- By Bill Lydon
- October 13, 2020
Sfera Labs has a vision to provide innovative technology bridging the best of the Maker World with the industrial automation market with the introduction of the Iono Pi Max.
Sfera Labs has a vision to provide innovative technology bridging the best of the Maker World with the industrial automation market with the introduction of the Iono Pi Max. The Iono Pi Max is a complete industrial control and automation edge device built with an industrial grade Raspberry Pi CPU with integrated data server, indusial I/O, communications, and advanced power management.
Sfera Labs, founded in 2016, is an Italian private copmany that is a division of HSYCO, a company with over 10 years experience in the building and industrial automation market. Sfera Labs designs, manufactures and sells servers, embedded systems, I/O modules and sensors for industrial automation, IoT and edge computing based on the growing, open source and community-supported technologies such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino. The company also offers OEM solutions as well as custom product design and branding, and software development services.
I had a conversation with Ulderico Arcidiaco, co-founder & CEO; Giampiero Baggiani, co-founder & software development head; and Maria Chizzali, COO. It is important to note that they all have solid engineering backgrounds and experience. "We believe that open source solutions are reshaping the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) marketplace," commented Arcidiaco. "The Iono Pi Max is unique in its offering, as no other solution combines as much functionality with as many features in a single package."
Maker movement culture
Sfera Labs viion is the fusion of the Maker World and industrial automation that I found intriguing and thought-provoking. The Maker movement is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers, and tinkerers in the spirit of the do-it-yourself ethic based on self-sufficiency. The "do it yourself" (DIY) ethic promotes the idea that anyone is capable of performing a variety of tasks rather than relying on specialists.
The maker culture in general supports open-source hardware and software with a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them to reference designs that are shared as open source. The Maker Movement has been growing particularly leveraging Arduino and Raspberry Pi open-source electronics platforms based on easy-to-use hardware and software.
Interestingly, I have seen automation engineers and technicians in companies following the spirit of the Maker World using open source hardware and software to create solutions in plants. This is analogous to the PC in the 1980s with industrial control and automation engineers creating applications to improve operations; many of these were created using spreadsheets, databases, Basic and later Visual Basic programming. These applications were not available from automation vendors or they were exceedingly expensive at the time.
Thinking about the maker movement brings to mind a question: When the tools are available to reliably and economically create control and automation solutions based on the unique knowledge and know-how inside a company is this the best approach?
Controlling your destiny
Creating control and automation solutions based on the knowhow and tribal knowledge inside a manufacturing or process company can contribute to a unique competitive advantage. This may be a way to insure meeting goals and objectives for customer satisfaction.
Iono Pi Max
The Iono Pi Max joins Sfera Labs' existing range of industrial controllers and servers based on open source platforms. By applying its domain expertise in this area, Sfera Labs has brought together many of the features available separately in its existing portfolio, into a single, optimized and powerful product.
The Iono Pi Max is based on the Raspberry Pi Compute Module single-board computer, with additional hardware to provide a complete solution based on open source technology. The company states the Iono Pi Max is disruptive offering all of the features of a proprietary and more expensive industrial PLC but at a much lower price point.
Iono Pi Max is DIN Rail Mounted
The processing element of the Iono Pi Max is a standard Raspberry Pi Compute Module, so any software or program that can run on a Raspberry Pi will run on the Iono Pi Max. An additional integrated microcontroller allows further application code to run alongside the Raspberry Pi, offering true real-time response and control. With extensive analog and digital interfaces, the Iono Pi Max can connect to and control multiple external sensors and actuators, to create complex control systems.
The Iono Pi Max has a dual SD architecture for redundancy and enables full in-field upgrades down to the boot partition of the operating system.
Because the platform is completely open, users can implement any software their application needs, and run it on any operating system that supports the Raspberry Pi. The Iono Pi Max [ https://www.sferalabs.cc/iono-pi-max/ ] is supplied in a DIN-Rail mountable enclosure with the option of a UPS for use in applications where protection from the disruption caused by a power outage is critical.
The hardware features of the Iono Pi Max: relays; digital I/O (bidirectional TTL, digital inputs and open collector outputs); Analog 4-20 ma and voltage, Wiegand, 1-Wire. Key features include:
- Instrumentation grade current loop analog inputs galvanically isolated to improve noise performance and reliability.
- Open collector outputs are protected from overcurrent, shorts, and inductive kickback.
- Power relays with Normally Open and Normally Closes contacts.
- Two high accuracy Platinum (PT-100 or PT-1000) temperature sensors input ports galvanically isolated.
- Current inputs have a total unadjusted error or +/- 0.08% of full range.
Ethernet, CAN, RS-232 and RS-485 interfaces.
UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply)
Uninterrupted Power Supply is easily accomplished with the addition of one 12V/24V rechargeable battery enabling Iono Pi Max to continue operating in the event of a power outage. Connected sensors, as well as other external devices, like cellular routers, can also be powered by the Iono Pi Max. This, coupled with the ability to interface directly to solar panels makes Iono Pi Max ideal for off-grid applications.
Integrated Raspberry PI
This platform can be used to implement a wide range of IT, OT, industrial automation, and control integration functions to implement digitalization and Industry 4.0 in a single edge device. The Iono Pi Max leverages mainstream open source hardware and software computing resources with integrated industrial I/O and features to enhance reliability and availability. There is an ongoing discussion about the influx of younger talent into the industrial automation profession that are computer technology oriented and they may prefer these types of platforms for some applications.
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