Rick Rockershousen

Rick Rockershousen
Vice President of Sales

Recent Posts

Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) vs. Custom Products

Jan 25, 2022 8:22:18 AM / by Rick Rockershousen posted in custom engineering

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Ask our Engineers Anything:

What are the pros and cons of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) versus custom componentry?

Let’s say you work for a company developing a new product that uses a Serial interface, and you have been tasked with finding a way to integrate Ethernet connectivity. You research all the different options for exports, components that can convert connections like Serial into other interfaces, and come across a number of options. 

 

For example, the Grid Connect RS485 Ethernet Adapter can be purchased directly. This would be the commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) version of the product. However, the protocol on RS485 can also be customized to exactly match the company’s desired specifications. What are the differences between these two options, and what should one think about when the choice between COTS and custom is presented to them?

 

COTS products:

The nature of COTS products lends a number of benefits. Because a COTS component gets produced on a larger scale, they are standardized, providing identical features across the board. If the specifications provided in the component meet the needs of the customer, then that COTS will make the most business sense, saving time and capital to develop a custom piece. For that same reason, it likely would not be prudent to invest in a custom component for a small volume order.

 

“You aren’t going to do a custom if you only need a few,” said Rick Rockershousen, Vice President of Sales for GridConnect. “If you can’t find the perfect solution, but if you only need one or two or ten, it often makes more sense to take the nearest thing and work with it.”

 

Another benefit of COTS products is that they can easily be applied in a trial setting, testing to confirm if the technology achieves the intended goals of the project. That said, because COTS components come standardized, they may have too many features, or be physically unsuitable.

 

Custom products:

This potential for incompatibility makes COTS components more difficult to use in larger applications. For this reason, Grid Connect offers the ability to customize every component made under their brand name, so each piece can conform perfectly to the desired specifications for the project. 

 

“It could be anything, changing the firmware to hide the configuration of the parts they don’t want. It could be to add things that aren’t in the standard firmware, perhaps like supporting multiple Ethernet connections,” said Rockershousen.

 

The physical size and shape of each piece are commonly desired to be altered, whether for aesthetic reasons or practical concerns. Take this example of a customer who wanted an export for their new product, but had a physical constraint that required the customization of the export:

 

“A company that makes airline boarding pass and ticket printers contacted us about a custom version of the NET232. Their printers are serial, but they wanted to have them Ethernet connected,” said Rockershousen. “The customer didn’t have an easy way to plug-in/power the standard NET232, since available outlets are hard to find in airline terminals.”

 

To rectify this issue, Grid Connect customized the NET232 to receive power from the serial side of the device - so in this case the power is supplied by the printer itself. This resulted in a small, easily installable custom NET232 that converted  the serial cable coming off the printer into an Ethernet connection without having to power the new part separately.  

 

One of the biggest pros of customization is the ability to have full control over the user’s end-to-end experience of the product. Customization allows for the component to be branded precisely, allowing the company to determine how much they want the customer to know about how their product comes together. Components can even be added to set their product apart from their competitors.

 

“It’s a competitive advantage to have something custom that exactly fits the need, where everybody else is using off-the-shelf things to fill it,” said Rockershousen.

 

Costs for customization vary, but most minor customizations run in the $1,500 to $15,000 range.  Things can go up from there if extensive redesign is required to achieve the desired result.

 

Grid Connect can help with customization of many products, especially those that are under the Grid Connect brand, or include parts from Espressif or Lantronix.   Here are just a few:

gc-net485-01

NET485 Enhanced - Serial to Ethernet Device Server

SKU : GC-NET485-ENH

MPN : GC-NET485-ENH

net232-plus_1500x1500_3

NET232+ Serial to Ethernet Intelligent Cable Adapter 

SKU : GC-NET232-PLUS

MPN : GC-NET232-PLUS

can_usb

CANUSB COM FD - USB CAN FD/CAN Interface 

SKU : GC-CAN-USB-COM-FD-ISO

MPN : GC-CAN-USB-COM-FD-ISO

 xpico_2_web

GC Enhanced xPICO™ - Serial to Ethernet Embedded Device Server

SKU : GC-XPICO-ENH

MPN : GC-XPICO-ENH

ESP32-WROOM-32UE

ESP32-WROOM-32UE - WI-FI/BT/BLE Module 

SKU : GC-ESP-WROOM-32UE

MPN : ESP32-WROOM-32UE

 

Shop all customizable products.

