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From left: Takanori Fukaya, Sales Account Manager and Katsutoshi Furue, Marketing Manager, both at IAR Systems Japan, and from Futaba: Tadayoshi Umetsu, Engineering Section, Display Module Engineering Department, Electronic Devices Business Center and Tomohiro Komiyama, Product Development Section, Engineering Department, Electronic Devices Business Center
Futaba Corporation (hereafter Futaba) develops display equipment such as fluorescent display tubes and organic electroluminescence displays. The company currently uses both Arm-based microcontrollers and Renesas Electronics’ Super H microcontrollers. Futaba is using IAR Embedded Workbench to develop the software for both these types of microcontrollers. Futaba also uses IAR Systems’ dynamic and static analysis tools.
Futaba Corporation was established back in 1948. There are three categories that form the mainstay of the business: electronic components, electronic equipment, and production equipment. The Electronic Components Division offers products like vacuum fluorescent displays (VFD), organic electroluminescence displays (OLED), and touch panels. The Electronic Equipment Department offers products such as radio controlled devices, wireless industrial equipment, and servo motors. For example, the servo motor used in the communication robot “Robi,” which was sold as a separate part of the DeAGOSTINI Japan magazine, was supplied by Futaba. The Production Equipment Department provides products like mold bases used in resin injection molding, and die sets for metal mold pressing.
LCD module (demo unit) developed by Futaba (left) & VFD module (right).
Tadayoshi Umetsu works at the Electronic Components Department and is in charge of developing software integrated into display equipment such as LCDs.
“We installed a microcontroller that came equipped with an Arm Cortex-M3 back in 2012, and afterwards we generally gained experience with the Cortex-M series from using M4, M0+, and M0, respectively. Recently, we’ve been using Renesas Electronics’ RZ/A series, which come equipped with Cortex-A9 cores, for the development of our touch panel LCD products,” comments Umetsu.
There are several reasons why Futaba decided to adopt Arm technology. One was the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. Until then, Futaba was mostly using microcontrollers made by Renesas Electronics.
“After the earthquake hit in March 2011, we began questioning the risk of buying all our main components from one vendor, so we decided to take that opportunity to adopt microcontrollers from other companies,” comments Umetsu.
The second reason for this change was when Futaba’s main product changed. Before the change, the company’s flagship was VFD products. Compared to LCDs, VFDs’ appearance is superior but its disadvantage was higher power consumption. VFDs consume a lot of power so, when a growing number of customers required power efficiency, LCDs took the market by storm. While Futaba also began developing LCD products, the fact that there was a lot of other display equipment manufacturers also selling LCD products meant that things would eventually lead to a price competition.
“That is why our company decided to appraise Arm-based microcontrollers since they were, at the time, touted as being inexpensive. Atmel Corporation first adopted Arm-based microcontrollers, then STMicroelectronics, NXP, and Cypress followed. Considering the cost and user-friendliness, our company also decided to switch microcontroller vendor,” comments Umetsu.
The Electronic Components Department of Futaba is using IAR Embedded Workbench for Arm and IAR Embedded Workbench for Renesas Superh. Apart from this, the Electronic Equipment Department is also using IAR Embedded Workbench for Arm.
“After doing some research on Arm-based microcontroller development environments, we were left with two options: Keil MDK or IAR Embedded Workbench. At that time, IAR Systems was really advertising the fact that they provided support in Japanese, so that of course was appealing to us at first,” comments Umetsu.
“Furthermore, IAR Systems’ tools supported MCU cores from various architectures. We thought, “Well, if this manufacturer specializes in technology in that field, then their products must surely be user friendly!”
For SuperH microcontrollers, Futaba used to use Renesas Electronics’ integrated development environment and other environments for development.
“After we started using IAR Embedded Workbench for Arm, we really came to appreciate how user friendly the product is, and so we decided to purchase IAR Embedded Workbench for Renesas SH,” comments Umetsu.
Futaba considered open source software for development of a demo system, but did have an issue with open source software when they trying it in actual product development. If an error occurred due to the compiler, then Futaba would have to take full responsibility. Umetsu comments again:
“Even though the product is a bit expensive, we decided to choose a commercial tool that comes with solid support. IAR Systems’ tools have received functional safety certification. From the perspective of the credibility of developed products, I think there’s significant difference in using officially certified and well recognized tools.”
The product implementation process for Futaba was seamless and straight forward. Tomohiro Komiyama at Futuba comments:
“When we first started up IAR Embedded Workbench, we thought “Can we really develop a product with such a simple screen layout?”. Renesas Electronics’ linker on HEW, for example, sets memory allocation interactively using a very graphical screen layout. IAR Systems’ linker, on the other hand, adopts a style that sets parameters using a script. I’ve gotten used to doing it like this now, but at first I was very confused.”
In addition to IAR Embedded Workbench, Futaba uses IAR Systems’ code analysis tools, C-RUN and C-STAT.
“Compared to the tools offered by other companies, C-RUN and C-STAT are much, much cheaper. Other companies’ tools can cost up to several million yen. C-RUN and C-STAT can be purchased for merely one-tenth of that price. That affordability makes it easier for people who want to try out the tool to seriously consider purchasing the software. Futaba also uses expensive tools that cost several million yen, but these tools operate on a different environment than IDE so they require a lot of preparation in advance. On the other hand, C-RUN and C-STAT function conjointly with IDE, so less work is required in terms of these preparations.”
Umetsu continues with the advantages that Futaba has seen when using C-STAT and C-RUN.
“The great thing about C-RUN is that it checks for common errors. I would definitely recommend C-RUN to beginners.”
“Viewing C-STAT’s reports allows developers to hone in closer to potential problem areas. I think C-STAT is a very useful tool for checking not only your own code, but other people’s code as well.”
Considering how IoT has been evolving, Futuba is working on developing devices that connect wirelessly. The company is already shipping Bluetooth solutions, and Wi-Fi will also soon be available.
“As for battery-powered devices, the movement to promote power consumption reduction is one issue affecting the business segment. I’d like to consider possible future options in software and product development since they have the ability to achieve low power consumption,” Umetsu comments. “IAR Systems’ I-jet has a power debugging function that displays on a graph how much power was consumed by which code during execution. I think these kinds of tools will be needed when developing low power consumption products.”
Futaba Corporation develops display equipment such as fluorescent display tubes and organic electroluminescence displays.
For more information, visit www.futaba.co.jp