With over 17 million devices sold worldwide, the Raspberry Pi is the most popular single-board computer of all time. But for which industrial applications is the mini-computer suitable and what does its future look like? Sven Pannewitz, Product Manager Active/Passive Components (Programming/Developer) at reichelt elektronik, gives insights into the possibilities of professional use of the Raspberry Pi:
Especially in measurement and control technology, the mini-computer breaks outdated structures and creates space for innovation. Thanks to the open source principle and a multitude of freely available software libraries, programming languages, and instructions, the Raspberry Pi offers flexibility like no other system. Its hardware can also be adapted and expanded as required using plug-in add-on modules such as the PI HATS, for example, to create additional interfaces. This means that a large number of new ideas and prototypes can be implemented directly in the production environment without having to put up with long development cycles. For such a customized solution based on the Raspberry-Pi, relatively low costs are also incurred compared to traditional industrial products.
When used in harsh industrial environments, the original Raspberry Pi initially reaches its limits. Even slightly increased ambient temperatures cause the core temperature to rise sharply due to the compact size of the computer; the compensating CPU throttling leads to massive power losses. The microSD cards used as read-only memory only allow a very limited number of write cycles and are not suitable as remanent memory, which is why they cannot meet industrial requirements. As the latest model in the product family, the Raspberry Pi 3B+ is already Gbit Ethernet and WLAN-capable and thus meets an essential requirement for industrial 4.0 applications. Nevertheless, industrial interfaces such as RS485 or CAN are missing.
However, some further developments of the Raspberry Pis can remove these hurdles. The PiXtend, a professional expansion board for the Raspberry Pi, can be used for control and regulation tasks as well as a learning environment for control, circuit, and software technology. Serial interfaces (RS232, RS485, and CAN bus), a remanence memory, and the possibility of real-time monitoring are all features that are suitable for industrial use. In addition, it withstands ambient temperatures of up to 50 degrees and can be installed directly in a control cabinet thanks to its top-hat rail housing.
The Andino X1 Kit combines the Raspberry Pi and Arduino and creates an industrial solution made in Germany. Precise signal pre-processing and adaptation of signal transmitters and actuators is possible thanks to its own microcontroller. In addition, the Andino X1 protects all essential Raspberry Pi interfaces in accordance with applicable industry standards. The supported digital inputs and outputs are galvanically isolated and prevent an overvoltage of the Raspberry Pi.
As the automation industry demands ever more compact, effective, and cost-effective solutions, the Raspberry Pi has become an indispensable part of industry. Developers can benefit massively from the existing knowledge of the Raspberry Pi community. As the responsible body for the popular single-board computer, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is increasingly dedicated to the software sector in order to be able to, e.g., support 3D software and the use of AI and IoT applications. But the market is also constantly changing in terms of hardware. Despite extreme conditions, the performance of the computers should be continuously maximized, while the external dimensions are becoming increasingly compact.