 

Ultimately, asking questions about the product and application being considered are crucial to making the best possible business decision when it comes to COTS versus custom. Some questions to think about include:

  • Do the available COTS products meet the needs of this project?
  • How many units of this product are required for the project?
  • How time sensitive is this project?
  • Do our competitors offer a similar product?
  • How much control should be exerted over the end-to-end user experience?

Contact us for more information on how we can help. 

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EtherNet/IP, PROFINET, or both?

Dec 14, 2021 8:00:00 PM / by Rick Rockershousen posted in Ethernet TCP/IP, industrial networking, PROFIBUS, PROFINET

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Ask our Engineers Anything:

Should I implement EtherNet/IP, PROFINET, or both in my device, and how?

EtherNet/IP and PROFINET are two protocols that utilize and add value to standard ethernet technology.

Speed is often mentioned as a key benefit of PROFINET, while interoperability often goes into the EtherNet/IP column. Yet when it comes to one over the other, it's not so black and white. For product design and development, you may want to hedge your bets and support both.

The global industrial ethernet market is growing at 7.2% CAGR and expected to surpass $15 billion by 2027. Looking at market share, PROFINET is overall the leading Industrial Ethernet protocol worldwide, yet EtherNet/IP (EIP) is becoming more popular as an industrial networking standard.


Source: Global Industrial Ethernet Market, published by KBV research.

Since both PROFINET and EtherNet/IP are  widely adopted, this article will present some background information and offer three primary options for including them into your product design.

About EtherNet/IP (EIP) and PROFINET

With backing by Wisconsin-based, North American giant Rockwell Automation and others, EtherNet/IP has a strong presence in the US and Canada. Rockwell Automation has been in the game for years through ongoing development of their control networks.

PROFINET is very strong in Europe, with backing by Siemens and others. As mentioned, it is strong worldwide, including substantial market share in North America. While PROFINET is based on the PROFIBUS standard, it is not simply PROFIBUS over Ethernet. PROFINET is generally faster overall than EtherNet/IP, but it can require special hardware for some applications.

Open standards with governance

Part of the appeal of EtherNet/IP and PROFINET is that both are open standards, yet both also have governing bodies in place to guide development and ensure certain requirements are met.

PROFIBUS and PROFINET International (PI)

_pi-logo_d2d02c70cb

Known as PI for short, this organization has about 1,700 member companies globally and offers PROFIBUS and PROFINET competence centers, training centers, test labs and certifications, and various working groups and technical committees.

Visit the PI website to learn more

Open DeviceNet Vendors Association (ODVA)

ODVA-logo-r

Known as ODVA, the members of this global association are leading industrial automation companies. The stated mission of ODVA is to advance open, interoperable industrial automation technologies. ODVA's network protocol, the Common Industrial Protocol or CIP, is core to its mission, supporting the adoption of commercial-off-the-shelf products and standard internet and ethernet technologies.

Visit the ODVA website to learn more.

Note that Grid Connect is both a PI member and ODVA member.

 

EtherNet/IP and PROFINET considerations

As mentioned already, EIP and PROFINET are both open source for greater interoperability and more options to use off-the-shelf components. Following are important considerations when assessing these protocols for your product development plans.

Certification requirements

An important point to remember when adding one of these protocols to a device is that the device must be certified by the appropriate body, ODVA or PI, in order to be sold on the open market as an EtherNet/IP or PROFINET capable device.

This involves testing of the device in a certified lab, which runs a standard set of conformance tests on the product. There are costs associated with this testing and manufacturers should consult with the appropriate body to understand the timing, costs, and documentation needed.

Three implementation options

Device manufacturers looking to add industrial protocols to their device have three main options for getting this done.

1. Do-It-Yourself (DIY)

You can develop or buy a PROFINET or EtherNet/IP stack and run it on the native microcontroller of the device.

The DIY approach makes sense when the projected sales volumes justify the additional development expense. If the device manufacturer has a willing customer who has time to wait for the R&D and will buy sufficient quantities, then this approach makes sense.

