Arduino Forum

Using Arduino => Microcontrollers => Topic started by: PeekabuPi on Nov 11, 2012, 09:56 pm

Title: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: PeekabuPi on Nov 11, 2012, 09:56 pm
If you created some application with the arduino boards or using AVR or PIC chips, how good is their long term reliability and robustness?

For example, PLCs are engineered specially to take a beating, long continuous cycle times, electrical circuit protection, and good mechanical protection against shock etc. So ultimately PLCs tend to be workhorses and great for automation applications because they are reliable for long term continuous use and are very robust.

Are arduino boards and AVR and PIC chips as good in terms of long term continuous operation? How reliable are they? Provided of course you are supplying power constantly and it wont be in a situation where it will get knocked around. For example, will the internal circuit inside the microcontroller or on the PCB reach end-of-life or premature failure after being cycled for a long time? What does your experience tell you? How long can you run them continuously before you get 'bugs' or hickups or even total failure?
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: tim7 on Nov 11, 2012, 10:27 pm
It depends on what kind of environment you have in mind.  Running on my desk flashing LEDs the Arduino is perfectly reliable and robust.  But it is certainly not built to withstand an industrial or laboratory environment.  There is almost no protection circuitry, so the processor and anything connected to it can be killed by a glitch or a short.  The connectors would not stand up to knocks, vibration, or any mechanical stress.
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: twice on Nov 11, 2012, 10:29 pm
Honestly, the 8 bit AVR controllers seem to be used mainly by hobbyists. I have looked for a list of professional devices that use AVRs but I found no convincing evidence they have serious applications in practice.
Regarding PICs, I have found some credible commercial devices, not related to hobbyists, that use them.

I am not aware of any PLC that makes use of 8 bit AVRs, maybe because the PLC designers do not want to become dependent of a single chip supplier (Atmel). PLCs use ARMs, 8051 or other processors that are produced by many manufacturers.
Also, 8 bit AVR are weak for industrial applications. You could hardly implement a serious modern PLC using AVRs.
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: PeekabuPi on Nov 11, 2012, 10:45 pm
How long can the arduino or those AVR/PIC chips run continuously? Say blinking LEDs on Pin 1. How long can it last until it skips a beat or stops working properly or downright fails?

For example, if you make an RFID door to unlock it for a home automation application, you'd want the ensure your controller is quite reliable lol.

Yeah thats interesting too. I always wondered what chips industrial PLCs use. Do they use commercial ones manufactured by large fab houses or do they program their own controllers with FPGAs, ASICs, etc?
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: twice on Nov 11, 2012, 11:23 pm

Yeah thats interesting too. I always wondered what chips industrial PLCs use. Do they use commercial ones manufactured by large fab houses or do they program their own controllers with FPGAs, ASICs, etc?

They use also FPGAs and ASICs on PLC boards but this does not mean they are implementing their own processors in ASICs. That would be highly inefficient as long as there are proven processors on the market with good compilers and IDE.
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: retrolefty on Nov 11, 2012, 11:34 pm

How long can the arduino or those AVR/PIC chips run continuously? Say blinking LEDs on Pin 1. How long can it last until it skips a beat or stops working properly or downright fails?

As long as you don't subject the chip to operating temperatures beyond their ratings and power supplied is always within proper ratings I see no limit to continuous operating, there is no 'wear out' factor for the chip. I have a 5x5x5 led cube run with a 328p chip that has been running non stop for over 2 years now, with only a house power outage stopping it momentary a couple of times.

For example, if you make an RFID door to unlock it for a home automation application, you'd want the ensure your controller is quite reliable lol.

The chip will not be the limiting factor to the system reliability, the power supply most likely will be or perhaps the electro-mechanical locking mechanics.

Yeah thats interesting too. I always wondered what chips industrial PLCs use. Do they use commercial ones manufactured by large fab houses or do they program their own controllers with FPGAs, ASICs, etc?
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: nickgammon on Nov 12, 2012, 12:04 am
I have an RFID door opener. It works reliably month after month. The only time it failed was when we had a power outage and then a "brown-out" where I measured about half the normal line voltage. I think the board (temporarily) stopped working because the power company brought the power back up slowly. Possibly the RFID reader had failed and not the Arduino. However simply powering it off and on again fixed it.

I'm not sure if I had brown-out enabled on that particular board, possibly not.

If I was worried (I'm not because there are other ways into the house) I would make sure the brown-out was configured correctly, and make the processor turn the RFID reader on (via a MOSFET) in an orderly way. Also I would have a watchdog timer set up (which I haven't at present) to force a reboot if it gets into some loop.

