We've discussed in other blogs the pros and cons of using an integrated analog device. I have some additional thoughts on this subject to kick around. I've worked as a design engineer, and I've worked as a field apps engineer. As a result, I've seen the issues from both sides.
If an engineer is going to use an IC vendor's product, the engineer wants a reference design that is pretty close to what he or she is designing. With today's tight, compressed schedules, having a reference design in hand (schematic, BOM, and maybe even Gerber files) will do wonders for building confidence with the engineer and shorten time-to-market.
This has always been important with any electronic design using any technology, but when considering an integrated analog device (or a custom device), a solid reference design can be the difference between going forward or not. So from the point of view of the apps engineer, rock-solid technical advice must be dispensed. The design engineer must feel comfortable and sure that the apps engineer knows all the answers or can get them on a moment's notice. Once there is confidence in that relationship, smooth sailing is far more likely.
With today's complex designs, engineers are looking for someone who is more of a partner than just some guy selling parts -- more like Nordstrom and less like Amazon.
Design Engineers: Make sure you ask the right questions, the tough questions, of the vendor that wants to sell you a complex analog component. Do you understand how it works? How it will fit into the design you are working on? Can you get an eval board or platform on which you can run your tests? Is that board free -- or at least at a cost that will be rebated/applied to later purchases? Do you know how much support you will need after the sale? When you realize you need lots more help, will you be able to get it? What is the expected lead-time for engineering samples of the devices? What about production quantities?
Apps engineers: Are you able to help (and keep helping) a customer that needs help -- and then needs lots more help than expected -- to get a design up and running? Do you have all technical info at your fingertips so you can quickly supply the answers? Do you know how long it will really take to get samples?
These are the kinds of questions and issues that will (or should) come up during the discussions between customer and supplier. Did I forget anything?