Adding a new protocol stack to a device’s existing software base may require making hardware changes to the device as well. For example, adding a protocol stack to the software will increase the load on resources such as RAM and Flash memory. If the load is too much, then additional RAM and/or Flash will have to be added to the microcontroller PCB. Another reason for needing to change the PCB is if an Ethernet RJ45 Connector needs to be added to connect the device to the PROFINET or EtherNet/IP network.

When you consider this plus the learning curve for understanding the protocol plus certification costs, the DIY approach is not for the faint of heart. The trade-offs are lower Bill of Material (BOM) costs vs. longer time to market and much higher R&D costs.

2. Buy-the-stack-on-board

You can buy a chip or module with the stack already developed and interface it to the microcontroller of the device.

A buy-the-stack-on-board option avoids the long lead time and R&D expense of the DIY approach. It can be accomplished with a single protocol embedded module. Such a module typically interfaces with the device’s native microcontroller via a serial or SPI connection. This does not avoid the hardware R&D expense as the device’s PCB needs to be redesigned to accommodate the module, but this is typically a relatively simple and straightforward modification.

The interface through the serial port is also relatively simple and is typically done using the serial Modbus RTU protocol. Many devices have support for this already developed within the device microcontroller, so software development is often minimal. This makes time to market much faster than the DIY approach with much reduced R&D expense.

In addition, these modules often have been pre-certified (depending on the protocols certification rules), which makes certification of the OEM device faster and less costly. An example of such a module is Grid Connect’s EtherNet/IP XPort. This module is a cost-effective and quick time-to-market approach to adding EtherNet/IP to a device.

Note that we are working on a next generation EtherNet/IP module that adds wireless capability.

3. Future-proof-module

Finally, you can buy a module that has multiple variants supporting a variety of Industrial fieldbus protocols where all versions of the module have the same footprint.

Building on the module approach, this is the multiprotocol module with a uniform footprint, allowing for multiple fieldbus / industrial networking protocols to be added to a device without redesigning the PCB. Simply plug in a module with the desired protocol and the device is multilingual. Additional accommodations may be needed if the chosen field buses have different physical interfaces, such as RJ45 for Industrial Ethernet protocols or a DB9 connector for a fieldbus such as PROFIBUS. With these module families, the device microcontroller interfaces through serial or SPI interfaces to the module just like with the previous approach.

Typically, however, no other modifications to the device’s software are needed when switching from one protocol module to another. So instead of designing to add one or two protocols, such as EtherNet/IP and PROFINET, suddenly all of the major protocols—like PROFIBUS, DeviceNet, and Modbus TCP, to name a few— are available with little to no additional cost, other than certification.

This approach makes sense when the volume is low, as the modules are typically more expensive than the other two approaches, or when maximum flexibility is needed.

Available EIP and PROFINET modules 

Grid Connect offers the Unigate IC module family from Deutschmann Automation, a German company that's been making network components for industrial data communication for over thirty years. As pre-certified communication interfaces, Unigate IC modules can be directly integrated into the electronics of the terminal device without changes in the firmware, which is important when the firmware has been certified. UNIGATE IC is an excellent alternative to developing your own interfaces. 

 

 

I hope we have answered some of your own questions about these popular industrial networking protocols. If not, please don't hesitate to contact us to discuss your questions or concerns.

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Monitoring Solutions for Temporary ICU and Containment Tents

Mar 17, 2020 2:52:13 PM / by Rick Rockershousen

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As the COVID-19 Pandemic is disrupting nearly all phases of daily life, hospitals and healthcare workers are on the front lines of this war. Some hospitals have begun deploying temporary facilities or containment tents to help limit the virus from spreading. The tents rely on negative air pressure to prevent the escape of the virus.

Grid Connect offers easy-to-deploy solutions for the following:

View more sensor options. 

The monitoring sensors can be wireless or hard-wired, and the controllers have embedded monitoring software. Alerts can be sent out via E-Mail, SMS and SNMP.

The intercoms offer quality voice communication over the network. PC based operator software is used to communicate with the intercom endpoints. Also, 3rd-party IP camera video feeds can be brought into the operator software for complete audio and video support for the tent.

Click here, for more information on how AKCP wireless solutions can help with COVID-19 protection. 

Contact us for assistance, our experts are here to help find the right products for your monitoring and communication needs.

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IP in your hand… Really!!

