables the rapid deployment of IoT edge nodes and gateways. The ability to authenticate IoT devices and quickly establish trusted connections to the cloud is critical. IoT device security not only allows you to protect your code, but when a device is put on the internet of things, you want to know it is supposed to be there through digital certificate management; you want to be able to see your fleet of devices and if something is wrong you want to have revocation services to minimize costs quickly.

Secure provisioning enables customers to take full advantage of silicon-based security features from leading global manufacturers of secure elements and microcontrollers. These new capabilities have been rolled-out as a value-added service from Arrow to secure IoT devices. One example of this capability can be found here: Arrow Electronics introduces secure provisioning service for NXP based IoT devices.

Security for edge IT

Rising alongside the IoT is an approach to IT called “edge computing.” Edge computing represents an intermediate data-processing stage that analyzes data generated by IoT devices before the information is sent to a data center. This improves the performance and efficiency of data processing and winnows down the amount of information to prevent data centers from being overwhelmed with inputs.

However, such edge-computing operations face one of the biggest security risks related to the cloud: transferring sensitive data over a network, where it could be susceptible to hacking.

One solution to securing this data is provided by the Microsoft Azure Data Box Edge. The Data Box Edge is an actual physical appliance specifically designed to easily and efficiently move data to and from Azure. To secure these transfers, the Data Box Edge uses Microsoft’s BitLocker technology, which includes hardware for encrypting and securing data sent over the internet.

Security in the cloud

Beyond device and edge-computing security concerns, engineers need a cloud-based platform designed to ensure security in IoT deployments. Azure includes a range of security measures, including:

  • Azure Active Directory for user authentication and authorization, controlling access to cloud data and allowing nearly instantaneous revocation of access to IoT devices connected to the Azure cloud.
  • Secure storage of all IoT infrastructure keys.
  • Monitoring of all data accesses to alert users of intrusions or unauthorized access.

Putting it all together

While cloud-based platforms represent the optimal path to implementing security in IoT systems, it can be slow, difficult and complex for companies to undertake the transition to such a cloud solution. To quickly gain the advantages of cloud-based IoT, engineers need to collaborate with a solutions provider that has the experience, expertise and industry connections to rapidly secure a cloud-based IoT system.

For example, Arrow provides comprehensive cloud solution packages designed to support rapid deployment of cloud services. What’s more, the company works with top cloud technology providers—including Microsoft—to provision the industry’s most sophisticated solutions.

The bottom line on IoT security

In an era when cybercrime generates more money than some legitimate industries, engineers must act now to secure their IoT deployments—including devices, edge-computing installations and cloud-based platforms. By employing a cloud -based platform and working with an experienced cloud and IoT integrator, engineers can quickly take steps to ensure their systems remain safe.

Interested in learning more?

For more information on this topic, or to get in touch with engineering specialist who can help answer any questions you might have, head to arrow.com

AI comes of age at CES 2019

For several years now, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has served to herald the application of new technology in the latest crop of consumer gadgets. The 2018 exhibition was attended by 106,288 visitors eager not only to do business and learn what products they can expect in the market during the year, but to find out about cutting-edge technologies that are still in development.

Among the key themes of CES 2019 are machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), with 39 conference sessions across various tracks expected to discuss this topic. The reason is simple: artificial intelligence touches a wide variety of market segments, including robotics, fintech and digital money, automotive, and even marketing.

ML — the capability by which machines self-correct and refine tasks — and the broader AI have been in development for decades and have reached a point where they are about to initiate a revolutionary restructuring of business.

From monitoring and controlling the manufacturing floor to predicting trends for business decisions, smart applications will be made possible by AI’s ability to turn mountains of data that we are already generating into actionable insights. AI will take automation from simple repetitive tasks and progress it to complex processes, including those with variability.

This growing sophistication is possible with improving infrastructure, such as cloud-based tools. An example of this is the Microsoft Azure Machine Learning services that allow the use of automated ML to identify suitable algorithms and tune parameters, and seamlessly deploy to the cloud and the edge.

Arrow Electronics has already brought this level of cloud-based intelligence to consumer Internet of Things (IoT) products. For instance, Arrow’s SmartEverything board easily connects to multiple cloud providers to enable data analytics for decision making.

AI on edge

In the industrial environment, where a large number of sensors for predictive maintenance and machine condition monitoring contribute high data volume and velocity, and real-time decision-making requirements make it prohibitively expensive to stream all the data to the cloud, the case for AI at the edge is well known. However, in consumer products too, AI is reaching into cameras and smart speakers to avoid hauling large amounts of audio and video data into the cloud, decrease latency and address privacy issues. For instance, high-resolution cameras coupled with ML models for demographics like age, gender and mood, give retailers insights on consumers in their stores but raise privacy concerns if inferencing is not done at the edge.

AI at the edge is enabled by ML models that are trained in the cloud with large data sets but easily deployed to each device or gateway at the edge for inferencing. The computing resources that make this possible include specialized AI chips. Qualcomm, for instance, has several processors that can handle such workloads at the IoT node. Among the most powerful of such Qualcomm chips is the Snapdragon 845.

The system on chip (SoC) offers:

  • Spectra 280 image signal processor, which enables capture of up to 16 MP at 60 images per second,
  • Adreno 630 visual processing subsystem, which features room-scale 6DoF (degrees of freedom) positional tracking with simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM),
  • Adreno Foveation, which reduces the GPU’s workload by giving higher priority to image resolution within the user’s fixation point, and
  • Hexagon 685 DSP, which was designed specifically for on-device AI and ML, and efficiently handling image, voice and sensor data.

