The High Cost of Industrial Electronics: Exploring the Factors

In this article, I will provide insights into possible reasons for the high cost of industrial electronic products.
The High Cost of Industrial Electronic Products Exploring the Factors

Table of Contents

Recently, a hot topic of discussion on the EDN Electronic Technology Design forum has been the high cost of industrial electronic products. As someone who has worked as an engineer in this field, I was immediately intrigued and began to consider various factors that contribute to the issue. While many of the answers proposed in the forum were valid, I found that they did not present a comprehensive view of the issue. In this article, I will provide insights into possible reasons for the high cost of industrial electronic products.

The World of Electronic Components

I believe this question can be approached from two perspectives: electronic components and complete machines. As components serve as the foundation for machines, let us first examine the former.

According to the article ‘Differences in Reliability between Consumer Electronics and Industrial Electronics,’ electronic products are categorized into three main groups based on their operating temperatures: commercial-grade (consumer electronics), industrial-grade, and military-grade. The primary differences between consumer and industrial electronics are as follows:

  1. The temperature ranges vary: the temperature range for consumer-grade electronics is typically 0℃ to 70℃, while industrial-grade electronics can withstand temperatures ranging from -40℃ to 85℃, and military-grade electronics can operate between -55℃ and 150℃.
  2. Reliability requirements differ: industrial-grade electronics are subject to higher reliability requirements, such as temperature and humidity environment, electromagnetic environment, mechanical vibration environment, etc., compared to consumer-grade electronics. Although there are no standardized definitions of specific reliability test conditions for the two categories, test conditions can be determined based on the different operating temperatures and expected lifetimes.

From this, it can be seen that industrial electronic products are mainly expensive in these two aspects.

Several users of the EDN electronic technology design community share similar viewpoints, which the author agrees with. For example, kaokaohe points out that different levels of electronic products are produced according to different standards, resulting in differences in various indicators such as voltage range, temperature range, and environmental requirements. In order to pursue uninterrupted operation throughout the year and eliminate maintenance hassles, industrial products are designed to work in harsh environments and withstand high pressures.

Of course, some products can use a lower level of components, but this may increase maintenance costs. Some products may be able to function properly due to good luck. In fact, the service life of a product depends on the frequency of use, working environment, and proper use. For example, a mobile phone can last longer if it is protected with a screen protector and case, kept clean, and not exposed to malicious software, drops, or bumps. Additionally, the phone’s hardware may not have manufacturing defects.

“追忆流年寻梦少年” suggests that products are divided into different levels based on temperature range, reliability, and special performance requirements (such as radiation resistance and vibration), with industrial-grade products being more expensive than commercial-grade products. This is because industrial products require additional protection and verification to meet special requirements such as water resistance, moisture resistance, and dust resistance.

Generally speaking, the higher the level, the more requirements the product must meet, the more items need to be verified, and the more expensive the price.

Of course, there is also the issue of market size, i.e., product volume. The larger the market and product volume, the lower the price. However, industrial electronic products often have limited production volume and variety, leading to higher prices and slower upgrades.

“大漠孤雁” gives an example of a previous product in their company that was for civilian use but needed to be installed on an airplane. Factors such as temperature, pressure, humidity, power supply range, vibration, and reliability all needed to be considered, which led to the selection of industrial-grade products. Additionally, redundant designs such as dual power backup may be necessary. These factors during component selection and product design contribute to the high cost of industrial-grade products.

Luck_gfb points out that industrial products also require a longer service life and may cause greater losses if they fail. While consumer-grade products may have warranties, a defective product can typically be replaced, whereas, with industrial products, the loss caused by a defective product can be much higher.

Luck_gfb points out that industrial products also require a longer service life and may cause greater losses if they fail. While consumer-grade products may have warranties, a defective product can typically be replaced, whereas, with industrial products, the loss caused by a defective product can be much higher.

Machine Section

After exploring the various reasons mentioned above, let’s analyze further from the perspective of a complete machine using another example.

Comparison between industrial-grade UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) and commercial-grade UPS

According to an article on Electronic Products, a sister site of EDN, industrial UPS applications are the most demanding type of environment in the world. These systems must withstand a wide range of temperatures and humidity and are typically located in narrow, hard-to-reach spaces with poor airflow. Additionally, consideration must be given to whether the environment contains corrosive elements that could cause degradation of the transformer, circuit board, and connector performance. Industrial UPS components and circuits are either coated with inert sealants to protect them from harsh environments or equipped with specialized air filters, both of which increase costs.