Nov 8, 2010 2:37:58 PM / by Rick Rockershousen posted in custom engineering, General, IP technology, live swap, NET232, NET232jr, network, OEM, Press Releases, Products, serial devices, serial port devices

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The world’s tiniest device server, the NET232jr, was originally nicknamed by its first customer as “IP In Your Hand”.   This clever turn of phrase gave us a few chuckles, but it does point out the amazingly small size of the NET232jr.    The  NET232 “junior” enables serial devices with IP technology in the smallest package available in the world (as far as we know!).

We were able to shrink down the size of our standard NET232 by getting rid of the power regulation circuitry and the power LED.    This change requires that power be provided to the NET232jr over the serial port (coming from the serial device), and that power must be regulated at 3.3VDC or 5VDC.    This obviously means that the NET232jr is not for everyone.

The NET232jr has been primarily used thus far by OEMs who want to offer it as an add-on for their serial port devices, and who have the ability to modify the serial port of their product to put out the power required.    You might ask “if you’re going to modify your product to put out power on the serial port, why not just go ahead and add the XPort (the main component inside the NET232jr) to your product instead?”    Well, there are several reasons why you might not want to do that.  First and foremost is cost.  Maybe you expect only a limited percentage of your customers to actually need an Ethernet connection.   Why put an XPort in every product?  Why not just sell an add-on that is small, smart, cost-effective and can be customized to your specifications with ease?   This is the motivation for the NET232jr.

Another interesting use of the “junior” is when you have a serial device that must be operational at all times, and you need to “live swap” it for servicing quickly and simply.   If you use the NET232jr as the network connection, then you can leave the NET232jr attached to the network while you swap out whatever serial device is attached.  This means you do not have to reconfigure the network connection for the new device; you simply plug it in and the NET232jr “remembers” the network settings.   Thus, you do not need to call in IT personnel to replace your serial device – anyone can do it – just plug it in!

The NET232jr came into existence when a customer asked for something smaller than the NET232 (which is already one of the smallest Serial to Ethernet device servers on the market).    Grid Connect is happy to discuss your project/product needs with you and see if we can find a solution – even if you don’t see on our website.  We have on staff a team of engineers dedicated to finding solutions to your networking problems.    Maybe you need a custom design that will fit in your enclosure or cabinet.  Who knows – maybe you’ll even see an “IP in your cabinet” blog post someday!

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Ever Wanted to be a Fly on the Wall?

Sep 13, 2010 10:02:03 AM / by Rick Rockershousen posted in business, Digital Acoustics, elderly, General, Intercom, IP, IP Intercom, IP7-SE8, Products, Remote Audio Surveillance, surveillance, surveillance technology, Talkmaster Software

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Small business owners, businesses with multiple retail locations/branches, and even individuals with an elderly parent living alone, can all benefit from our remote audio surveillance technology over IP!

Small business owners, who want to be able to listen in from home or other locations when trouble arises at their business, can do so using our IP Intercom/Paging Technology powered by Digital Acoustics.

Let’s say you have video surveillance of your retail franchise and want to hear when something happens. Or maybe you’d like to “yell” at troublemakers after hours that are on your car lot. Using the IP7-SE8, you can wire in a wide variety of speakers (including paging horns, ceiling speakers and wall speakers), and microphones, including very sensitive omni-directional mics, and be able to monitor and talk to your business location from any remote location with Internet access from your PC.

Using the Talkmaster Software on your PC (free with purchase of the IP7-SE8), you can communicate over the network with your business. Listen to disturbances, or simply talk to your employees and/or customers from anywhere in the world.

For multi-location businesses, you can make announcements to your employees at all locations at the same time. You can even play music and other recorded programs from your PC using the Network Music software. For locations where security is a concern, you can have a panic or help button installed by the cashier’s location, which would trigger the TalkMaster Software as an incoming call. You can then listen in and find out if any additional action needs to be taken.

For those with an elderly parent living alone, you can use a desk or surface mount intercom, which can be used to communicate in a time of need. This may be a life saving capability, allowing you to communicate with a relative who has taken a fall or is otherwise not able to answer the phone.

These flexible intercom and paging products provide extended security, surveillance, and paging applications anywhere there is an Internet connection. It’s an affordable, flexible and easy way to become a “fly on the wall.”

*Note: Use of remote audio surveillance technology is subject to local, state, and federal surveillance laws.

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