This year, eInfochips, an Arrow company, began offering a hardware development kit (HDK) based on the Snapdragon 845 mobile platform. The Eragon 845 HDK provides an open-frame solution that supports Android 8.0 and contains a processor card with Snapdragon 845, a mini-ITX carrier board, a 12V AC power adapter, battery and USB cable. It supports camera and display as optional accessories.

Another family of devices built for AI at the edge comes from NVIDIA. The company’s Jetson systems, including Jetson TX1, TX2 and AGX Xavier can all handle AI workloads. The Jetson TX2, which comes in three versions – TX2, TX2i and TX2 4GB – allows bigger, more complex deep neural networks than the TX1. Their latest module, the AGX Xavier, consumes 30 W to deliver 32 TOPS performance and finds use in particularly demanding AI applications, like handheld real-time DNA sequencing and industrial robots.

Interested in learning more?

For more information on this topic, or to get in touch with engineering specialist who can help answer any questions you might have, head to arrow.com

International logistics and compliance for the global OEM

Managing inventory in different countries and international logistics can complicate the supply chain. Globalization has changed the landscape for logistics and compliance, from access to a global market for their products to unlimited manufacturing opportunities. Additionally, growing tariffs, international regulations and customs, can jeopardize launching new products or getting the parts when and where needed.

Today, the market is truly global. No longer are vendors restricted to a handful of countries and regions; it is possible to manufacture products in dozens of countries and sell them in hundreds of other locations.

Managing the logistics, local regulations and different manufacturing protocols pose numerous challenges. As OEMs need to use different manufacturing facilities, other issues arise, from working in different languages and different assembly systems, to dealing with unfamiliar unit systems. It is important for suppliers and OEMs to make sure that shipments of parts come in the right format, especially volume units for automated assembly lines.

For many OEMs, especially ones that are not physically present in other markets, localization is one of the critical challenges, notably for consumer products. It is not unusual to see a user manual in Europe with basic instructions in a dozen languages—in fact, in many cases manufacturers provide different documents for different regions.

Other localization issues include different power sockets, eco-packaging and having to deal with waste management of packaging and used products.

International supply chain is full of barriers and regulations

Different regulations and tariffs are in place in many markets. Two-thirds of American companies in China say they have been hurt by the spiraling U.S.-Chinese tariff war[1]. The two sides have imposed 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion of each other’s goods in the dispute over American complaints that Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.

In a recent letter to investors, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook blamed the escalation trade war for the decline of sales both in China and the US:  “We believe the economic environment in China has been further impacted by rising trade tensions with the United States,” he argues.[2]

While it is easier to do business with partners in the European Union, as the EU member states share common legislation and import/export procedures, almost all other countries have their own. Moreover, recent events such as Brexit[3] and the increased trade tensions within the greater international community further complicate matters.

OEMs need to ensure compliance with materials regulations such as the European Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS)[4]. It makes it necessary that vendors not only verify that they don’t use the forbidden substances in their manufacturing processes but also that those substances are not present in the components they source for their products.

One of the most important effects of RoHS and similar regulations is the reduction of exposure to people throughout supply chain / consumers worldwide. Additionally, the global components’ supply chain is plagued with duplicated components, conflict minerals and second-grade inventory. Identifying those parts in international markets is much more difficult than doing it at home.

Relevant regulations are in place related to the minerals supply chain[5]. Both the US and the EU have import restrictions from conflict zones, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and other areas.

Additionally, several governments are imposing trade sanctions to other countries.

For example, the United States’ Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)[6] can sanction any US individual or corporation that trades directly or indirectly with entities in specific geographic regions or with certain governments, such as Russia and North Korea. Understanding the prohibition to source materials or components from entire countries is easy, but making sure that US entities are not dealing with sanctioned suppliers is more complicated.

All of these difficulties make dealing with international suppliers and logistics a severe challenge for OEMs. Moreover, both tariffs and regulations are constantly changing; new duties and import/export procedures can jeopardize product availability and timely deliveries, putting production and time to market at risk.

Arrow can help manage your entire international logistics needs

As a global organization, working with suppliers and OEMs all over the world, Arrow has unmatched experience and footprint in international logistics, procurement, and compliance.

For example, using its landed-cost optimization tools, Arrow can manage logistics and orders to optimize the cost of transport, delivery and volume savings. Working together with suppliers and certifying authorities, Arrow can make sure the supply chain is free of conflict minerals, banned substances, and complying with regional and international regulations. What’s more, the company is continuously checking with OFAC and other government agencies to qualify suppliers which, in turn, helps to avoid potential fines.

When moving products in international markets, bonded, duty-free warehousing (to avoid paying unnecessary tariffs and taxes for products in transit) can be provided to reduce the cost of inventory until it is necessary to release it. Additionally, Arrow can provide record keeping of all international transactions, including bills-of-lading, customs declarations and freight tracking.

Furthermore, Arrow’s international logistics can help provide transportation of product and components from origin to destination in most parts of the world. The company can also help secure your supply chain, ensuring that components and products come from reliable, legal sources, and their quality thoroughly inspected to protect the final product and users.

In sum, Arrow’s global presence and supply chain can help to handle all aspects of international trade.

Interested in learning more?

For more information on this topic, or to get in touch with engineering specialist who can help answer any questions you might have, head to arrow.com

showcase.

Resources

[1] US companies in China hurt by tariff war – The Economic Times https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/business/survey-us-companies-in-china-hurt-by-tariff-war/articleshow/65801193.cms

[2] “Apple’s Glum News About China Sales Sends Global Stocks Lower ….” 3 Jan. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/03/business/world-stock-market.html. Accessed 3 Jan. 2019.

