PICMG to develop new modular box PC open specification

2 min read

PICMG, a consortium for developing open embedded computing specifications, has established a technical subcommittee to create a new PICMG form factor specification named ModBlox7.

This specification will look to transform the Box PC industry by introducing an open standard to what is currently a proprietary market. Box PCs are highly integrated computing solutions, but the lack of interoperability limits the ability for end users to achieve truly cost-effective and sustainable solutions.

The ModBlox7 specification will describe a compact and modular Box PC that is flexibly configurable and can be wall-mounted, snapped onto a DIN rail, or integrated into a 19” subrack.

The height and depth are fixed; the width is variable in multiples of 7HP, while the maximum length is 84HP. According to the PICMG, the modular Box PC designs will be very robust, support passive conductive cooling, and be used for demanding applications such as railway, avionics, mobile machines and autonomous mobility as well as machinery in discrete manufacturing and controls in critical process industry infrastructures.

The result of the committee’s work will be a basic specification describing the housing mechanics, the modular functional units, and the electrical interconnection of the units. The standard will guarantee interoperability of units for manufacturers as well as interoperability for users of the Box PC, while combining the advantages of modular systems and highly integrated cost-sensitive Box PC solutions.

The open specification will contain the following requirements or specified functions:

  • Cost-efficient design with minimum mechanical effort. No additional backplane or heat sink will be required. Coplanar board-to-board connectors couple each unit to its neighbour and route defined I/O interfaces (PCIe and USB) to the next board.
  • Modular, functionally encapsulated plug-in units in multiples of 7HP width pitch. Units form functional assemblies such as power supply, CPU, switch and I/O. Units can be multiples of 7HP, e.g., implement more interfaces or functionality in a single building block assembly. This results in a wide range of device combinations in a modular design in increments of 7HP (21HP, 28HP, 42HP to 84HP), making it cost-efficient even in small quantities.
  • Each modular computing unit can host a stack of 1, 2, or 3 PCBs – depending on the complexity. Separation is typically made according to the front I/O and the power and communication requirements between the host unit and its expansion units.
  • Flexible mounting with minimal accessory components for wall, din-rail, and 19" subrack installations.

"For industrial end users, the advantages of a Box PC open standard lie in the cost-effective design of the dedicated systems and the flexible interchangeability of components to tailor the platform for dedicated tasks. Manufacturers also benefit, as the interoperability between the units strengthens their core competence, and they do not have to develop each unit and its embedded components such as cables and mechanics themselves. For VARs and system integrators, the new ecosystem will provide faster configuration options with components from multiple vendors," said Mathias Beer, chief product officer at Ci4Rail.

According to Markets and Markets, the global industrial PC market size is estimated to reach $6.1 billion by 2026 from $4.6 billion in 2021. The market growth is fuelled by increasing demand for industrial IoT, a steady shift towards digitalized manufacturing from traditional manufacturing, growing awareness for resource optimization in manufacturing industries, and stringent regulatory compliances.

The goal is to have the specification ratified by the end of 2022.