Intel Corp. isn’t staying on the sidelines as OEMs review their design operations to improve efficiencies, slash costs and accelerate product time-to-market. The semiconductor vendor is directly inserting itself into the design environment with the hopes of cementing existing relationships and forging new ones as major technology developments and shifting consumer and enterprise demands drive electronics manufacturers to outsource once-sacred operations like design and even research and development.
Concerned about ongoing weakness in its main PC microprocessor business, Intel has been avidly exploring new markets and trying to extend its “Intel Inside” mantra into all economic sectors. It helps that electronic controls, especially semiconductors, are being woven into all fabrics of the economy, opening up new opportunities for manufacturers and consumers alike. With industry experts predicting billions of everyday and industrial devices could soon be connected to the web, companies like Intel are taking the leadership in providing the core technologies that would make the rollout of OEM products easier, according to the company.
“Intel’s Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are dramatically changing the way computing is being woven into our everyday lives: from automotive, healthcare and retail to manufacturing, IOT, wearables and more,” Intel said in a statement on its website. “The Internet of Things is creating a world with endless possibilities. Through exciting innovations in IoT, Intel enables the possibility for cars that recognize their drivers, supermarket displays that help plan dinner menus, baby clothing that delivers real-time information about your child and devices that automate energy and water use for optimal savings.”
Intel isn’t just embracing a fad. The company has always tried to position itself for participation in fast-growing markets. Previously, it avidly embraced the communications IC market, which it has tried to break into with modest success over the last decade. Now, though, Intel is rolling out a wave of offerings across multiple industry segments – anywhere connectivity is required – that could help OEMs reduce time-to-market, cut product development expenses, slash risks, broaden product offerings and improve their financial operating metrics. The company has in recent years offered OEMs “reference design” platforms in various segments of the industry, including PCs, tablets, mobile handsets, other connected devices such as machine-to-machine products, automotive, industrial and services.
Reinforcing its efforts to partner with OEMs in the product development phase of their operations, Intel is this week unveiling a range of reference designs for the industry at the 2015 Intel Solutions Summit partner conference in Dallas. Attendees include long-term Intel OEM partners such as ASUS Tek, Dell, Toshiba, Microsoft (the major sponsors) and a wide range of other manufacturers, ODMs and contractors. In addition to the opportunities for forging a closer relationship with the chipmaker, the event will also afford participants networking sessions with potential partners, the company said. Invitees include “all key ODMs and key China Tech Ecosystem (CTE) players,” Intel said.
The partnerships Intel is helping customers and other electronic supply chain players build is critical to the company’s long-term goal of entering new markets and diversifying its revenue base. In recent months it has partnered with contract manufacturers like Jabil Circuit Inc. to break into markets as diverse as the vending machine sector, POS and others. A recent agreement with Jabil tightened the relationship between the two companies and opened an avenue for Intel to sell components to “intelligent vending” machine manufacturers by offering them reference designs to accelerate and improve their product development operations. (See: Jabil Enters Reference Design Market with Intel).
Intel is supplying the reference design for the intelligent vending machine while electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider Jabil is stepping up with the production and getting OEMs onboard. With much of the design and other development work already completed, vending machine suppliers need only commission Jabil for production and any customization, according to Jose Avalos, worldwide director of visual retail at Intel in a statement.
“The Intel IoT Retail Gateway Reference Design for Intelligent Vending simplifies the design of connected intelligent vending machines, offering building blocks to enable future-proofed design that also reduces development time, complexity and the risk associated with investment,” said Avalos. “The gateway integrates numerous compute workloads such as vending machine controller, touch screen, telemetry, digital advertising, payment and transaction management and provides simplification of integration with back office applications.”
In addition to Jabil, Intel is also partnering with Advantech and Gigabyte in offering the intelligent vending machine to OEMs, according to Avalos. The company said the platform is based on Intel Atom processor E3815 system-on-chip and Intel IoT Gateway software stack. Manufacturers can purchase the digital signage from Intel but also have the option of making their own. For vending machine OEMs, the Intel reference design offers a quick and cost-effective way to retrofit existing devices, according to Avalos.
“By consolidating multiple workloads onto a single vending platform, manufacturers can free up time to focus on meeting the increasing expectations of today's tech-savvy consumers,” he said. “For example, customers can integrate new natural user interfaces, social media capabilities, loyalty programs and nutritional information – all of which will have a positive impact on the consumer's vending experience.”
Moves like the engagement with Jabil will have implications for the entire electronics industry. It brings the design chain into a tighter relationship with other partners involved in purchasing and procurement, supply chain management, distribution and contract manufacturing activities. It also has the potential to make OEMs further reduce their R&D and other product development activities, raising their dependence on companies like Intel, other chipmakers and distributors offering reference designs.
The availability of “reference design” platforms and the direct involvement of contract manufacturers make it, in many cases, unnecessary for OEMs to have large R&D teams internally. OEMs could then focus on marketing and sales support functions, leaving Intel and other partners to handle the actual product development service, according to Intel.
The following are some of the benefits Intel expects engineers and developers can get from using its reference designs for wireless connections:
- Reduced Time-to-Market: Complete, manufacturing-ready system helps reduce development time and project risk.
- Lower Risk: Equipment manufacturers easily implement connected compute technologies without prior wireless experience.
- Diverse Open Source Software: A wide variety of open source software is available, including the Linux operating system, chipset drivers and protocol stacks.
- Optimal System Form Factor: The low-power, small form factor design satisfies requirements for space-constrained environments (e.g., above ceilings and in equipment closets).
- Broad Range of Solutions: Intel reference designs are supported and enriched by a strong ecosystem of hardware and software providers, including members of the Intel Embedded Alliance.