Industrial UPS systems must operate at higher environmental temperatures, which requires components to be able to operate in such environments and withstand the demands of critical equipment loads. Therefore, most industrial UPS systems are equipped with redundant fans.

In contrast, commercial (IT) UPS systems are typically placed in a temperature and humidity-controlled environments to allow the UPS system and critical system servers, routers, and data drives to achieve optimal performance.

Maintenance and Operations

Industrial-grade UPS systems are typically serviced by field technicians, which drives component-level repair and requires documentation for isolation when replacing or repairing critical components. This takes time, and maintenance in industrial environments is also more prone to exposure to bypass power compared to data center environments.

Industrial-grade UPS systems typically operate in non-redundant mode, with only one power module in a dedicated power distribution system and the only backup power being a bypass source. The power module is also becoming smaller as industrial applications that require UPS only account for a small portion of the total load. Key items such as instruments/process controls or PLCs require protection to prevent memory or status loss, while downstream components that use the power do not require as much protection.

In contrast, most UPS systems in computer data centers adopt a redundant configuration to ensure that critical loads do not experience power outages in the event of a failure. Long-term operation of the UPS system in bypass mode poses significant risks and is therefore not desirable.

Technicians typically maintain these complex systems in a modular way, isolating various parts of the machine and replacing them according to the on-site maintenance spare parts list. This approach can reduce downtime and help the system to resume service more quickly, thereby reducing operational risks for data centers.

The Lifespan

Industrial UPS equipment requires components with a certain design margin to ensure that their average time between failures (MTBF) exceeds 100,000 hours when working in typical industrial environments.

Even with a conservative design approach, components such as cooling fans and DC capacitors will age over time. Industrial UPS users, such as power plants, typically require a lifespan of 20-30 years for UPS systems, while the petrochemical industry requires a lifespan of 10-15 years.

In the commercial UPS market, UPS systems are often phased out after 5 years. Today, with the development of data technology, the lifespan of data centers is usually less than 5 years. Therefore, commercial UPS suppliers tend to design their products to be cheaper, smaller, and more efficient.

The Battery Backup Time

for UPS varies depending on the application. For example, if a factory has a backup generator, the backup time only needs to be long enough to ensure stable power from the generator.

For IT UPS applications, valve-regulated lead-acid batteries are typically used as backup and are required to provide 10 to 30 minutes of power. The charger only needs to be capable of charging the battery to 95% capacity within 8 to 10 hours. In contrast, industrial applications may require battery support for up to 60 minutes to 8 hours or more, and the charger capacity is typically much larger.

Protection and Control

Industrial UPS systems are made of steel with a thickness of up to 2mm and may be coated with a thick layer of industrial paint to further protect the casing. Most industrial UPS systems have a NEMA 12 rating to protect power and control components from moisture and contamination. In contrast, commercial UPS systems typically use thinner steel or plastic casings with a NEMA 1 rating.

The design of data center AC power distribution systems can protect UPS systems from the effects of EMI/RFI from power and bypass input lines. By using dedicated input power lines and isolation transformers, not only can EMI/RFI be reduced, but fault currents on the utility line can also be minimized.

In some industrial applications, the UPS AC input power is provided by a switchgear or motor control center and is typically connected to a shared bus with electrical noise loads such as variable speed drives. For such applications, an input isolation transformer may be required.

Words in the end

In summary, we see that there are various performance differences between industrial-grade and commercial-grade (consumer) electronic products, which ultimately are reflected in the form of cost.

In addition, compared to commercial electronics, industrial electronics require much more and higher standard certifications, which are reflected not only in the selection of components and materials but also in stricter testing and measurement. For example, based on the experience of the author working in the smart meter industry, the R&D of smart meters requires various performance and functional standards. For this reason, manufacturers must equip themselves with a large amount of testing equipment, and even this may not be enough. Some tests still need to be carried out at the State Grid Energy Research Institute. This also involves a significant amount of human and material resources as well as time costs.

Finally, due to the smaller scale of the industrial market compared to the consumer market, the unit development cost allocated to individual products is higher.

The End
DiskMFR Field Sales Manager - Leo

It’s Leo Zhi. He was born on August 1987. Major in Electronic Engineering & Business English, He is an Enthusiastic professional, a responsible person, and computer hardware & software literate. Proficient in NAND flash products for more than 10 years, critical thinking skills, outstanding leadership, excellent Teamwork, and interpersonal skills.  Understanding customer technical queries and issues, providing initial analysis and solutions. If you have any queries, Please feel free to let me know, Thanks

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