The embedded specialist celebrates their 30-year company anniversary in October 2021. The company can look back on an exciting company history with innovative and trend-setting products.
Within three decades Keith & Koep has become one of the leading suppliers in the fields of electronic development, system integration and in manufacturing complex electronic products. With the Trizeps-range, the embedded specialist launched the world's first ARM-based System On Modules (SOM), and thereby set an international industry standard. Some of the systems developed by Keith & Koep have been operating in industrial environments for decades and can be found in industrial automation, robotics, automotive technology, medical technology, retail and aerospace technology, among others.
Already at the beginning of his studies, electrical engineer Volker Keith started his own business with Keith & Kipp GbR, founded in 1983. Over many years, the company developed RISC-based high-performance laser printer raster controllers, diverse industrial controllers with complex sensor technology and camera technology using almost all common real-time operating systems. In 1991, the Keith & Koep GmbH, founded in Wuppertal, took over the business succession, in which the physics engineer Luitger Koep has been part of the management since then.
Milestones in mobile communication with ARM technology
In the early 1990s, the company developed the first machine terminals with touch interfaces. This included a sophisticated interface system and a self-developed real-time kernel.
With the availability of the StrongARM-microprocessor based on ARM-architecture at the end of the 1990s, the company entered the development of this low-power, high-performance technology. Compared to the X86 processors popular at the time, ARM-processors had much lower power consumption with similar performance.
This opened up completely new possibilities, among other things in the area of mobile computers. Keith & Koep was one of the first companies to recognize this and developed the ARM-evaluation-board "Arnold" based on the StrongARM (SA1100), which was designed as a Single Board Computer (SBC). Based on this platform, Keith & Koep developed the first smartphone with Linux and Java incl. graphics acceleration, VGA interface, mouse connection, acceleration sensor and display with touch screen and zoom function as a pre-series model for developers for the company Ericsson. The Arnold evaluation kit also served as a verification-platform for the world's first webpad. Keith & Koep used it to enable the Siemens SIMpad, which was launched in 2001, 9 years before Apple introduced the iPad.
Many structural software elements that were developed during this phase are still an integral part of many boot loaders and OS ports today.
Close partnership with Microsoft
During the developments for the Webpad in 1999, the foundation was set for the close cooperation in the environment of Windows CE and Embedded Compact 7/2013 between Keith & Koep and Microsoft, which has lasted until today. As a pan-European Microsoft-partner with dual Gold Partner-status, Keith & Koep also implements the new Microsoft Embedded operating system, Windows 10 IoT Core, on its platforms and presents the Myon, the first industrial ARM board with Windows 10 IoT Core. The company is one of the limited companies in the world to offer software integration support for Windows 10 IoT Core. Windows 10 IoT Enterprise for ARM processor architectures is also already in its starting blocks, and Keith & Koep can already provide the first evaluation kits for this operating system. In contrast to Windows 10 IoT Core, Windows 10 IoT Enterprise for ARM-processor architectures can use most Windows 10 applications.
The first ARM CPU module
In 2001, Keith & Koep released Trizeps I, the world's first ARM-based SOM. The Wuppertal-based company thus realized its idea of using ARM-technology in the harsh industrial environment and created an international industry standard. They wanted to make this complex platform modularly accessible and also keep it available for applications in smaller quantities in the long term. The decision in favor of the SODIMM-form factor and the appearance of the SA1110-processor, the more compact successor version of the StrongARM 1100, made this possible. An entire product line followed the first generation of the Trizeps. For the current CPU-modules, the experts at Keith & Koep rely on processors from NXP. This makes it possible to meet the high performance requirements created by current video, voice and audio processing, whether for industrial and home automation, streaming audio applications or modern imaging devices.
The next SOM-generation CPU-modules
After setting up the Trizeps SOM-series, Keith & Koep launched in 2015 with the Myon I CPU-module a new SOM-generation with compact form factor and very low power consumption, which can be used to equip very small IoT or handheld devices. For the first CPU-module of this new SOM-series, the embedded specialist selected the Qualcomm Snapdragon 410E quad-core-processor based on a 64-bit ARM V8-architecture with Cortex A53-processor. Qualcomm guaranteed extended availability of at least 10 years from the first commercial sample for this platform and, with this sufficiently long product cycle, fulfilled a key criteria for the embedded market. In the meantime, processors from NXP are also used in the newer Myon-models.
Keith & Koep started marketing its own HMIs in 2008 with the i-PAN-touch-panel-computer product range. Special features are the compact dimensions and the modular design through SOM-technology and i-MOD extension boards. Due to the compact housings, the i-PAN HMIs can easily be integrated into existing housings. The SOM technology enables the upgrade capability to the latest processor generation, the addition of further interfaces is possible with the i-MOD extension boards. The i-PAN HMIs do not need to be modified, so that the units always remain "up-to-date" and a wide range of application scenarios can be covered. Application areas are e.g. in an HMI industrial PC for control, data acquisition and processing, for navigation or for the output of images and sound.
The union of SBC and SOM
In 2021, Keith & Koep has once again launched a world innovation: the SBCSOM. It combines the advantages from the two product worlds of Single Board Computer and System on Module (SOM), as this product adds basic components and interfaces to a processor module. A special feature of the SBCSOM is its modular design with two lateral system connectors (CARD-Edge). The advantage over SOM solutions is that it does not require an additional baseboard and is ready for immediate use. Depending on requirements, this can save time and costs in development, testing and production.
In contrast to a conventional SBC, Keith & Koep's SBCSOM provides additional functions via two system-connectors on the sides (CARD edge), which can be used to connect extension boards. These are usually easy and inexpensive to manufacture and can even be incorporated into the layout of the SBCSOM board at a later stage. A customer-specific SBC can be developed in this way with unrivaled low development effort and costs. This is another special feature of the SBCSOM and makes this solution so unique.
Constant reorientation & open for new requirements
Over the past 30 years, Keith & Koep has supported its customers in their product development processes and enabled them to implement their hardware designs quickly, reliably and efficiently with its services and products. In doing so, Keith & Koep always relies on the latest available technologies. For example, future projects will also make use of the availability of neural networks. The upcoming Trizeps VIII Plus will be equipped for this and offers an Neural Processing Unit (NPU).
The Keith & Koep team enjoys encountering their own SOM-based solutions in everyday life - whether entering the parking garage, shopping at the supermarket or ordering at the drive-in. The company looks back on numerous, exciting and challenging projects while looking forward to all the future projects with curiosity and joy.
From a team of 5 people 30 years ago, the company has grown over the decades into a medium-sized company. At its very special company location, a building of a former church congregation, the company is particularly proud of its specialized in-house manufacturing as well as the close integration of the hardware and software development team with the internal production department.
Since the beginning of 2020, Keith & Koep has been part of the Garz & Fricke Group, which in addition to Garz & Fricke, a system provider for turnkey HMIs, SBCs and payment system solutions, also includes the application developer e-GITS since 2019. Together, the group forms one of the most important system providers for ARM-based embedded technologies throughout Europe.