Analog Integration Is Saving Planet Earth

I estimate the result of analog integration in mobile devices amounts to a savings of about 700,000 miles of copper trace — enough copper to circumnavigate the Earth 28 times. This is one example of how analog integration is helping the environment and leads me to claim that “Analog integration is saving planet Earth.” Here's how I got to this conclusion, what inspired me to go there, and a few other important considerations.

At a recent Maxim offsite meeting, we participated in a team-building exercise that had a deep effect on everyone. Given 45 minutes, two-person teams had to assemble a prosthetic hand that would be donated to amputees in an impoverished country. This made me think about the big picture. Is there any way that analog integration can help society?

After the offsite meeting, I began thinking it would be useful to give an example quantifying the benefits of analog integration. So while waiting for a flight in SFO airport, I drew up the quick analysis shown in Figure 1 :

Figure 1

A quick 'back-of-the-envelope' calculation to determine savings due to integrating analog circuitry used in a typical cell phone or e-reader. While it is not immediately obvious from this sketch, the savings are there.

A quick “back-of-the-envelope” calculation to determine savings due to integrating analog circuitry used in a typical cell phone or e-reader. While it is not immediately obvious from this sketch, the savings are there.

I looked specifically at smartphones, feature phones, readers, and tablets. I considered the cumulative forecast shipments over four years from 2013 to 2016, which totaled 9.2 billion units. Because mobile devices are projected to have such high annual unit volumes, I realized that reducing the number of discrete components, IC devices, and material yields a significant conservation of our natural resources, which directly helps our environment. Therefore, I conclude that “Analog integration is saving planet Earth.”

Back at the office, I looked more closely at the numbers and realized my first draft estimates were conservative based on a more realistic BOM like that shown in Figure 2 :

Figure 2

From the Mobile Power Product Guide. Board size and weight are reduced through the use of analog integration.

From the Mobile Power Product Guide. Board size and weight are reduced through the use of analog integration.

This information is also found on page 12 of this document. Here's a summary showing how analog integration is saving our natural resources:

  • A two-IC solution versus a nine-IC solution (Figure 2 ) dramatically lowers the chip-to-chip interconnects, which eliminates about 700,000 miles of 1 oz. copper signal trace (8 mil width). This equates to about 158,000 pounds (79 tons) of Cu reduction and a cost savings of close to $585,000. Estimate based on delta 7 devices, 2.5 traces/device = 17.5 traces, 7mm length/trace.
  • 9.2 billion mobile devices using a two-IC versus nine-IC solution, like that shown in Figure 2 , saves about 3.32 million pounds (1,661 tons) of material comprising lead frame, bond wires, mold compound, die-attach epoxy, and silicon.
  • 221 billion resistors and capacitors (assume 0402 components), each weighing about 1.5 mg, translates to 731,000 pounds (365 tons) of material conservation. See delta-BOM in sketch.

As analog engineers driving high levels of analog integration, we should feel good about our contributions toward helping the environment and conserving our natural resources.

16 comments on “Analog Integration Is Saving Planet Earth

  1. patrick_m
    April 18, 2013

    Hey Damian, nice breakdown, but you could even take it a few steps further. Aside from the materials saved, think ofthe efficiency of not having to ship those parts to a manufacturing facility, smaller boards, and also of the elimination of power losses due to all that excess copper! Hard to deny the advantages.

    Nice sketching, by the way:)


  2. Jack Shandle
    April 18, 2013

    Beyond the positive effect on natural resource conservation, we could also consider the relative environmental impact of manufacturing a highly-integrated IC dense with digital and analog circuits compared to the environmental impact of manufacturing a pc board with more devices. Although I haven't done any calculations, it seems like the highly-integrated solution would have a lower negative impact on the environment.

  3. ICMAN
    April 18, 2013

    Thanks Patrick. I need to take my drafting tools on the next business trip. You're right about the other advantages. This example could be used across many other types of equipment; so a sum of the benefits across our industry is significant.

  4. eafpres
    April 18, 2013

    Hi Damian–I love this sort of thing; I wish more people would stop and do some calculations before swallowing whatever “statistics” some marketer is tossing at them.  

    Not that you really need to, but f you were to get to a 2nd order estimate from your envelope 1st order, I would consider the following:

    I think your phone numbers are a bit high, in the sense that you are including grey market and very low-end phones which may not have the level of integration or simply lack the features so the savings are not really there.

    Another factor is whether higher levels of integration are enabling more features at a given price point, increasing demand which would not otherwise be there.  From that view, integration is contributing to conspicuous consumption!

    Finally, there is the issue of size.  Phones, media players, etc. have been growing in x-y dimensions as the demand for bigger screens arrives.  With tablets it is a toss up; again the introduction of smaller models (like the little iPad) may be adding demand that otherwise would go to large screen phones.  So overall I would say there is an increase in copper due to the size offset in part by integration (assuming there are a couple of ground layers in there that consume copper and scale as the area of the phone times the volume in the market).


  5. Netcrawl
    April 18, 2013

    @Patrick thanks for the great information! I agree with you abou those advantages. it good to know that analog integration could help reduce our carbon footprint.  

  6. amrutah
    April 18, 2013

    Damian, Thanks for the post.