I don't think there is any reason to suppose the the AVR chips are unreliable. In any case as Retrolefty said, I would be more worried that the RFID reader failed, or the door lock failed.

Quote
How long can it last until it skips a beat or stops working properly or downright fails?


Operating within design parameters, there is no reason for it to "wear out" or "skip a beat".
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: subway on Nov 12, 2012, 12:48 am
Beside AVRs, Atmel also manufactures Intel 8051 compatible processors and many other IC which have heavy industrial or domestic applications.

The microelectronic technology Atmel uses for all of its chips is reliable.

However, for newly released AVRs there could be problems:

Bad Remark:
Atmel AVR microcontrollers are inexpensive and have an inexpensive development tools but the AVR microcontrollers are not up to par for commercial applications. I used a AVR32 in a comical application and while the chip did have some nice features is also had several bugs in the board support package, drivers, development tools and in the chip itself. To make matters worse each shipment of parts not only had bugs but different bugs requiring a hardware and software change for each shipment. This may not be a big problem for a hobbyist but it's a disaster for a company that wants to put its product into production. I would not recommend anyone attempt to use an Atmel part in a commercial product unless they want to lose there job.

Answer:   
Sounds like you had some trouble with AVR32, which is relatively new. However, standard 8-bit AVRs are used all over in successful industrial and commercial products, and this has been the case for many, many years. - wjl Oct 15 '11 at 1:31

http://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/2324/why-are-atmel-avrs-so-popular
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: JChristensen on Nov 12, 2012, 01:26 am

However, standard 8-bit AVRs are used all over in successful industrial and commercial products, and this has been the case for many, many years. - wjl Oct 15 '11 at 1:31[/i]
http://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/2324/why-are-atmel-avrs-so-popular


There was a thread a while back about products that folks had torn down for parts or whatever and found Atmel MCUs inside. I happen to know that they are used in automotive applications. I expect that they are very robust indeed. I would not expect MCUs from Microchip, TI, Maxim, NXP, ST Micro, etc. to differ significantly in that regard.

Arduinos are "prototyping platforms" (first sentence on the home page) so right there that tells us they are not necessarily meant for deployment in industrial or even commercial applications. That said, they do the job of prototyping platform very well. Even so, I would still expect them to be very robust in reasonable environments.
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: nickgammon on Nov 12, 2012, 02:45 am

To make matters worse each shipment of parts not only had bugs but different bugs requiring a hardware and software change for each shipment. This may not be a big problem for a hobbyist but it's a disaster for a company that wants to put its product into production.


I seem to recall an EEVblog about PIC chips also having bugs.

Ah yes, here:

http://www.eevblog.com/2010/01/07/eevblog-53-mr-murphy-and-microchip-pic-silicon-bugs/

Title: "EEVblog #53 - Mr Murphy and Microchip PIC Silicon Bugs".

In the middle of the episode he finds that one of the sets of the ICSP programming pins are not connected internally in the chip! And that was the one he chose to wire up on his board.

So it's not just Atmel that have production problems.
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: westfw on Nov 12, 2012, 03:03 am
Quote
I expect that [AVRs] are very robust indeed. I would not expect MCUs from Microchip, TI, Maxim, NXP, ST Micro, etc. to differ significantly in that regard.

That would match my expectations as well.  Semiconductor processes are pretty uniform, and you don't get to be the size of Atmel by selling chips that are not "Robust" (where "robust" means that they don't fail without encountering circumstances where you'd expect them to fail.)

There's a whole science to "reliability engineering."  Spontaneous chip failures are not a likely cause of failures.

(Also, you can't be an Atmel (or a chip manufacturer at all) by selling chips just to hobbyists.  Just because you can't find a list of products that use AVRs doesn't mean that there aren't any.)
Quote
[Atmel] Microcontroller segment net revenues increased 95% to $892 million for the year ended December 31, 2010 from $458 million for the year ended December 31, 2009. The increase in net revenues was primarily related to increased volume shipments from customers for both AVR and ARM-based 8-bit and 32-bit microcontrollers. Microcontroller net revenues represented 54%, 38% and 33% of total net revenues for the years ended December 31, 2010, 2009 and 2008, respectively.
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: nickgammon on Nov 12, 2012, 03:11 am
Yes, I can't seriously see Atmel staying afloat on the hobbyist market. They have a huge product range. To keep hobbyists happy they would only need two or three chips, and tell them to suck it up.
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: subway on Nov 12, 2012, 04:35 am
The net revenues reported by a company or in the name of a company in the media do not weight too much. Figures like this "[Atmel] Microcontroller segment net revenues increased 95% to $892 million for the year ended December 31, 2010 from $458 million for the year ended December 31, 2009." can be misleading.

Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: westfw on Nov 12, 2012, 05:17 am
That was from the company "Annual Report", which is one of those things that had better be pretty accurate (or you get lawsuits for misleading the investors.)  It can still be misleading, though.  (For instance, I notice that it doesn't break down the multiple types of microcontrollers that Atmel sells, so it's presumably everything from 8051s to AVRs to AVR32s to ARMs.)

The point is that you don't sell a billion dollars worth of chips in a year to hobbyists...
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: JChristensen on Nov 12, 2012, 05:31 am
And they do sell a bunch of 'em, according to Wikipedia,

Quote
About 55% of all CPUs sold in the world are 8-bit microcontrollers and microprocessors. According to Semico, over four billion 8-bit microcontrollers were sold in 2006.[4]

A typical home in a developed country is likely to have only four general-purpose microprocessors but around three dozen microcontrollers. A typical mid-range automobile has as many as 30 or more microcontrollers. They can also be found in many electrical devices such as washing machines, microwave ovens, and telephones.


Perhaps not surprising but still impressive numbers. I imagine a lot of the folks here on the forum don't have "typical" homes with a mere three dozen MCUs :D
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: subway on Nov 12, 2012, 07:40 am
It can be calculated from the report below how much money Atmel got from 8 bit microcontrollers (likely 8051+AVR8+others), this year and in 2011. I made the calculation and it appears that they earn two - three times more money from 8 bit families than from 32.

Quote
"Moving to a discussion of our business segments. For our Microcontroller business unit, Microcontroller revenue of $226 million increased 3% sequentially and was down 25% as compared to the third quarter of 2011.

For the second quarter in a row, both our core microcontroller revenue and maXTouch revenue grew sequentially.

By product family, during the second quarter, our 8-bit micros were down 7% sequentially, and were down 35% year-over-year. While 32-bit microcontrollers increased 33% sequentially and increased 11% year-over-year."

Source: http://seekingalpha.com/article/971731-atmel-management-discusses-q3-2012-results-earnings-call-transcript?page=3
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: fungus on Nov 12, 2012, 08:10 am

If you created some application with the arduino boards or using AVR or PIC chips, how good is their long term reliability and robustness?


Excellent.


For example, PLCs are engineered specially to take a beating, long continuous cycle times, electrical circuit protection, and good mechanical protection against shock etc. So ultimately PLCs tend to be workhorses and great for automation applications because they are reliable for long term continuous use and are very robust.


Read these forums for a while. Arduinos take an awful lot of abuse. Remember: the connectors on the Arduino board go directly to the chip, there's no protection circuitry.


Are arduino boards and AVR chips as good in terms of long term continuous operation? How reliable are they?


AVR chips are designed for industrial operation. They have built-in watchdogs, brown-out detection, everything you need.

The Arduino boards could be improved, but not terrible. They're designed for hobbyist price levels. There's more robust versions out there if you look.

The Arduino IDE/software doesn't enable stuff like brownout detection, watchdog. You can do it but not many people will. In spite of that the programs seem to run for months/years without problems so long as the power supply is good.



Honestly, the 8 bit AVR controllers seem to be used mainly by hobbyists. I have looked for a list of professional devices that use AVRs but I found no convincing evidence they have serious applications in practice.


That's complete rubbish. There's no way Atmel would survive if that was true.

They also wouldn't be making all those six-pin, surface mount variations of the AVR chips, etc. Do "hobbyists" use those?

Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: twice on Nov 12, 2012, 08:21 am

That's complete rubbish. There's no way Atmel would survive if that was true.

Are you clawson, the main moderator from avrfreaks?
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: fungus on Nov 12, 2012, 08:29 am

Arduinos are "prototyping platforms" (first sentence on the home page) so right there that tells us they are not necessarily meant for deployment in industrial or even commercial applications. That said, they do the job of prototyping platform very well. Even so, I would still expect them to be very robust in reasonable environments.


The main problem is the awful connectors on the board. Wires poked into pin headers are brilliant for prototyping but awful for producing reliable installations.

