Lattice aims new stack at industrial automation market

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Lattice is looking to broaden its appeal in a market Intel and AMD have acquired their way into.(Getty Images)

Lattice Semiconductor unveiled Lattice Automate, a new low-power, FPGA-based solution stack aimed at accelerating implementation of industrial applications like robotics, scalable multi-channel motor control with predictive maintenance, and real-time industrial networking in environments like automated smart factories, warehouses and commercial buildings.

Lattice Automate includes software tools, industrial IP cores, modular hardware development boards, and software-programmable reference designs and demos that will be key to creating intelligent industrial systems to execute on those applications, according to a Lattice press release.

Mark Hoopes, director of industrial segment marketing, Lattice, told Fierce Electronics that smart factories and other industrial settings are leveraging technologies like IoT and edge computing to increase automation, and that the complexity of implementing these capabilities requires “full solution stacks, not just silicon.”

Lattice has a history of developing such stacks, having introduced stacks such as sensAI, mVision and Sentry in recent years, but Automate is the company’s first effort targeting automated and intelligent industrial systems.

The global industrial automation market is projected to reach $326.14 billion by 2027, according to Fortune Business Insights. Meanwhile, market demand for the industrial robots central to these automation efforts is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 13.5% between  2020 and 2027, according to Allied Market Research.

Hoopes said it’s an arena in which Lattice’s focus on low-power FPGAs should pay off. “Power is a huge concern in certain industrial areas,” he said. “For example, if the solution is inside a robot that needs to move rapidly, having good power dissipation helps.”

Precise motor control and predictive maintenance also are key requirements in these settings, Hoopes added. Lattice Automate is capable of enabling systems that can sense speed, position, and movement of different motors in a machine or robot to allow for flexible, scalable motor control. Another benefit is a predictive maintenance reference design that employs sensing circuits, a data collector, and a single local AI/ML engine to improve data privacy and minimize machine downtime by monitoring multiple motors in a system. 

“We have sensing circuitry, so you don’t need so many cameras and sensors in different places,” Hoopes said. “They track voltage and currents to provide the earliest detection of any anomalies.

Lattice Automate also includes an EtherConnect networking IP and reference design to enable real-time networking control of multiple devices through the implementation of an extensible sense and control system with a Lattice Nexus FPGA as the central controller. Automate also allows for increased cyber resiliency with a hardware Root-of-Trust in an industrial system that can detect, protect, and recover from a firmware-based attack in real time.

“Old industrial architectures had isolation between every layer of processing, which made them secure, but there was no visibility into anything and a lot of latency,” Hoopes said. “Industry 4.0 is bringing all of that together, and while everyone recognizes the benefits of having everything connected, it makes everything only as strong as the weakest link, so you need more visibility and detection.”

Shifting market dynamics

This week’s announcement comes as Xilinx, a competitor to Lattice in the FPGA market, is in the process of being acquired by chip giant AMD. This potentially leaves Lattice deeper in the shadows of the larger companies -- Lattice is widely perceived to be third in FPGA market share, but distant from Xilinx and Intel, the latter of which acquired FPGA developer Altera in 2015.

Hoopes said he sees opportunity in the market as AMD digests its Xilinx deal. “When Intel acquired Altera, people saw something happening in this market, and it’s continuing,” he said. “We’re expanding, too. Our focus is on low-power units, but you can see us now broadening our application space and our opportunities.”

However, Jack Gold, president and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, said in an email to Fierce Electronics that shifting market dynamics and the ongoing trend of mergers and acquisitions in the broader semiconductor industry are more likely to leave Lattice as an acquisition candidate. “I think Lattice is probably a prime acquisition target, but at this point I can’t point to anyone specific,” he stated. “I believe that between Intel and AMD, and increasingly with Nvidia going to a mainstream provider of processors, Lattice will have a tough time being a major competitor in the FPGA market. That said, they could be a good acquisition for a company that needs some accelerators even if they are not a direct chip vendor (e.g., public cloud vendors like AWS, MSFT, GCP). Since AI and 5G networking are leading users of FPGAs at this point, they could also become part of a company in that space.”


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