Integration Nation: A Call to Action

Integration Nation is the section of Planet Analog dedicated to challenging you, the designer, to push the design envelope while at the same time demanding more from your analog supplier. More performance, more capabilities, more flexibility — more integration.

For too long we have sat back and accepted the same, knee-jerk response of, “It can’t be done,” or “It won’t perform as well,” from our professors and now our analog component and IC suppliers. At the same time, we have watched our digital friends reap the rewards of integration.

But this is a brave new world we are entering: Analog is more critical than ever as we work feverishly to sense, control, power, drive, and connect the world around us in rapidly evolving applications, from cars to smart white-goods.

Yet despite this accelerating evolution and the ensuing demands put upon us in terms of cost, power consumption, form factor, and time to market we’ve been happy to use the same catalogue components or stock reference designs — or, worse yet, sit back and wait for our suppliers to provide us what we need, at their leisure, and whenever it’s good for them . But no more!

Here on Integration Nation, we will dig deep into technology trends, what designers need for their next designs, and what demands are being put on them by their customers. At the same time, we will work to translate those demands into requirements for next-generation integrated analog devices that can do what you need when you need it.

If you want that integrated sensor with built-in ambient power generation capability at the output of your motor, you should have it — to spec. Ditto for your next wideband RF filter and A/D converter: “What dynamic range, spurious noise and at what speed, sir?” That should be your suppliers’ response. This community will help analog vendors understand your real needs and what you need integrated to meet new application challenges.

For some, this is almost frightening. Analog design engineers have been reluctant to turn over any portion of a design to someone else. You want to enjoy the ability to hand-select voltage references for specific initial accuracy and tempco (temperature coefficient) for the most “elegant” design. You want to pick op-amps to have just exactly the input offset voltage and bias current spec you need — but no more. No need to pay for performance that you don’t really need, right?

This desire for control continues with other analog devices such as analog multiplexers, digital pots, PLLs (phase lock loops), and comparators. Of course, beyond the devices, engineers want a convenient way to configure or reconfigure their building blocks.

This is nice, but for the engineer on the front lines charged with designing cutting-edge products to meet customers’ unrealistic time-to-market, power, size, and budget constraints, another approach to analog design is needed.

It is time to loose the shackles of a priori thinking and instead put the onus squarely upon your suppliers to leverage the best integration practices, processes, and technologies available to get you what you need, when you need it, and in a form factor you can apply quickly and easily with minimum fuss. The game has changed: Instead of living in hope that semiconductor manufacturers X, Y & Z have matching libraries of op-amps, converters, regulators, and filters to choose from that suit your needs, let the suppliers do what they ought in terms of higher levels of integration to get you to the next stage, quicker.

For example, let’s assume you are designing a small data-acquisition system for a residential refrigerator or an automobile’s fuel-injection system. Now we have something more manageable. We have certain sensors with certain outputs. We have certain actuators we need to operate. Now, we don’t care so much what the offset of op-amp No. 3 is — we just want to know how the system performs.

By laying out clearly what you need and the issues you’re facing, together we can take a stand on Integration Nation so you can get the integrated analog solution you want with the performance you want, so you can focus on your own value-add to your customer, without concern over getting it to them on time and in budget.

We will be exploring the implications of this new world order in upcoming blogs. But it’s not a one-way street: We want to hear about real-world design problems you are dealing with and the real solutions you are using. This is a live, on-going dialogue among engineers and industry applications experts. If you have stories, let us know, and we can help you share them. If you like what we’re all about, consider joining up and becoming a regular contributor, or simply comment and give your feedback. With a fair and open dialogue, we all get what we need.

In the meantime, the days of passivity are over: Demand more from analog, now!

9 comments on “Integration Nation: A Call to Action

  1. TomMurphy
    January 11, 2013

    Great idea for a blog. Innovatioin is sorely lacking in the analog world, I supposed because so many people think the digital side is all that really matters and is where the “new” stuff happens.  But I firmly agree it is unacceptable to say “it can't be done” unless you add the word “yet.”

  2. TheMeasurementBlues
    January 11, 2013

    Innovation is alive and well in the analog world. Without analog knowledge, most digital circuits turn to mush. It;s the analog signal processing in electrical and optical transceivers that make the high digital data rates possible. Complex modulation such as QPSK (see contellation diagram) used in today's 10Gbps and higher digital lanes is all based on RF and analog concepts. At such high speeds, digital turns to analog.

  3. RichQ
    January 14, 2013

    Sounds like you're angling for the creation of an analog ASIC service industry to arise. The question I would have is “What's the cost?” It seems to me that mask costs for these highly-integrated  analog parts would be much less than today's diigtal ASICs, so that shouldn't be an impediment, but the test costs could be pretty high.

    This could be an interesting turn in the analog design world. Companies are starting to create analog front ends for key applications, just as they have digital ICs for those key applications. Things in digital move from ASIC to ASSP, to stock chip. Having analog circuitry able to follow the same trajectory might well be the way things go from here.

  4. Hugo Westerveld
    January 25, 2013

    There is a fundamental reason why digital circuits scale better than analog circuits in modern technologies. All a digital guy needs is speed, speed and speed. Switches and capacitors get smaller and faster in each technology node. But for analog, smaller is not always better. Namely, smaller means more (flicker) noise, more offset and less linearity. Not to mention the voltage headroom. So the higher speed comes with less accuracy. The challenge for the analog circuit/system designer is to come up with solutions that trade this speed for accuracy.

  5. Brad Albing
    January 25, 2013

    The noise issue is especially troubling, especially if your doing audio. Glad I don't have to do the IC design – that's way being my ken.

  6. David Maciel Silva
    February 15, 2013

    How safe will be completely dedicated to developing something?

    How much I have to invest in order to maintain the production of something so specific.?

    Well some questions that might be relevant. I am not against this type of technology, provided that there is a way to open the competition against my own project, and not get extremely hands on the manufacturer.

  7. goafrit2
    February 18, 2013

    >>  I supposed because so many people think the digital side is all that really matters and is where the “new” stuff happens.

    Only the folks in Wall Street think that way. They always punish the analog firms and reward the digital ones. I am yet to understand the basis for all these valuations that punish analog and make digital great.

  8. goafrit2
    February 18, 2013

    The simply fact is that the world is analog. So, when you do all the digital stuffs, you need to operate in the analog realm. That is how Analog Devices has remained in the business of converters for a very long time.

  9. goafrit2
    February 18, 2013

    >> Having analog circuitry able to follow the same trajectory might well be the way things go from here.

    With the MENS evolution and the interest it is getting in the industry. I see a great and solid future for analog. From the front-ends to the internal circuits, analog is a key part of MEMS. Digital comes at the downstrean. The reason why analog seems not to be popular is not because we do not need it, but it is simply expensive to develop and make money with.

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