[3] “Brexit Continues & Puts Additional Pressure on UK Industry” 27 Jun. 2017, https://www.ebnonline.com/author.asp?section_id=3560&doc_id=282804&

[4] “Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restriction_of_Hazardous_Substances_Directive

[5] “Conflict minerals – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conflict_resource.

[6] “Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) – Treasury.gov.” 6 Feb. 2018, https://www.treasury.gov/about/organizational-structure/offices/Pages/Office-of-Foreign-Assets-Control.aspx.

Engineering autonomy for machines

Your smartphone beeps on a Sunday afternoon and you put down your drink, tell your smart home assistant to pause the movie streaming to your TV and make for the door. It’s the burger and fries that you had ordered earlier. Delivered right to your doorstep by an autonomous mobile robot (AMR).

As you repair to the sofa and your movie, you give nary a thought about the autonomous processes that helped in making your burger order come together. No, you don’t dwell on how the wheat that went into baking the burger buns was farmed using autonomous tractors and combine harvesters, packaged using robotic machinery, and delivered to warehouses where AMRs helped move the inventory for a multinational retail chain. For you, it is humdrum that the restaurant where you placed your order was manned by robots collaborating with humans to flip your burgers and make final preparations for delivery.

This is not science fiction. While we were captivated by the pomp and show of self-driving cars, engineers went ahead and turned the scene above into reality.

That is why market research firms are predicting a bright future for autonomous machines. Technavio, for example, expects the global AMR market to grow at a CAGR of 24 percent from 2018 to 2022. The same firm has taken a closer look at the agriculture sector as well and forecast the global market for autonomous farm equipment to grow by over $62 billion during the 2019-to-2023 period.

And such developments are also the reason that the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2019 will feature at least 19 conference sessions on autonomous machines or robotics.

Future Present

If it still seems incredible that we should be standing at the edge of a future filled with autonomous machines doing our bidding and assisting us in jobs too difficult or tedious for consistent outcomes, then let us examine the products available today that make it possible for you to enjoy that Sunday afternoon hamburger.

Autonomous Farm Equipment: While your beef may come from well-fed cows whose behavior — reactions to hunger and disease — was monitored by vision-based AI using systems like those by Irish startup Cainthus, the wheat for the buns may have been farmed using autonomous tractors made by companies like John Deere. That company has announced this year a new plug-in electric and fully autonomous tractor, which allows farmers to groom their fields while laying out and retracting a 1 km onboard extension cord. The corded power delivery means lower costs over the company’s older autonomous model that uses lithium-ion batteries.

Autonomous Mobile Robots: AMR use is being piloted in warehouses as well as “last-mile delivery.” For instance, San Jose-based Fetch Robotics has a range of AMRs that use a combination of light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and 3D cameras to navigate unpredictable warehouse environments, adjusting routes in real-time to avoid obstacles. The company’s robots bring not just hardware but a cloud-based control system that uses a simple graphics interface to make them easy to deploy. This ease of deployment opens up the Robot-as-a-Service (RaaS) business model for Fetch.

Meanwhile, San Francisco-based startup, Marble, and US-based on-demand delivery company, Postmates, are building autonomous delivery robots. Yet another company, Kiwi, already operates its AMRs in UC Berkley and has recently expanded operations to UCLA.

Autonomous Production: While some manufacturing equipment vendors are working on building self-maintaining machines that self-adapt processes to suit changing environments, others, like Kawada, are working on more flexible production robots to assist humans. Their Nextage robot, for instance, coexists with human operators and collaborates with conventional industrial robots.

To flip your burgers, however, a restaurant might use Miso Robotics’ AI-driven robots for the kitchen. The company’s kitchen assistant, “Flippy,” helps grill, fry, prep and plate your food orders. Fast-food chain Caliburger is already using Flippy in California and plans to take the robot to over 50 worldwide locations within a year.

Home Assistants: At home, even vacuum cleaners are gaining a greater degree of autonomy to pick up the crumbs you dropped on the carpet. The Roomba i7+ not only cleans your home on its own but also empties the dirt collected autonomously.

Brains for Autonomy

What’s common among all of these companies and their autonomous machines is the processing power enabled by advanced systems like those from NVIDIA. For instance, Kiwi is using the NVIDIA Jetson TX2 module, while Marble has products with the NVIDIA Jetson TX1.

Kawada, on the other hand, is developing autonomous industrial machines using NVIDIA’s most powerful module yet: the Jetson AGX Xavier. The module was built to meet the needs of AI at the edge and is like a workstation — it delivers 32 TOPS — that fits the palm of your hand. The module has a 512-core Volta GPU on board with Tensor Cores to accelerate large matrix operations for AI.

If you are planning to develop autonomous machines, NVIDIA’s Jetson AGX Xavier Developer Kit will get you going with a comprehensive set of tools, including NVIDIA JetPack and DeepStream SDKs, as well as CUDA, cuDNN and TensorRT software libraries.

If you have already started your project, the Intel Neural Compute Stick 2 (NCS2) will make it easy for you to train and deploy AI on the edge. The self-contained neural network on a thumb drive has an onboard Movidius Myriad X vision processing unit (VPU) and plugs into a USB 3.0 port to seamlessly convert and then deploy PC-trained models to a wide range of devices, such as drones, robots and smart home devices.

More Than Just Brains

Autonomous machines are more than just computers on wheels. They are complex machines that must sense their place in their environment as well as their interaction with it using a variety of sensors, depending on the intended application. For AMRs, image sensors, LiDARs and RADARs help with most of the navigation related information. All robots also need intelligent power and battery management systems.

