7 Ways Analog Integration Is Like the Big Game

I received this missive from my contacts at Maxim. It concerns aspects of playing football — clearly a team sport — and designing ICs that contain analog functionality. Here are their thoughts:

This Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens will square off for the NFL Championship. Have you ever noticed how many ways football is like analog integration?

Much like a football team needs to perform on both sides of the ball — offense and defense — an integrated IC must usually perform both analog and digital functions. The digital functionality may take the form of calibration, control, communication, or signal conversion, but it has to perform in lock step with the analog functions to have a winning IC.

One of the worst things a design engineer or football player can do is become overconfident. It makes one ignore the basic foundations of the game. For example, in electronics, a clean power bus and ground are essential, and real experience with decoupling capacitors and proper power and ground planes is necessary. In football, experience practicing on a wet, icy, slippery field is important. These are not things one just reads about — one must experience it to appreciate its impact.

In the playoffs (or a new IC market), it's win or go home. For an IC company designing an integrated IC for a specialized market like smart meters or financial terminals, there is only one chance to get it right. Respins can take months, and missing a customer's design cycle can cost a year or more. “Just wait until next year” is as hollow for an IC design team as it is for the fans of a defeated football team.

If your blocks aren't working, you're bound for defeat. Having an effective running game in football takes more than a great running back like Adrian Pederson. Most of the players on the field have precise blocking assignments they must execute. An integrated IC typically consists of blocks too. If all the blocks don't perform well, the IC won't be very effective.

Expect the unexpected. A well-prepared coach like Coach Harbaugh will have his team ready for the corner cases, such as a muffed hold on a field-goal try, a dropped pass bouncing off the receiver's foot and into the air without touching the ground, or the ol' fumbleroosky. Likewise, a circuit must have a robust design to manage surprises, like a power glitch that happens just as a signal is sampled, or a processor that latches. Handling the unexpected gracefully is critical for success.

Remember the 60s . The first Super Bowl was played on January 15, 1967. The first integrated analog ICs were also invented in the 1960s. See Integration: Old but New for details about the uA702, uA709, and uA741, introduced by Fairchild starting in 1963.

It takes a large, multidisciplinary team working seamlessly together to win. The team on the field relies on coaches, and personnel who work with customers, recruiters, equipment techs, management, even the travel department. The same is true for IC designers. According to AP writer Rachel Cohen, “When the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl [in 2009], every single one of their full-time employees got a ring — but they didn't necessarily receive the same gaudy ones as stars like Ben Roethlisberger.”

So enjoy this great American tradition on Sunday with your favorite football foods and malted beverages, and take pride in the fact that what you do isn't that different from guys like Ray Lewis and Colin Kaepernick.

5 comments on “7 Ways Analog Integration Is Like the Big Game

  1. Brad Albing
    February 1, 2013

    Oh – where ae my manners – I should actually tell you to whom I referred when I mentioned the missive. This was written by Erin Mannas and Bill Laumeister. Erin is a Marketing Manager at Maxim Integrated. She has also worked for Texas Instruments, Burr Brown, and Insight Electronics, so she knows what she's talking about. Bill Laumeister is an engineer in strategic apps with the Precision Control Group at Maxim Integrated. He has more than 30 years of experience and holds several patents, so he also knows what he's talking about.

  2. karenfield
    February 16, 2013

    Hi Brad: I am responding to your post, not the addendum, but I am still having trouble with commenting. I am not technically challenged mind you!  In your discussion above you mention the need for a multidisciplinary team to pull off the project successfully – I am wondering what skill sets team members should have, and how that differs from a traditional project. We're seeing more and more of a need for different skill sets across the board.

  3. ErinM
    February 20, 2013

    Hi Karen,

    The needs of a team designing an integrated IC differ from a “traditional” project in two ways.  First, there are additional roles.  Where the traditional project requires an IC designer (or designers) with one specialty, an integrated IC requires IC designers with multiple specialities such as power, data conversion, security, etc.   An integrated IC also requires a system architect and additional management and/or integration resources.  There is also a greater likelihood it will require firmware or software developers.

    The second way an integrated IC project is different is that the demands on the product definers, layout, and test engineers are much greater.  To successfully define an integrated IC, the team has to understand a great deal about the target application, much more so than when defining a single function IC to meet a particular spec.  The complexity of layout and testing is also greatly increase as the IC performs multiple functions.

  4. SunitaT
    February 28, 2013

    It takes a large, multidisciplinary team working seamlessly together to win.

    @Brad, infact I would say Analog integration is more difficult than a Football game. I am sure in football they don't face any issues like matching, compensation etc just like we do in analog design. But yes team work is very crucial part of analog design team because co-ordination of different analog blocks is very crucial.

  5. Brad Albing
    March 28, 2013

    On the other hand, there aren't 300 pound guys chasing us around, trying to kill us just because we are doing our job. So, there are pros and cons, similarities and differences.

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