Factory Automation: How Flash Memory Can Help
Picture a factory operating at its peak production potential. Chances are that you envision a line filled with hands-on workers who each complete a very specific part of the production process. However, today’s factories bear little resemblance to this outdated vision of how factories operate. Modern factories rely on factory automation to achieve the most efficient levels of operation. New automated operations are constantly being added. These changes increase efficiency, lower costs, boost output, and reduce loss associated with human error.
One of the reasons why factory automation has grown so much in recent years is because of the increase in reliance on the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT. The expansion of the IIoT means a higher level of interconnectedness between devices. These advances are made possible in large part because of flash memory. In fact, flash memory is a key part of automation in industrial settings.
Although flash memory is critical for factory automation, not just any kind of flash storage will do. In factories, operating conditions are often rugged. Temperature extremes are normal, as are high levels of shock and vibration. For these reasons, factories typically rely on industrial flash memory, which is designed to withstand exacting operating conditions. For factory automation, using the right kind of flash memory is critical to avoiding costly shutdowns, product loss, and, most importantly, injuries to employees.
What flash memory features are essential for factory automation?
Although every factory is different, most have a baseline set of needs that applies to flash memory and its role in factory automation. One such need is flash memory that is easily and readily available for an extended period of time and in which no components of the memory are changed. Every time a new flash memory device replaces an older one or a critical component of an existing flash drive is changed, the new storage device has to be retested and recertified. This process is lengthy, disruptive, and costly. In the event that a component is changed or a device is being phased out, it is essential that factories using the flash memory for automation receive advanced notification. This ensures that they can plan for the transition to minimize downtime and disruption.
Another important consideration for flash memory in factory automation is how the memory behaves in the case of a power loss. Power failures in factory settings are not completely preventable. Thus, the flash memory should be able to withstand an unexpected power failure without a significant risk of data loss. Similarly, power consumption is a major consideration in factories. Flash memory with low power consumption needs is ideal for helping factory automations run smoothly.
It is also necessary for flash memory in factory settings to have a high level of endurance. Using flash memory with a long lifespan means that the process of replacing the memory device, which requires disrupting the production process, only happens rarely.
Should SLC flash memory be used in factory automation?
Single-level cell flash memory, or SLC flash memory, is the basis of most industrial flash memory drives. With SLC flash, only one bit of data is stored per cell. This gives it the highest speeds and most reliable operations of all flash memory grades. Many factory automation applications are designed around SLC flash memory products. There are several advantages of using SLC flash memory in factory automation, including the following:
- SLC flash memory has the longest lifespan of any kind of flash memory. Fewer charges are required for read and write operations with SLC flash memory, since only one bit of data is stored on each cell. As a result, the wear and tear on the storage device is minimized. This level of endurance means that there are fewer replacements necessary, leading to more uptime for factory operations.
- SLC flash memory can endure extreme operating conditions. Most SLC flash memory can withstand temperatures that range from -40 degrees C to 85 degrees C. This is critical in factory conditions. Additionally, with the right assembly processes, SLC flash memory is capable of tolerating the shock and vibration levels that are common in factories without losing any functionality.
- SLC flash memory is the fastest flash available. This speed helps factories run as efficiently as possible, without delays caused by slow memory operations.
What about capacity and flash memory?
One drawback of SLC flash memory is that its capacity is limited. Storing one bit of data per cell doesn’t allow room for expanding the storage capacity. For many factory automation systems, this is not a problem. For others, though, limited capacities mean limited functionality.
Factory automation applications that need more capacity than SLC flash memory can provide may be able to utilize industrial MLC flash. MLC, or multi-level cell, flash memory allows two bits of data to be stored per cell, thus increasing capacity. Commercial grade MLC flash lacks the industrial features necessary for factory operations. However, industrial MLC flash drives are designed with extended temperature ranges and other features that are usually reserved for SLC flash memory. In short, industrial MLC flash drives can provide greater storage capacities without sacrificing reliability.
What is a locked BOM?
One thing you are likely to come across when searching for industrial flash memory for factory automation is the term “locked BOM.” With a locked BOM, or bill of materials, none of the critical components of the flash memory will be changed without advanced notification to customers and without issuing a new product number.
Locked BOMs dramatically reduce the risk of flash drive failures caused by unanticipated compatibility issues. With a locked BOM, you will always know that the flash memory you’re ordering is the exact design that has been certified for your system and won’t have any compatibility issues. Because you get advanced notice of any changes that are planned for the memory, you can prepare for an efficient transition to a new flash memory device when necessary.
Thanks to the IIoT, large amounts of data can be shared between interconnected devices in factory settings. This has made the automation of many production activities possible. Reliable flash memory is at the core of factory automation and the IIoT. Let the experts at Delkin help you find the right rugged embedded storage solution for your needs. Our team is available to discuss your flash memory requirements and to help you select the right storage option.
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