This means that your autonomous machine project will likely involve a wide range of components and subsystems from an equally wide range of suppliers like Nvidia, Intel, Analog Devices, On Semiconductor, AMS and Basler. And you will need help from experts to not only know all your component options but get advice that is rooted in autonomous machine design experience.

Interested in learning more?

For more information on this topic, or to get in touch with engineering specialist who can help answer any questions you might have, head to arrow.com

CES 2019 | A letter from Arrow’s CMO

Arrow’s Chief Marketing Officer W. Victor Gao kicks off 2019 at CES with a question to all innovators and entrepreneurs: isn’t it time you had an easier way to create, make and manage your product?

What did you wish for Christmas? What was your New Year’s resolution? If you are at Eureka Park, chances are that somewhere on your list were a few things that might make it easier for you to create, make or manage that important product you’ve been working on.

For our third anniversary at CES, engineers around Arrow’s global outposts have handpicked some of the most elegant solutions that they’d seen and helped develop in 2018. One such solution is a 3D Time-of-Flight platform with depth mapping applications in advanced driver-assistance systems for autonomous vehicles, measurement and machine vision for industrial robotics and geomorphological studies for Earth as well as extraterrestrial missions.

Another solution is an AI-based visual analytics tool with custom applications in retail and health care. The interface is intuitive enough that a beverage company with minimal technology infrastructure could use the tool to track inventory level and consumption patterns, reducing its carbon footprint by optimizing inventory movement. Yet the solution can also scale up to mixed-initiative scenarios, enabling a data science staff to take turns with the AI querying and suggesting what can be learned from a dataset.

This latter application could be particularly powerful for advanced medical research, where a physician would be able to not only ask the AI a specific question but get a feel for what would otherwise be an inhumanly massive volume of medical image scans.

Our engineers will be unpacking these designs and more at the Engineer’s Lab in Eureka Park.

If the smartphone is any harbinger, the economic value of products will continue to shift from hardware to software. Yet in our countless conversations with entrepreneurs throughout the year, the No. 1 problem they tell us is that they can cobble a prototype or code in Jupyter all night long but run into a wall as soon as even small patch production is required. That’s not to mention obsolescence planning, various environmental and conflict minerals compliance or secure assets disposal. Fret not: You don’t have to know any of this yourself. That’s because our supply chain and services experts have developed a plug-and-play model that connects your business into today’s complex global manufacturing stack and manages it for you so that you can focus on the core technology breakthrough.

If any of the above resonates with you, do stop by and give a go at our advanced haptic arrays, which offer an immersive, self-guided experiential walkthrough of how we can help.

In collaboration with EE Times (Disclosure: Arrow is the parent company of EE Times), we have pitched up a broadcast booth and will be live-streaming conversation with intriguing people and companies that we discover on the floor, including a mystery guest show host for all you music fans. Across from Eureka Park at the Venetian, we will be hosting a 2019 tech trends briefing with Wired magazine editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson on Tuesday morning. Can’t listen to the broadcasts because you’re at work? Our coverage will be available a day after the show on any of your favorite podcast platforms. As usual, our product manager, Kathleen Timbol, and resident engineer, Dave Finch, have completely over-engineered the sound, using seven types of microphones and even more acoustic treatments so you could feel the vibration at the show yet the voice of our guests still comes through studio-sharp. Audiophile or not, we think you’ll enjoy a listen.

By most measures, in 2018, humanity has already crossed or will cross in early 2019 a significant threshold: More than half of us will be online. That means that more people and ideas will be empowered, and it is even more important to stay true to the quality-of-life goals of innovation. For as many of us that live in comfort by the foothills of the Rockies, the citadels of Shanghai or the harbors of Copenhagen, many more could use basic electricity for lighting, shelter and sustenance. Even within urban centers or deep heartlands in the developed world, a thoughtful approach to making the benefits of technology more accessible ought to be as much a part of the product design as the technology itself. For some examples of how we are helping innovators take on this challenge, come ask us about our work with startup Unlimited Tomorrow on a 3D-printed prosthetic arm with virtualized muscle memory that is less than a tenth the cost of the price of a regular prosthetic limb or a durable, portable and affordable Solar Suitcase that we helped nonprofit We Care Solar design that has been providing electricity to remote health clinics in Uganda.

If you need recommendations for what to see or whom to speak with at CES or if you have any story tips, my email is vgao@arrow.com. Here’s to a great start of 2019 to all. We look forward to hosting you.

 

Matching with the right manufacturer makes for better products

Many companies are confident in the design and market potential for their products but would prefer not to manufacture it themselves. Instead, they want the guidance of an experienced partner and so focus their efforts on selecting the right one.

The manufacturing partner a company chooses will significantly influence the success of their product and greatly affect the long-term health of their business, especially if they opt for a partner who acts as one-stop shop.

If there’s one reason for finding someone else to do manufacturing it is that it requires a lot of investment to do it in-house. It doesn’t make sense to invest in the equipment and retain the necessary expertise on staff unless you have enough volume to keep them working full time.

Due to the rising demand for electronic devices and components, today’s environment has led to an uptick in manufacturing companies that offer a broad array of services across the product lifecycle, including design services for sub-assemblies and complete products, as well the necessary testing at all points of the product development and manufacturing chain.

Manufacturing companies on the leading edge are embracing technologies to offer cost-effective services as well as partnering to deliver new expertise that customers require, especially around connectivity. Further, companies whose sole focus is electronics manufacturing are not only better suited to keep on top of technology trends, but other business and regulatory pressures too.