If you take those connectors off and connect directly to the board you'll have something pretty damn robust IMHO. If you want to build you own you could start with something like this http://evilmadscience.com/productsmenu/tinykitlist/180 . It allows you to choose your own power components, capacitors, etc.

With a decent power supply the difference between a slightly uprated Arduino and 'industrial' would mostly be down to the software.
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: fungus on Nov 12, 2012, 08:30 am


That's complete rubbish. There's no way Atmel would survive if that was true.

Are you clawson, the main moderator from avrfreaks?


No...

Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: hiduino on Nov 12, 2012, 09:11 am
You may be interested in checking out http://www.ruggedcircuits.com/ (http://www.ruggedcircuits.com/)

Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: arcanum on Nov 14, 2012, 07:59 am

Honestly, the 8 bit AVR controllers seem to be used mainly by hobbyists. I have looked for a list of professional devices that use AVRs but I found no convincing evidence they have serious applications in practice.


That's utterly ridiculous.

Other posters have pointed out that a semiconductor company does not build a successful business model based on selling to hobbyists.

Yes, the Atmel AVR processor is used in all different kinds of applications, commercial and industrial. I'm not at liberty to discuss specific customers, or numbers, but they are definitely used by professional embedded systems.

Remember that the Arduino boards and software are targeted mainly to non-engineers. That's a good thing, as it introduces embedded technology to large groups of people that don't normally have direct access to it. But if you need to put together a robust system, with the ability to write software for such a system, it is very much being done with other tools out there.
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: subway on Nov 14, 2012, 09:23 am

Other posters have pointed out that a semiconductor company does not build a successful business model based on selling to hobbyists.

Possible, but just claiming that without bringing evidence does not weight too much.

Quote
Yes, the Atmel AVR processor is used in all different kinds of applications, commercial and industrial. I'm not at liberty to discuss specific customers, or numbers, but they are definitely used by professional embedded systems.

A similar topic, opened last year, ran for a few dozens posts without demonstrating that 8 bit AVRs have indeed industrial applications.
see: http://www.avrfreaks.net/index.php?name=PNphpBB2&file=viewtopic&t=114016&postdays=0&postorder=asc
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: nickgammon on Nov 14, 2012, 12:00 pm
In any real-world application, the processor chip is likely to be more reliable than the peripherals, eg. batteries, LCD screens, sensors, switches, cables, connectors and so on. The reason I say that is it doesn't have any moving parts. Or chemical reactions (like batteries).

I would be surprised if Atmel survives by selling to hobbyists alone. It's a pretty tiny market. How many friends do you know that play with microprocessors?

Quote
Possible, but just claiming that without bringing evidence does not weight too much.


How much evidence do you want? Do you think Apple survives by selling its products to developers alone? Or Microsoft?
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: fungus on Nov 14, 2012, 01:13 pm


Other posters have pointed out that a semiconductor company does not build a successful business model based on selling to hobbyists.

Possible, but just claiming that without bringing evidence does not weight too much.


That goes both ways. Where's your evidence that they do...?

Besides, it's obvious from their product list. Go and look at the huge list of variants/packages for AVR chips (Start here: http://www.atmel.com/products/microcontrollers/avr/default.aspx )

Count them all...all the Megas, all the Tinys, the "automotive" rated chips. I'll laugh out loud if you tell me that's aimed at hobbyists. Hobbyists would be fine with about four chip variants and DIP packaging.
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: dhenry on Nov 14, 2012, 01:23 pm
Quote
8 bit AVRs have indeed industrial applications.


Most of 8bit chips (avr or otherwise) are indeed for industrial (=consumer goods, controls, automotive, etc.) applications. Think about your washer/dryer, some of your blenders or toasters, cell phones, cars, big machinery, etc.

Atmel is just a tiny player in the overall mcu market - Renesas and Freescale dominate there
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: arcanum on Nov 14, 2012, 02:27 pm


Other posters have pointed out that a semiconductor company does not build a successful business model based on selling to hobbyists.

Possible, but just claiming that without bringing evidence does not weight too much.

Quote
Yes, the Atmel AVR processor is used in all different kinds of applications, commercial and industrial. I'm not at liberty to discuss specific customers, or numbers, but they are definitely used by professional embedded systems.

A similar topic, opened last year, ran for a few dozens posts without demonstrating that 8 bit AVRs have indeed industrial applications.
see: http://www.avrfreaks.net/index.php?name=PNphpBB2&file=viewtopic&t=114016&postdays=0&postorder=asc


Look, I work for Atmel. I know what kinds of applications they are in, what kinds of customers. Also, anyone who works in the industry knows that there is not a semiconductor company in existence, past or present, that *only* sells to hobbyists. To argue otherwise, and insist on proof, shows a profound ignorance of the industry and economics. I don't need to prove anything. Available data can be found on the internet.

