PICMG Committee Designs New Modular Box PC Open Specification

By Chad Cox

Production Editor

Embedded Computing Design

February 17, 2022


Image Courtesy of PICMG

ModBlox7 introduces an open standard to proprietary multi-billion USD market

According to Markets and Markets, the global industrial PC market size is estimated to reach USD 6.1 billion by 2026 from USD 4.6 billion in 2021, growing at a CAGR of 5.8%. The market growth is fueled by increasing demand for industrial IoT, a steady shift towards digitalized manufacturing from traditional manufacturing, growing awareness for resource optimization in manufacturing industries, and stringent regulatory compliances.

PICMG formed a technical subcommittee to design a new PICMG form factor specification named ModBlox7. ModBlox7 will alter the multi-billion dollar Box PC industry by introducing an open standard to a proprietary market. While box PCs are highly integrated computing solutions their lack of interoperability limits the ability for end users to achieve cost-effective and sustainable solutions.

The ModBlox7 specification is a compact and modular Box PC capable of being wall-mounted, snapped onto a DIN rail, or integrated into a 19” subrack. The height and depth are fixed with the width variable in multiples of 7HP and a maximum length of 84HP.

The modular Box PC designs will support passive conductive cooling, and are ideal for such applications as:

  • Railway
  • Avionics
  • Mobile machines  
  • Autonomous mobility  
  • Machinery in discrete manufacturing
  • Controls in critical process industry infrastructures

The standard guarantees interoperability of units for manufacturers as well as interoperability for users of the Box PC. It combines both the advantages of modular systems and highly integrated cost-sensitive Box PC solutions.

According to PICMG committee, the open specification will contain the following requirements or specified functions:

  • Cost-efficient design with minimum mechanical effort. No additional backplane or heat sink will be required. Coplanar board-to-board connectors couple each unit to its neighbor and route defined I/O interfaces (PCIe and USB) to the next board.
  • Modular, functionally encapsulated plug-in units in multiples of 7HP width pitch. Units form functional assemblies such as power supply, CPU, switch and I/O. Units can be multiples of 7HP, e.g., implement more interfaces or functionality in a single building block assembly.
  • This results in a wide range of device combinations in a modular design in increments of 7HP (21HP, 28HP, 42HP to 84HP), making it cost-efficient even in small quantities.
  • Each modular computing unit can host a stack of 1, 2, or 3 PCBs – depending on the complexity. Separation is typically made according to the front I/O and the power and communication requirements between the host unit and its expansion units.
  • Flexible mounting with minimal accessory components for wall, din-rail, and 19" subrack installations.

With the goal to have the specification ratified by the end of 2022. The team elected Bernd Kleeberg of EKF Elektronik as chairman of the committee, Manfred Schmitz of Ci4Rail is the technical editor, and Johann Klamer of ELTEC Elektronik acts as secretary.

This initiative has over 15 active member companies, including: ADLINK, Ci4Rail, EKF Elektronik, Elma Electronic, ELTEC Elektronik, Embeck, ept, General Micro Systems, HEITEC, Hirose Electric, Intel, Kontron, nVent, Schroff, Samtec, Sealevel Systems and TEWS TECHNOLOGIES. Further vendors are invited to join the committee to actively develop the new modular Box PC open standard.

"For industrial end users, the advantages of a Box PC open standard lie in the cost-effective design of the dedicated systems and the flexible interchangeability of components to tailor the platform for dedicated tasks. Manufacturers also benefit, as the interoperability between the units strengthens their core competence, and they do not have to develop each unit and its embedded components such as cables and mechanics themselves. For VARs and system integrators, the new ecosystem will provide faster configuration options with components from multiple vendors," states Mathias Beer, chief product officer at Ci4Rail.

For more information, visit the PICMG website at picmg.org.

Chad Cox. Production Editor, Embedded Computing Design, has responsibilities that include handling the news cycle, newsletters, social media, and advertising. Chad graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a B.A. in Cultural and Analytical Literature.

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