One pressure is the demand for energy-efficient electronics, which requires new methods from manufacturers. Reducing energy consumption in finished devices and during the manufacturing process is better for the environment and reduces costs. But the challenge for manufacturers is how to balance sustainability while keeping the cost of the product down.

All these variables and challenges demonstrate that in most cases, it’s better to have a manufacturing partner that can invest in the technologies and processes that improve logistics, agility and delivery, while you focus on designing a great product for them to make.

Understand what you need from a manufacturer

Today’s electronics manufacturers offer a wide spectrum of services, but it’s imperative to clearly outline requirements and expectations, particularly in relation to any unique product or business characteristics.

Selecting a manufacturing partner should be guided by well-thought out requirements around design, material selection and purchasing, prototyping, manufacturing, process validation, test, shipping and logistics. Other requirements that are more specific to a business or product include certifications or locations.

While it might be enticing to offshore manufacturing to reduce costs, having a local partner can be beneficial. Although most will offer a similar set of standard services it’s important to physically tour their facilities, see their equipment and engage with the staff who will be making the product throughout the entire manufacturing lifecycle. However, there is also logic in aligning manufacturing activities with where the product will be sold.

A manufacturing partner should be able to grow as their customer grows. A customer may be starting small but if the goal is to go global, the manufacturer must keep up.  Avoid situations where it becomes necessary to migrate from one partner to another or manage multiple manufacturers as it undermines the advantages of outsourcing manufacturing in the first place.

Look for a manufacturing partner with a global presence with comprehensive supply chain services and purchasing power, even if initial product volumes aren’t that large. They should be able to adjust to the ebb and flow of their customers’ business. A sudden surge in product orders should be easily accommodated with the necessary equipment, people and processes.

Location also impacts the supply chain, and not just forward logistics. In addition to being able to source components and efficiently keep production moving, a manufacturer should be strong in reverse logistics. Today’s consumers expect their satisfaction be guaranteed. When they’re not happy, product gets returned, and it means both retailers and manufacturers are seeing more returned merchandise.

A company building product needs to understand why their devices are being returned and how they can improve the production process, either through better components or the manufacturing of the item itself. Look for a manufacturing partner that’s embracing the latest technology and best practices to troubleshoot or repair products. This will reduce the number of returns.

Testing, of course, can also minimize how often a customer might return a device. Quality is driven in part by a manufacturer’s test procedures. What tests are they conducting and what are their inspection procedures to capture defects and prevent them in the future? Are inspections done at every station? What equipment do they use? How can they help validate a product?

Not only is testing necessary for quality control, it needs to be aligned with industry standards and any certifications a product may require, including safety and environmental ratings.

Why you should partner for manufacturing

Meeting industry standards is one of several benefits of outsourcing your manufacturing. Given the complexity and specialization necessary in electronics manufacturing, facilities must now meet a wide array of international standards. It takes a lot of time and money to qualify for these standards the first time, and operations must be maintained to adhere to standards over the long term. A company that’s focused on manufacturing can make those investments and by meeting these high industry standards will in turn produce better end products.

Their investments in forward and reverse logistics, and supply chain management, helps their customer get better pricing on components because of their buying power, and their customers can confidently expect in a high level of authenticity and quality.

Manufacturers are able to invest in innovative processes that save time and money for their entire customer base, who can focus on being creative in the design process because they have peace of mind their product can be easily and cost-effectively made.

There are many choices available when looking for a manufacturing partner, but it ultimately comes down to aligning needs with capabilities and a joint commitment to quality and innovation. Finding a company that can effectively manufacture an electronics product will reduce time to market with lean manufacturing and simplified supply chain management while producing better products that are of the utmost quality.

Interested in learning more?

For more information on this topic, or to get in touch with engineering specialist who can help answer any questions you might have, head to arrow.com

How blockchain technology will revolutionize the next decade’s supply chain

There has been a lot of talk about blockchain disrupting banking, investment, insurance and government. But if there is one industry in which the distributed ledger technology can make its most significant impact, it is logistics and supply chain.

Utilizing blockchain to record the provenance of products and components would remove any opportunity to tamper with records, thereby providing reassurance to the OEM and end user, and reducing the risk of using the wrong parts.

Furthermore, using blockchain can simplify supply chain finance, removing the dependence on time-consuming, paper-based processing and reducing the settlement period between a manufacturer delivering parts to distributors or OEMs and receiving payment for those parts.

In the future, blockchain technology could also be an enabler of fully automated logistics such as robotic warehouses and autonomous trucks.

Blockchain can replace the traditional mechanisms for cross-border settlement, which are slow and expensive. According to McKinsey: “The average cost for a bank to execute a cross-border payment via legacy correspondent banking agreements remains in the range of $25 to $35, more than 10 times more than for an average domestic ACH payment.”[1] Around a third of these costs are typically made up from managing liquidity costs, with treasury costs comprising a further 25 percent, while other significant elements include reconciliation, counterparty fees and compliance.

Manufacturers and OEMs can trust the provenance of components and materials

When used across the entire supply chain, blockchain provides a complete distributed ledger from the component manufacturer to the factory and, ultimately, to the final consumer of any product or component. Knowing precisely the entire provenance and being able to check it across several independent copies ensures compliance and safety.

Additionally, a solid distributed record of provenance makes it much more difficult to introduce counterfeited products into the supply chain. Both suppliers and clients are able to check product quantities, track its location and ensure that the entire shipment is delivered to the right destination.

