At my previous job as an FAE, I assisted our sales team in the attempt to sell digital power supply controller ICs. These were controller ICs in the sense that you added your own power FETs to a device that contained all the control loop circuitry. I mention this detail since sometimes the term is used for ICs that are monitoring or sequencing multiple power supplies. More on that in a minute.
The control loop for these ICs was digitally based and as such, had far more features than a conventional controller. You could easily change the output voltage (within a predefined range). You could monitor input voltage, output voltage, and current temperature, and a couple other pertinent parameters. You could even modify the control loop parameters (the analog loop P, I, and D parameters) as needed. And you could report the info to the microcontroller in the system for data logging purposes (or to off-site data logging).
Monitoring all this had a number of advantages. One advantage that is especially significant is the ability to predict the need for maintenance. If you see the loop parameters slowly changing over time, you could assume that components (mostly the capacitors) are changing value.
The graphical user interface (GUI) for the parts was fairly easy to master. By tinkering with an evaluation board, an engineer could see the performance advantage. But most of the analog engineers with whom I spoke never seemed to warm up to the concepts embodied in these devices. Is this digital stuff just too scary?
I see that Linear Technology is looking at some new devices that are not the controllers as described above, but are control ICs. In this case, that means an IC that can sequence multiple supplies. It can also monitor input voltage, output voltage, and output current. And there are provisions to adjust output voltage of the existing power supply ICs.
Linear Technology will offer software to give this control IC the needed intelligence. So I'm wondering how this will be received by the analog engineering community. Will you shy away from anything where you might need to write a small amount of code? What if it's just a simple GUI? Still too scary?
One of my fellow bloggers, Jacob Beningo, wrote a very nice blog that should help those engineers that find that they must learn more of that which those other guys do. Have a look at 10 software tips for hardware engineers. Let me know your thoughts on this issue because it's not going away.