SFERA LABS, OPEN TECHNOLOGY FOR THE INDUSTRIAL WORLD
Founded in 2016, Sfera Labs is an Italian private company that designs, manufactures and sells servers, embedded systems, I/O modules and sensors for industrial automation, IoT and edge computing based on innovative, widespread, open source, community-supported technologies such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Sfera Labs also offers OEM solutions as well as custom product design and branding, and software development services. The company is dedicated to delivering high-quality, innovative, flexible solutions to meet the requirements of the modern industrial automation market.
Interview with Maria Chizzali, COO at Sfera Labs.
Easy Engineering: What are the main areas of activity of the company
Maria Chizzali: Almost ten years ago, we invested in developing automation devices based on open-source, community-supported platforms like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. We aimed to simplify automation applications’ development, implementation, and support by overcoming the existing largely proprietary development environments.
We design and manufacture “shields”; these boards add features to the standard Arduino and Raspberry Pi boards, guaranteeing full software compatibility. We only employ high-quality electronic components, and our servers, I/O modules, and environmental sensors are CE, IC, FCC, and RoHS compliant.
The functional additions embedded in our devices are, depending on the model, ports, such as RS232 or RS485, automation bus support, for example, Modbus, CAN bus, 1-Wire, Wiegand, PT 100/ PT 1000, digital and analog inputs and outputs, and relay outputs.
The servers and I/O modules come in standard DIN Rail enclosures, while the sensors have a 80x80mm wall-mount case.
We provide free software libraries to facilitate the development of automation applications based on our products, and we keep them constantly updated to reflect the changes in operating systems, standard libraries, and new boards.
For example, we were the first to ship devices supporting the new Raspberry Pi CM4S.
We offer several inexpensive branding options, such as custom front panels or packaging and software uploading services.
Finally, we believe offering superior customer support is key to helping our customers develop successful applications. We constantly interact with them, from the design phase to the final production stage.
E.E: What’s the news about new products?
M.C: Our catalog includes 22 products in over 100 different versions. In addition to new product launches, we keep updating the existing ones. In the last two/three years, the severe shortages in electronic components’ availability have drastically reduced the number of new products on the market. We launched two new products in 2021 and two more in 2022, thanks to careful supply chain management. We plan to announce new launches before the end of 2023.
E.E: What are the ranges of products?
M.C: Our edge servers product lines are the Strato Pi Base, Strato Pi UPS, Strato Pi CAN, Strato Pi CM, and Strato Pi CM Duo.
Strato Pi Base is a line of Industrial Raspberry Pi servers, CE/FCC/IC compliant, with wide-range power supply, RTC, RS-232 and RS-485 interfaces, watchdog, and secure element, in a 4 DIN Rail enclosure. They support any Raspberry Pi board 3B, 3B+, and 4B. Strato Pi UPS adds the UPS functionality (with an external lead-acid battery), while Strato Pi CAN supports the CAN bus and offers an extended-range power supply (9-65Vdc).
Strato Pi CM is a compact industrial Raspberry Pi Compute Module server CE/FCC/IC compliant, with a wide-range power supply, eMMC Flash, RTC, RS-485, watchdog, and secure element in a 2 DIN Rail enclosure. Strato Pi CM supports CM3, CM3+, and the new CM4S Raspberry Pi Boards. Strato Pi CM Duo adds unique dual SD card support, enabling separate OS/data storage, system redundancy, and reliable in-field full-system upgrades. In fact, fundamental requirements for high-reliability systems, which must guarantee a life cycle of many years, are data integrity and redundancy and often the ability to perform a full-system upgrade while operating in remote locations.
Our I/O modules product line range is designed to adapt to the most diverse building and industrial automation requirements.
Our Iono Pi Max is a powerful and extremely flexible industrial Raspberry Pi PLC, CE/FCC/IC compliant, with a wide range of digital and analog inputs and outputs, NO/NC relays, UPS, RS-232, RS-485, CAN, dual SD card, RTC, watchdog, secure element.
Iono Pi is a versatile, Industrial Raspberry Pi I/O module (PLC), CE/FCC/IC compliant, with wide-range power supply, RTC, digital and analog inputs, power relays, open collector outputs, and TTL I/O lines for 1-wire, Wiegand and other digital protocols, in a compact 4 DIN Rail enclosure. Iono Pi is a complete tool, the perfect solution to control simple building or industrial automation setups.
Our catalog includes a line of I/O modules based on the Arduino MKR boards featuring radio protocol support, the Iono MKR.
Finally, our new Iono RP and Iono RP D16 are versatile I/O modules based on the new Raspberry Pi RP2040 microcontroller, offering a wide range of analog and digital I/O and support for standard protocols such as Wiegand and 1-Wire.
Exo Sense is our environmental sensors product line. Exo Sense Pi is a multi-sensor module with a Raspberry Pi 4 computing core and a wide range of connectivity options. Ready for residential and commercial applications such as environmental monitoring and data gathering, BLE positioning, indoor people and assets tracking, room management and access control, voice control, and more. Exo Sense Pi is an all-in-one device, both a server and a sophisticated sensor for temperature, humidity, air quality (VOC), light intensity, and motion (PIR); it also features a microphone for sound intensity monitoring, recording, and processing. Many Exo Sense Pi can be connected via RS-485 or Wi-Fi to control distributed installations.
E.E: At what stage is the market where you are currently active?
M.C: Many of our clients are industrial entities using our products in their commercial applications. In fact, choosing an open platform such as Raspberry Pi, and implementing an application using our products, significantly shortens the time to market. Raspberry Pi is a powerful and flexible technology commonly used for prototyping. Our products are fully certified and market-ready; therefore, production can be started immediately once application development is complete.
System Integrators also like our products’ computing power and flexibility, which save them the time and effort of engineering the hardware part of their applications.
Finally, large customers use Sfera Labs’ servers, I/O modules, and sensors for their internal systems, such as automation, energy management, and environmental control.
E.E: What can you tell us about market trends?
M.C: The estimated CAGR in our target markets: Industrial Automation and Control, Fleet Management, Energy Management, IoT, System Integration, Smart Cities, Smart Building, and Smart Education and Learning, is 14,5% until 2032.
The Global Industrial Raspberry Pi market size is forecasted to reach $385 million by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 15.7% from 2021 to 2026.
Customers value, above all, stability and reliability.
Therefore, companies must focus on quality, state-of-the-art specifications, standard certifications, customer support, and long-term availability to take advantage of the market opportunity. The supply chain will remain a primary challenge in the next few years.
E.E: What are the most innovative products marketed?
M.C: Sfera Labs introduced a few important technology innovations in the last two years. The first one is the development of the first Raspberry Pi-based industrial automation server and I/O module with a dual SD card slot, a feature that has been widely appreciated in the market. We then quickly launched support for the new Raspberry Pi CM4S, adding computing power to the existing Raspberry Pi CM3/CM3+-based applications. Finally, we developed an entire line of I/O modules and environmental servers based on the new Raspberry Pi RP 2040 microcontroller.
E.E: What estimations do you have for 2023?
M.C: 2023 has been, so far, a transition year. The electronic components market is still unstable, requiring substantial capital investments to ensure production continuity. After the pandemic-related surge, the market has been stable. In this scenario, we hope to register business growth in 2023.
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