When paired with technologies such as IoT location sensors, smart pallets,[2] and LTE-M or NB-IoT cellular connectivity, documenting a product’s journey across the supply chain reveals its true origin and touchpoints. Manufacturers and distributors can also reduce recalls by sharing logs with OEMs and regulators.

Cloud, edge and machine-learning adoption improves with blockchain

By 2020, it’s projected that over 50 billion supply-chain devices will be IoT-enabled.[3] As manufacturers and distributors adopt IoT and machine learning to optimize their systems, those planning for blockchain adoption can leverage substantial savings when the technology is widespread.

Edge computing is a natural partner to blockchain. On supply chain and logistics, most of the processing and tracking occurs locally, sometimes without a reliable connection to the cloud. To keep an accurate record of the sensor-collected data, blockchain-enabled gateways can be deployed, regularly sending the aggregate collected data to the blockchain network to keep the ledger accurate.

Blockchain is a technology that is starting to gain traction

These potential efficiency improvements, paired with the vast amount of information collected, makes blockchain a desirable technology that many companies are beginning to explore.

Like every new technology, however, there are formidable obstacles to overcome first. While blockchain solutions address plenty of potential hurdles in the supply chain, some issues could prevent its widespread integration. These challenges involve blockchain’s complexity, governance and hardware requirements.

One crucial issue is the computer power required to run a vast blockchain network, one that everybody can access. Cryptocurrency mining, the first global example of blockchain, has demonstrated that keeping the servers running is quite expensive, and many bitcoin farms have been closing recently due to running costs and reduced profits.

Another important challenge will be the governance of the technology. According to Michael J. Casey, author of The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and the Blockchain Are Challenging the Global Economic Order: “Ideally, to encourage free access, competition and open innovation, global supply chains would have the option to anchor to a public blockchain that no entity controls. In other words, data extracted from commercial and production activity would be cryptographically recorded in open ledgers.” However, he adds, “inevitably, private, closed ledgers run by a consortium of companies will also arise as their members seek to protect market share and profits.”

Additionally, as other technologies enter manufacturing and the supply chain, implementing blockchain will require cross-technology expertise, especially for vendors, distributors and logistics companies.

Similarly to IoT networks and edge computing, governance and standardization in blockchains is going to be important. Some standards organizations and regulators such as the European Commission are already looking into issuing implementation guidelines and drafting regulations,[4] which will become the framework for large adoption.

Nevertheless, at some point, the huge potential of the technology will make blockchain the blueprint of commerce, much like DNA is the blueprint of life.

Interested in learning more?

For more information on this topic, or to get in touch with engineering specialist who can help answer any questions you might have, head to arrow.com

[1] “Global Payments 2016: Strong Fundamentals Despite Uncertain Times.” https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Industries/Financial%20Services/Our%20Insights/A%20mixed%202015%20for%20the%20global%20payments%20industry/Global-Payments-2016.ashx.

[2] “EBN – Pablo Valerio – The Humble Pallet Gets Smart.” 5 Jun. 2017, https://www.ebnonline.com/author.asp?section_id=3560&doc_id=282751

[3] “Internet Of Things Will Deliver $1.9 Trillion Boost To Supply Chain And ….” https://newsroom.cisco.com/press-release-content?articleId=1621819.

[4] “EU Blockchain Roundtable paves the way for Europe to lead in ….” 20 Nov. 2018, https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/eu-blockchain-roundtable-paves-way-europe-lead-blockchain-technologies.

When designing a new product, BOM optimization can save money and production time

Creating the right kit for a new product is a difficult task. In some instances, it’s harder than making the original prototype. Performing bill-of-materials (BOM) optimization can provide significant savings in component costs, manufacturing and for the designer, time spent figuring out what went wrong.

As product design moves from ideation to prototype, and then to build and analyze, BOM optimization can help on every phase to automate, reduce cost, improve form factor and functionality, and make a better, marketable product.

Every engineer has his/her design system, and every team its own pace. In many cases, especially on cutting-edge product prototyping, engineers work in a vacuum. Engineering needs to work with other departments to make sure product launches hit set goals on quality and functionality, especially with sales, planning, procurement, and shopfloor teams as early as possible and throughout the product launch.

From lab to production, not all things are equal. When designing a new product or system, the most important thing is to come out with a solution within the allocated time and have it ready for the assembly line.

Once the product has been tested in the lab and considered ready, time to production is critical. A working prototype, however, might not have the most suitable components for large production runs.

At the same time, last-minute changes can delay production for weeks, if not months. That is why, during the final phases of prototyping, engineers need to be aware of component availability, pricing, and production requirements.

Ensuring the supply of critical components needs to be secured even if design changes are not required

There is nothing more frustrating or disastrous than engineering the perfect product or subsystem and then not being able to manufacture it in quantity for lack of components, expensive BOM or inability to sell in some markets.

The supply chain should be an integral part of the product design. Preventing end-of-life parts being built into the product, ensuring parts from qualified suppliers are being used, securing that lead times are known up front, as well as the same form, fit, function alternative/substitute parts/suppliers have been identified for full-scale production.

Engineers working on product design or making lab adjustments to existing products need to understand basic supply chain concepts and issues such as end-of-life (EOL) and alternative parts.

Additionally, small changes in design while keeping the same features can affect pricing and deliveries. That happens quite often in the final stages just before the product is ready for the first production run. That is why many OEMs schedule the production of a small batch of the final product in simulated manufacturing scenarios to find out any problems and possible changes before sending the final design to their main assembly lines.

