Have you noticed that analog integration can be hard to talk about?
I commend all the bloggers on this site for taking a step into the void and starting the conversations here. Similar kudos to the commentors who have spoken out on the subject. But I’ve also seen outspoken engineers who jump at the chance to write up a design idea or new product suddenly grow quiet when the subject is analog integration. Why?
Is it because analog integration is new and untried? No. One could argue that analog integration has been with us since the first time two resistors were put on an IC, since the first monolithic op amp, since PWMs and ADCs first appeared on a microcontroller, since the first PMIC for a cellphone. While analog integration has been integral to analog since the beginning, perhaps it's just now reaching critical mass and affecting a cross section of end markets and product architectures in a substantial way.
Are these discussions hard because analog integration lacks importance? No. It would be hard to deny the trend toward integrating more functionality in analog ICs, and the impact that has had in end equipment ranging from smartphones to the smart grid. Analog integration will continue to enable the transformation to a more connected, more responsive world.
Is analog integration hard to talk about because it’s not well defined? Perhaps. You might describe analog integration as adding analog functions to a digital chip, or adding digital calibration to an analog chip.
My idea of analog integration could be building a complete data acquisition channel in the form of an AFE. Or it could be integrating the IC and the ecosystem — an IC with multiple analog functions, a development board, software to run it, and a simulation environment to test it. Perhaps we need to define analog integration — or classes of analog integration — to make it easier to talk about.
Is analog integration hard to talk about because it threatens the status quo? Matching the optimal amplifiers, converters, references, and more to create a high-performance circuit used to be the exclusive domain of the analog designer. Now, IC designers are performing these tasks and delivering integrated chips for a growing number of applications.
The analog engineer may not have the same level of control over the analog design when an integrated solution is used. And, it is far less likely that key components will be second sourced by multiple vendors, shifting the status quo for purchasing and manufacturing professionals as well.
As the sands underneath the analog IC industry shift toward integration, are there other reasons to watch quietly, maintaining a degree of distance and skepticism? Speak now and be heard!