Because I work for Atmel, as I said, I'm not a liberty to discuss specific customers, or financial numbers. But I can tell you that I've been a software engineer for 21 years, and worked in embedded systems for the last 18 years. At a previous employer, we used the AVR (ATmega128) to design an industrial RFID reader for the pharmaceutical laboratory industry. We also used it internally to do IC (integrated circuit) testing in a wafer test probe for the custom IC that we designed.

If anyone desires further anecdotal evidence, then please feel free to post the question on AVR Freaks, and let the many embedded systems engineers tell you how they have used the AVR in real products that get sold.

I'm glad you find working with the Arduino exciting and fun. If you want to build a robust system, it definitely can be done as there are many people who are doing it.
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: dhenry on Nov 16, 2012, 06:01 pm
Quote
Panasonic Toughbook's battery pack. On the board is a ATMega163L,


That's actually an interesting application for a mcu. If the toughbook were mass-produced, Panasonic would have gotten a asic or epoxy-packged ic there for that application - the small production scale for the toughbook doesn't allow that.

The mcu is used there for its flexibility and such a high cost solution (vs. asic etc.) becomes a (relatively) low cost solution for this particular application.
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: SirNickity on Nov 18, 2012, 12:12 am
I've seen Atmel chips in commercial devices before.  Off the cuff, I don't remember what, it was a while ago and I don't go ripping apart functioning appliances to see what ICs they use very often.  So take that for what you will.

Reliability of any MCU itself will be dwarfed by the system in which it's in.  It's just not the part most likely to fail.  The I/O pins aren't meant to interface with the outside world, so you need to make sure there are hardened interfaces wherever you expose connectivity.  (MAX232 for serial, for instance ..)  And the PSU of course is a big deal.  With good filtering, sensible protection circuitry, and proper software design, I'm sure an AVR will run for as long as your product has any useful purpose.
Title: Re: Robustness and long term reliability of Arduino boards and AVR chips
Post by: vincenzo2 on Jul 04, 2013, 10:06 am
HI,
I am an embedded system designer, mainly use Microchip PICs and ATMEL AVR's to build industrial control systems on a daily basis.

BTW, Microchip tried to buy ATMEL not long ago (it didn't work) and it's a bigger company with more support and production. Older companies (Texas Instruments, Motorola, INTEL, ...etc) were more famous when microcontrollers started in the 1980's and 1990's.

All microprocessor/microcontroller chips are made with a couple of technologies in one of a few architectures (no company wants to re-invent the wheel) and those things don't affect anything about the final product (they are simply names and it'd all about what the designer is used to and they all have different packages and capabilities and high-level compilers).

Recently, I started designing PCB's that have an arduino-like header in the center to hold an arduino nano or some similar clone board that get's inserted just like a DIL IC in an IC base, much more reliable longer pin contact though. The boards may contain other IC's or discrete components, relays, ...etc, but most MC IO pins connect to outside professional MOLEX type click/fasten connectors () through opto-couplers.

Small arduino boards, for me, are just another microcontroller chip (that come with pre-installed bootloader and a free, simple development environment) that help me avoid SMD work and that come with nice libraries in their development environment for any "slow" man-machine interface application that are (if the whole system is designed right HW/SW) supposed to last forever.

BTW, I buy my little arduino clones from Chinese manufacturers and they are top-notch PCBs. I have used them, with good packaging) in industrial environments and made complicated C code for PID control and sometimes modified the assembly code to mess with timers and interrupts. I would love to hear other users get the most out of these "products" like I did and not to focus on making "cool" gadgets because there is so much more potential.

That sounds very close to using a PLC and some ladder logic like Allen-Bradly's RSlogix but that is much smaller and cheaper.

I remember when car manufacturers (especially Chrysler) started including a car computer or ECM module in their cars to control emission and injection and stuff like that, that they used to cover the computer PCB with a very thick layer of a very hard funny material that you don't even get to see the components and it was almost impossible to diagnose faults on a component level. Modern PLC PCB's are not much better than arduino PCB's (they are only, probably, covered with an additional transparent layer of insulation that is hard to see). It's like the industry standards now that PCB's for production are very reliable, especially if they are put in reliable cases and electrical and mechanical isolation. I would love to see comments about my experience.