Product packaging and design also need to be considered when making product changes. Some components, even if they have the same electronic specifications, might not be suitable to place on the PCB for cosmetic or packaging reasons. In some cases, materials used are not compatible with the placement of certain components, i.e., wireless modems or antennas.

Another critical factor to consider when specifying components during product design is the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the product. Saving a few cents using a component with a shorter operating lifespan or higher failure rate can cost much more if the product fails in the field.

International trade also needs to be factored in. Sourcing some components internationally or using some that are restricted or banned in specific regions can increase the cost of the product or require different versions for different markets.

The European Union, for example, bans the import of any product that uses substances such as lead, cadmium and other pollutants[1] in addition to components with minerals from certain war regions, i.e., the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The United States also bans components from certain countries either because of conflict minerals or economic sanctions and has recently increased tariffs on products and materials from several regions, including Europe and Asia.

In addition to the problems mentioned above, managing the supply chain is challenging during all stages of production, testing and delivering.

When securing the right components, it is necessary to make sure that they are original—as the market is plagued with counterfeit units—and of good quality, especially if purchased secondhand.

Also, new standards and regulations are pushing electronic vendors to consider sustainability when making decisions on materials and manufacturing. This is no longer a world where companies’ profits are above the concerns of the environment.[2]

Design for the Circular Economy

It is essential to consider the Circular Economy principles (reuse, refurbish, recycle, maintain, and collect) when designing a new product or optimizing the supply chain.[3]

Pollution caused by electrical and electronic devices is a growing problem that needs to be addressed right from the design stage. The European Union estimates that by 2020, 12 million metric tons of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) will be generated every year by discarded products in the member states.[4]

Most products and components can be designed for end-of-life recycling. Batteries used on electric vehicles, for example, can have a second life as power storage for renewable energy, and many metals can be extracted from used devices and PCBs for reuse in new products.

Arrow can help design the right kit and manage the supply chain

As the largest distributor of electronic components, Arrow has many years of experience working with OEMs during all phases of product design and manufacture from conception to market.

Arrow can help to define the right kit for your product or PCB. Its BOM optimization service can identify the most suitable components for your design, taking into account product availability, end-of-life of components, logistics, international regulations, and other requirements.

Additionally, when an engineering change order (ECO) is issued for an existing design, Arrow can recalculate the entire BOM and optimize logistics to minimize the impact on production.

Arrow’s procurement services can verify suppliers and components to ensure quality, origin, and compliance even when it is necessary to use secondary market units due to availability. OEMs can rest assured that purchases made with Arrow are shipped with full certificates of compliance, which remove the risk of counterfeit parts entering the supply chain.

Arrow can also help with process analysis, helping to optimize assembly lines and procedures. Its inventory of billions of parts ensures that, in most cases, the piece or component that the OEM needs is available and ready to ship, and Arrow’s supply chain intelligence[5] helps to ensure timely deliveries.

Having expertise closer to its customers is one of Arrow’s primary goals. That’s why it has engineering teams all over the world that can support customers on any technology right there in their time zone.

Interested in learning more?

For more information on this topic, or to get in touch with engineering specialist who can help answer any questions you might have, head to arrow.com

References

[1] “Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restriction_of_Hazardous_Substances_Directive.

[2] “Sustainable Electronics Initiative – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_Electronics_Initiative.

[3] https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/infographic

[4] http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/weee/index_en.htm

[5] “Arrow Intelligent Systems – Services: Supply Chain Management.” https://www.arrow.com/intelligentsystems/na/en/services/business-solutions/supply-chain-management/.

Why component testing pays off in the long run

All it takes is one component to fail to make an electronic device unusable. It’s critical to test each one individually and once it’s part of an end product. The challenge is how to balance the necessity of effective component testing with healthy profit margins.

Testing detects problems and defects before the product hits the market. Its failure creates a loss of revenue that would far outstrip the cost of testing. For a consumer electronics product, the consequences can be a devastating loss of sales, a poor perception of the brand and even shuttering of the company. For devices in sectors such as medical or aerospace, the consequences could be as extreme as injury or even death, followed by legal action, both criminal and civil.

Testing electronic components and the devices they go into can be complex, which often translates into increased cost.  However, testing costs are ultimately cheaper than those of a failed product line, and these costs and quality can be balanced by selecting the right testing methods and combining them with the right expertise.

The eyes have it

Although electronic components are found in a variety of products, how they are manufactured doesn’t differ as widely. Regardless of the industry being served, the same testing best practices apply.

Visual inspection is always necessary and has long been the standard best practice as electronics products have become increasingly miniaturized and dense. It’s more than just people inspecting a component or device. It also includes the use of amplification devices to look at components to compensate for the inadequacy of the naked eye. Typical devices for visual inspection include microscopes, video magnifiers, solder paste inspection equipment and automated optical instruments.

While a visual inspection verifies that a cable is properly connected or insulation is properly in place, it’s not enough to guarantee that a component or a group of components is working as it should, even with assistance of tools. It’s also critical to electrically test. Typically, basic values such as current and voltage are interconnected to measure and validate cable connectivity or component functions.

Take a deeper look

There are many other individual electrical tests to verify that components, sub-assemblies or the entire product is working. An open test, otherwise known as a connection test or continuity test, verifies the conductivity of a single wire between two points, while a short test looks for unwanted connections. Other common electrical tests include checking to make sure that the insulation meets requirements and that switches route current flow to the right destination.

Different levels of testing take place on the product throughout its creation. Reliability testing must be done during the product development process to identify weaknesses or faults in the manufacturing processes and process controls that could lead to a random failure. It’s also necessary for determining the natural lifecycle of the product through a determination of the life expectancy of the components, boards and other pieces. They can be affected over time as corrosion, moisture, stress and fatigue affect the materials. Simply put, all electronics naturally wear out. Knowing when can help mathematically inform the warranty period for the product.

