Industrial hardware and software doesn’t always imply it’s better for SMEs.
Affordability can make consumer devices the only choice. Consumer technologies are sometimes more suitable for SMEs as they are not only lower cost but easier to develop for and usually have less proprietary lock in. Rugged versions of consumer hardware, for example rugged or ‘active lifestyle’ smartphone and laptops, can provide better value with similar levels of robustness as industrial devices.
Technologies such as Raspberry Pi, originally designed for learning and hobbyists are increasingly being used in industry. Some things to be beware of when adopting such consumer technologies are:
Endurance – Carefully research how hardware might degrade or fail over time. For example, mitigations are usually required when using the aforementioned Raspberry Pi because it has a weakness in that MicroSD cards have a limited write capacity.
Warranties – Consumer devices will rarely have warranty when used for industrial purposes.
Earlier Obsolescence – Base systems on operating systems or standards rather than specific proprietary devices so that they can replaced with newer versions when they can no longer be purchased.
The University of Cambridge and Nottingham researchers from the Institute for Manufacturing have an initiative called Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring that explores inexpensive and easy solutions for SMEs through research, workshops, pilot projects, hackathons and other activities.