Analog Angle Article

Remote monitoring: we see you and we raise you

Remote monitoring is the big trend and, no, I am not talking about video cameras watching you. Instead, it is how the many new ICs provide information back to the system or network about what they are doing, and how well they are doing it.

Certainly, remote monitoring is not a new phenomenon. It's been in use for years via sensors and data acquisition channels. Power, temperature, airflow, and many other system characteristics are well-suited to monitoring, of course. But the change I see is that system designer now want to monitor more internal variables of their design, and are able to do so.

For example, operators of remote base stations want to know about the health of every circuit board, IC, and connection in the system. In addition to the obvious parameters, therefore, they want to know about the power consumption and temperature of individual ICs, signal integrity and distortion, and power amplifier performance. One of the promises of digital power-supply control is that it allows easier and better insight into the supply's performance with respect to the demands on it.

But as with most good news, there is a potential downside. Once you start knowing more, you also start to think you know a lot more than you really do. Even more risky, you also think you can properly understand and control what is happening. Pretty soon, you are making adjustments and tweaks in near-real time to many loops with different time constants and responses.

Good system modeling, of course, can help make you understand the changes and optimize the algorithms you use, but models have their have their own limitations in accuracy and fidelity. And how do you know that the reports you get back are correct?

The trend of incorporating reporting capabilities into ICs, and therefore into the system, offers significant benefits to optimizing and managing system operation, especially for remote operation. Just don't think it's the solution to all problems, or a rationale which will let you cut corners in your initial design thoroughness, since you can always “fix” it dynamically once the product is installed. That's a path to real frustration.

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