Get a controller tailored to your need with the Unipi custom development programme

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4/9/19 Does your project require a hardware solution tailored to your needs? The Unipi custom development programme offers you with a wide range of options to customize Unipi controllers according to your technical specifications. 

The modular design of Unipi controllers offers customers with a wide array of hardware customization options. Circuit boards used in Unipi controllers have a universal design and can be freely combined or swapped if a new combination of I/Os is desired. This means customers that did not find a suitable model among standard Neuron or Axon models have the option to order development of a prototype featuring a customized architecture (a new combination of I/Os, additional serial interfaces etc.) or additional functionality (DALI, EnOcean, M-Bus, LTE etc.)

The first decision for the customer to make is to choose a product line the prototype will be based on. There are two options - Unipi Neuron line based on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B computer, or Unipi Axon line featuring an industrial computer with a quad-core ARM CPU and 8GB eMMC onboard memory. Using standard models as the basis allows Unipi developers to focus only on developing the required functionality without the need to develop a whole new type of controller, significantly decreasing both the cost and the development time needed. 

In the next phase, the customer formulates his or her requirements and sends them to the Unipi development team. Developers examine the requirement and determine whether it is profitable to implement the required functionality directly into the hardware. If the direct implementation is considered too costly or time-consuming, an external solution is preferred through external converters or extension modules. If a custom software integration is also required the Unipi team implements the software into the Linux OS - the OS all Unipi controllers are based on.

The result of the development process is a prototype controller featuring the required functionality. This prototype is then shipped to the customer for testing and confirmation (so-called “proof of concept”). In the meantime between delivering the prototype and testing conclusion, the customer cooperates with the Unipi team to refine the requirements, certifications, temperature ranges and other features intended for the final product. 

Aside from hardware customization customers can also opt for an OEM programme that includes graphics customization of the controller’s chassis. All Neuron and Axon controllers feature a durable aluminium chassis (IP20 protection). The chassis also serves as a passive cooler, increasing the controller’s operating temperature range. During manufacturing, an even layer of paint is applied to the chassis. A highly precise laser is then used to engrave labelling (I/O labels, logos, model designations etc.). This technology gives customers an option to obtain a controller with custom colour and custom graphic elements including the customer’s company logo. All the customer needs to do is to provide Unipi with a RAL code of the chosen colour and graphic design source data. As an alternative, a blank white controller without any logos can be also ordered - this choice is suitable for software developers looking for a suitable hardware solution. 

In the end, the Unipi custom hardware development programme offers customers the possibility to obtain a highly customized product, from custom HW development to graphic customization, for a fraction of expenses that would be required to develop an in-house HW platform. The OEM programme is available from 20 pcs MOQ (minimum order quantity) while the custom HW development is available from 100 pcs MOQ. 

Custom HW development example

LAHOCO, a Swiss-based company focused on the development and installation of smart home and BMS systems, is among the companies that chose the Unipi custom HW development programme. The main product of the company is Lahoco software based on open protocols and designed to integrate a wide range of smart home automation components (lighting, HVAC, blinds, shutters etc.) into a single user interface. 

Originally, the company utilized PLCs from a different vendor as an HW solution. However, as the development progressed, a need for a controller featuring EnOcean wireless standard arose. The company thus approached Unipi.technology with a requirement for a prototype controller that would not only feature  EnOcean functionality but would also support the M-Bus industrial bus used primarily to collect data from various metering devices. 

Upon examining the requirements the Unipi development team decided to use an Unipi Neuron as a basis for the prototype. Neuron controllers are based on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B computer which is provided with an Unipi-developed HAT module that features a free hardware slot ready for various additional technologies. This HAT was then used for a quick and cheap implementation of the EnOcean module. A direct implementation of the M-Bus was also considered this solution would however significantly increase the development cost and prolong the whole development. To come up with a solution as profitable for the customer as possible, a decision was made to solve the M-Bus compatibility with external M-Bus/RS485 converter that converts M-Bus data for RS485 serial interface - a default feature of all Neuron controllers.

In its final form, the prototype was based on Unipi Neuron S103, featuring not only the EnOcean module but also a removable antenna. Per LAHOCO’s request, the controller was also coloured with RAL 1016 contrast colour and branded with LAHOCO’s logo and custom model designation. The resulting product was named S103-EnOcean and is currently in a prototype stage. 

A software openness of Unipi controllers based on open-source Linux OS was used during the development. That gives the customer an option to choose from a variety of supported software platforms, not limiting the choice to a single proprietary solution. Aside from the officially supported Mervis control software (included in the package of all Unipi controllers) the customer can also opt for both commercial and open-source solutions, or can use the open-source EVOK application programming interface (API) to seamlessly integrate Unipi hardware into already existing solutions, or to combine Unipi controllers with a custom code. 

Due to all the above-mentioned advantages of Unipi controllers’ modularity, the whole prototype development took only two months from the initial requirement to delivery of the prototype. 

Further info

If you are interested in obtaining a custom-developed Unipi controller as well, get in touch with us! Our development team will surely find a way to make your idea real. Alternatively, you can also visit the OEM programme webpage where you will find a step-by-step OEM manual and all necessary information about the whole process. 

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