This is where durability testing comes in. It should take place after the first build and be conducted in an environment where it will be used. Obviously, it’s not cost-effective to wait for the product to wear out. Highly accelerated life testing (HALT) can help you quickly find design weaknesses early in the product development cycle and the manufacturing process, thereby reducing costs and speeding up time to market. It can also be done later in the lifecycle of the product if components, manufacturing processes or suppliers change.

Environmental stress screening (ESS) looks at how products or electronic components react to stresses related to temperature and vibration. These external forces may reveal a defect that causes one aspect or the entire product to fail. This type of reliability testing further informs product warranties.

The minimum amount of testing that should be conducted on components individually and on products requires financial investment. Thinking about testing at the beginning of the product design process saves money in the long run. Testing requires accessibility—it won’t be possible to get adequate testing coverage if a component can’t be accessed, for example. Easy access speeds up testing time, thereby reducing costs.

Most of the testing should be done during the design phase. At this point, the goal is to get complete coverage because it’s more cost-effective. Conversely, electrical testing should be done on a small sampling of your actual product.

Measure twice, cut once to reduce costs

Companies doing their own manufacturing should do production testing in-house because not only does it help catch problems with the device, it also monitors yield. The “first-pass yield” is an essential metric for understanding true costs and measures manufacturing quality and production performance. It provides feedback to help improve processes and eliminate waste while reducing the possibility of needing to do a costly rework for final production.

There is an argument to be made for outsourcing your testing, especially if production has been outsourced. Doing in-house testing requires an investment in expertise and equipment which may not be cost-effective if it’s going to sit idly most of the time. A third party can help with test design and development and brings knowledge and best practices accumulated from previous engagements to the table.

Just as a product is likely aimed at making customers’ lives easier, tests should be designed to make life easier. Look to automate testing where possible and incorporate self-diagnostics. Not only should it reveal if something isn’t working, but also why, which means that it can be fixed quickly.

A well-defined test strategy reduces risk because it increases the likelihood that the finished product will work properly. Doing the bulk of your testing upfront during the development process avoids costly rework later, and it’s simply not feasible to test every finished product.

Test smarter, not harder

Testing components and products may look expensive, but the price tag for not testing is higher if the product fails. By thinking about testing early in the design phase as part of the overall product lifecycle,  issues can be caught earlier before they become an expensive surprise, and improve processes overall.

A smart test strategy for components ultimately delivers a clear return on investment by eliminating the lost time, added expense and negative brand perception that comes with a failed product.

Interested in learning more?

For more information on this topic, or to get in touch with engineering specialist who can help answer any questions you might have, head to arrow.com

Create | Make | Manage: With Arrow at CES 2019

The 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is set to take place January 8-11 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Arrow will once again have its booth set up at the world’s largest stage for technology innovation — right in the heart of Eureka Park.

At the booth, visitors will have access to Arrow and partner experts and resources to help them create, make and manage their technology.

Arrow engineers will be showcasing AI and IoT enabled demos from partners such as NVIDIA, Analog Devices and Silicon Labs. Visitors can chat with engineers to get help on their design challenges.

Ready to scale your production? Manufacturing and supply chain experts will also be on-site to answer today’s biggest questions, including rapid prototyping, blockchain, edge computing, IT asset disposition and more. IoT and cloud connectivity experts will also be available to help explain how the company can help manage their product once it’s in market.

Finally, it is worth noting that Arrow’s global support organization and worldwide engineering services group will be available at the booth to help answer questions as it relates to completing productization, so as to allow today’s entrepreneurs the ability to spend greater focus on growing the business.

Opportunities abound at the Arrow booth

As with previous shows, Arrow will continue its tradition of encouraging innovation by giving away FREE Arduinos to booth visitors. While you’re there, meet leaders from startups and enterprises to get their advice and insights on bringing their product to market, or just check out their state-of-the-art technology.

Among those in attendance:

  • Unlimited Tomorrow: Unlimited Tomorrow will demonstrate their 3D printed, ultralight, AI enhanced, high tech prosthetic arm. They have built an intuitive and scalable model for custom prosthetic devices that leverages 3D scanning, 3D printing and machine learning to achieve a better fit at a significant cost reduction.
  • Waggit: Waggit will demonstrate the Waggit mobile application. The Waggit mobile app combines with the Waggit collar to showing real time info/data for the customer’s dog.
  • Bare Conductive: BareConductive will demonstrate how their hardware, software and electric paint can combine to create an intelligent coating. They will show how a printed piece of paper with a small piece of attached hardware can detect the presence and movement of a human, inset or fluid up to one meter away.
  • Modobag: The Modobag demonstration will highlight the functionality of their Smart Luggage System. The Modobag is the first carry on suitcase one can ride.
  • Anyware: Anyware will demonstrate and discuss their existing and new Smart Living Services and how they link with Smart Adaptors and electrical home appliances. The Smart Living Services are based on the Anyware IoT product – the Anyware Smart Adaptor™.

And finally, Arrow will offer on-site engineering and IoT specialists who can speak with visitors about their greatest technology challenge, idea or problem to gather advice and learn what’s needed in order to enter the Arrow Certification program.

It’s all happening at CES 2019, only at the Arrow booth in the heart of Eureka Park.

If you’re not going to CES 2019, then head to arrow.com to learn more about everything the company is doing at the world’s largest consumer technologies showcase.

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