Changing at the right time makes all the differenceBlog
May 07, 2021
(This column originally ran in Military Embedded Systems’ associated publication, PC104 and Small Form Factors.)
Jay Conrad Levinson (known for the “Guerrilla Marketing” books) offered this advice on advertising: “Don’t change your ads when you’re tired of them. Don’t change them when your employees are tired of them. Don’t even change them when your friends are tired of them. Change them when your accountant is tired of them.”
There’s a parallel here to form factors and embedded systems design: To best serve the needs of customers, you don’t change just to change. You don’t modify specs to force hardware migration, and you don’t introduce new features unless it’s in the best interest of the customer.
This isn’t to say that all things should stay the same. Not at all. Innovation is critical. Iteration is important, too. But stability – particularly in the embedded marketplace – is what holds the ecosystem together in such a way that there’s viable headroom to innovate.
The PC104 Consortium has long known this and it’s one of the reasons the stackable architecture has stood the test of time.
Where PC104 is thriving
The current PC104 specs support a diverse mix of applications and programs. Many of these programs have moved from early development stages to full production and widespread deployment.
As it’s often found supporting large behind-the-scenes defense programs such as unmanned systems, national infrastructure, and high-reliability industrial applications, you won’t frequently hear about PC104 in the headlines. You’ll hear about major contract awards and acquisition spending, but mostly, PC104 is one of the many silent contributors to these large-scale operations. Our stackable boards are hidden away in small boxes and subsystems, performing important data collection and number crunching at the edge without garnering a lot of fanfare.
Where you’re more likely to hear PC104 discussed with excitement is in engineering labs. Time and time again, PC104 solves the system integrator’s problem of needing an architecture that is packed with enough performance but is small enough to fit. Reasonably cooled, reasonably priced, and ready to ship. “PC104 checks all the boxes on the design brief? We don’t need to design a custom solution from scratch and we aren’t going to break the budget?” Often, the answer is yes; PC104 is what makes it happen.
Much of the United States went into lockdown in March 2020. During that time, PC104 manufacturers began to receive memoranda from federal and state agencies. The basic message was this: “We need you to remain operational.” PC104 – because of its versatility, reliability, and pound-for-pound, mil-for-mil performance – is currently supporting critical infrastructure around the world. From medical test/diagnostic tools and manufacturing equipment to transportation networks and defense programs, PC104 is essential in keeping things operational.
It is not an exaggeration to say that much of the world depends on PC104. When you have a stackable embedded architecture powering essential services, you need the engineering and manufacturing teams supporting those products to mask up, to reorganize for socially distanced workflows, to keep the lights on, and to keep the shipping department busy.
Our members are proud to be playing their part in all of it.
Finally, birthdays: a sign of reliability
With kids, the first few birthdays are a big deal. But as time goes on – especially into adulthood – only the big round numbers are celebrated. PC104 is in its late twenties. While that’s no small feat in embedded electronics, we don’t throw a big party every year. What we do is count on our specifications’ ability to serve the industry. No flash in the pan here: PC104 is a form factor whose reliability in the market is as solid as its reliability in the field.