A quick look over the past 50 years of analog design brings us the realization that we’re now at an inflection point where analog IC manufacturers are running out of volume applications for integrated analog, and now it’s time for We the People to take integrated analog to the masses. By taking this approach, we can identify ways to leverage the work of others for future accomplishments.
My background is in test instrumentation, so allow me to discuss integration from the perspective of a designer and user of precision circuitry. In this field, precision front-end amplifiers are quite important. These amplifiers should not drift with time or temperature. They’re often needed at various bandwidth and power levels and with various input characteristics such as leakage current or input capacitance (depending on the instrument). In an error budget, we find the specific sensitivities of these amplifier characteristics to changes in basically everything , such as open loop gain, common mode rejection ratio, power supply rejection ratio, feedback resistor tempco, thermal noise, self-heating, time drift, and on and on.
Now imagine the first test equipment designer to take advantage of the modern op-amp (compared to companies building operational amplifiers with transistors). They would benefit from 100x improvements in VOS drift (through better matching), higher and more stable loop gain to desensitize the amplifier to many ills (except for the beta network stability), as well as lower cost.
Nobody can build a discrete op-amp and achieve the VOS drift that the vendors can. The truth is that in some cases (as with the example of the op-amp), the integrated solution is a better solution. In some cases, the integrated solution is the same (considering only performance, not size and cost). And in some cases, performance is inferior to a discrete solution (think about many power applications).
So, here is the rub: For all these cases where the integrated solution is the same as, or better than, the non-integrated solution (assuming the analog vendor defined the part competitively, and it works as advertised), the integrated solution will be less expensive and will be easier to design in.
What a gift! Think about this for a moment. Of all the possible products you could decide to design, why not choose one previously screened by a giant like TI, Maxim, ADI, or LTC? In the case of analog integration, the vendors have chosen an application for you and completed most of your product definition and most of your analog design — and it all costs less than what your competitors are paying to design and build from scratch. Analog integration gives the first organization that uses the integrated part a distinct advantage over everyone else. The advantage depends upon how integrated the solution really is, as well as how well it was implemented.
From the perspective of the IC vendor, though, there is a catch: the more integrated the solution, the lower the volume for the analog vendor.
Consider that analog IC vendors have been in the business of integrating all along. The first IC vendor, just like the instrumentation company that used an op-amp (over discrete transistors), realized a great advantage over its competitors. Consider also that the new ICs they are marketing now are beginning to resemble completed products. In my opinion, our analog vendors are now running out of the high sales volume options for analog integration. As a result, from a marketing perspective, the advantage is shifting to us, the purchasers/users of the devices.
So, don’t you think that it would be wise for each of us to not only pay attention to all this new analog content, but also to contribute in our own small way?