       That is a nice split-up of the BOM and the MAX8906 solution is great.  Lesser the no. of chips means more the reliability (FIT rate).  You said the conventional solution uses 9 chips, does this mean the MAX8906 solution is not yet practical?

  7. Damian Anzaldo
    April 19, 2013


    I understand your point about grey market and low end phones but consider this. Look at the teardown of a basic low end GSM-only feature phone and you'll see about 8 major ICs total. The 2 analog IC's are Analog Baseband (ABB) and a 3W class-D audio amplifier. The ABB integrates power management (multiple switching and linear regulators), audio codec, battery management (charger, fuel gauge) and other functions like motor vibrator, LCD backlight, voltage monitor etc…..If the ABB did not integrate all the key analog functions then the feature phone would have 8 or 9 ICs compared to 2 ICs. So we're back where we started with 6-7 more ICs, more copper traces, more material and more discrete R-C components.

    Regarding your second point about “integration contributing to conspicuous demand”; I would argue that if we did not integrate it might stop demand but it would also stop progress as a civilization. Image where we would be if society agreed that Moore's Law was bad because it created more demand and we decided to stop integrating; there would be no portable glucose meter or wearable insulin pump for diabetics, no implantable pacemaker for heart patients. I don't want to be the guy that tells the world to stop integrating.

    Finally your third point the “issue of size”. Yes there may be an increase of copper because of growing x-y dimensions but without analog integration the increase in copper would 2x or 3x what it actually is because of the stated fundamental problem related to 2-3 IC versus 8-9 IC solutions (i.e. more copper, more material and more discrete components).

    We cannot stop the wheels of progress but it's our responsibility as professional engineers to design products with minimal impact to our environment and natural resources. Analog integration is one way to help meet our design responsibility.

  8. SunitaT
    April 19, 2013

    Electronics product's manufacturing and disposal are posing threats to the ecological balance of the Earth. Every year millions of chips are fabricated resulting in a large demand for water. Commonly any fabrication unit gulps million gallons of water which is contaminated by fabrication process. Ultimately it must be disposed of as waste. The environmental threats from electronics industry needs to be significantly reduced through choice of materials, technology, design, manufacture, distribution, usage, and end-of-life disposal.

  9. Damian Anzaldo
    April 19, 2013


    The conventional solution without MAX8906 uses 9 chips

    The MAX8906 and MAX9880A is a 2 chip solution…both ICs are in high volume production. So the MAX8906 is a practical solution now.

  10. Damian Anzaldo
    April 19, 2013

    @Sunita T

    Your concerns are valid. Maxim Integrated has several manufacturing plants and we are very conscious of our environmental responsibility. You can learn more about how Maxim is committed to protecting the environment at the link below

  11. Brad Albing
    April 19, 2013

    Hmm… not available. Where'd it go?

  12. Damian Anzaldo
    April 22, 2013

    @Scott Elder

    Thanks for reading and replying.

    I never made the claim that integration is reducing energy or “energy is saved”. My claim is that analog integration is reducing the consumption of natural resources (i.e. the raw materials used to manufacture ICs, resistors, capacitors and copper PCB trace). The savings is irrefutable when comparing 2 IC versus 9 IC solutions (as shown in my example). Why use 9 chips and 121 components if Maxim can do the job with 2 chips and 76 components?

    “Saving copper here and there” does have a positive impact on our natural resources. We all know that small savings here and there add up to big savings. Our parents told us to turn off unused lights in the house to reduce energy consumption. If everyone followed this advice and turned off the unused lights in their home, the result would be a tremendous worldwide energy savings. The same applies to lowering the house thermostat a few degrees in winter months. Following this advice, saving copper and other raw material “here and there” does amount to a considerable reduction in the consumption of natural resources; especially if this is extended across all electronic equipment beyond my mobile phone example. So we can award integration for social responsibility like saving the planet.

    Regarding your point “the usage of energy is increasing at a higher rate now than in the past”, this is mainly due to population growth. The population could grow from 5 billion in the year 1990 to 9 billion in 2035, a 180% increase. Your “energy” link shows Worldwide Energy Consumption by Fuel increasing from 365QBTU in 1990 to 770QBTU in 2035 a 213% increase (I assume this is quadrillion BTU but not stated). So energy consumption is increasing with pollution growth.  All these people need clothing, shelter, food and transportation which consume lots of energy; so that's the main reason the curve is not flattening. I contend that population is the problem not integration. This is an example of stepping back and looking at the real problem

  13. Damian Anzaldo
    April 24, 2013

    This was a timely discussion seeing that Earth Day was April 22.  

  14. ErinM
    April 26, 2013

    Thanks for the stimulating discussion on the potential for saving both raw materials and power using integration analog ICs.  There is a new post that addresses the later with examples, see “Analog Integration is Saving Power”,

  15. Brad Albing
    May 14, 2013

    I like the back-of-the-envelope calculations – rather like what Schweber discussed in one of his blogs. Perfectly reasonable way to estimate if you're on the right track.

  16. michaelmaloney
    July 12, 2018

    I'm reminded how much I used to like calculating and drafting out thoughts on the back of the envelope in my youth. I remember quite a number of interesting topics and trivial arguments that were settle from a bit of number-crunching on the go like this! And I reckon that some of the best ideas stem from taking the time to explore these ideas on the spot with a little scrap of paper and a pen like this! So keep sharing all those thoughts you've got penned down man!

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