April 25, 2018
Guest Blogger, Maxim Integrated
Have you ever taken a personality quiz? You know, the kind that tells you which house you belong in at Hogwarts? (Ravenclaw for me.) Or which Game of Thrones character you are? (I can’t disclose that here.) I spend a lot of time traversing the globe to teach engineers about the marvels of nanoPower technology. And that means a lot of time in airports.
On a recent trip, I discovered a little quiz that's perfect for us engineers: What type of analog hero are you?
Now, I know analog ICs are the reliable building blocks for many designs. But I hadn’t considered them to be heroes until this quiz put the notion in my noggin. After all, without supervisors, how could you be sure that your system is running as it should? Without interface ICs, how would your system handle all of those different signals for all of those protocols?
Then I started thinking about this some more: without you, deciding on the best parts to integrate into your design and making it all work together…well, there would be no design. The ICs aren’t the only heroes here—you are, too.
The quiz covers four popular analog IC types: supervisors, interface, sensors, and timing. Which type of hero are you?
When your boss needs someone to handle a complex project, she goes to you first. You’re always busy, but your ability to manage and organize people and tasks just rocks. You’ll keep up to date on how the project is going, and make sure that progress is being made along the way. And you make important decisions when it counts. Sound like you? Then you're a supervisor.
Similarly, supervisor ICs keep tabs on the voltage levels in microcontrollers, FPGAs, ASICs, and other controlling components in your design. These are, after all, the brains of the board, so you’ve got to be sure they have valid voltage levels and will operate properly. At power up, a supervisory IC makes sure that the voltage is at an acceptable level before the processor can move to the next step. (Yes, even brains need something to watch over them.) While running, if the IC detects that something is off, the microprocessor gets an alert to reset.
This category includes some other useful parts, like push-button controllers and sequencers that help your system processor run more effectively. Integrating a supervisor is a great way bring a simple layer of hardware assurance to your design, without adding much in the way of power or complexity. You’ll be called a hero if you do!
You're on everyone's guest list because you're always the life of the party. You draw energy from being around people. And your many friends look to you for advice because they appreciate your diplomatic opinions. You go stir crazy if you’re not texting, tweeting, snapchatting, and messaging multiple people. If this describes you to a T, then you're an interface IC.
Like you, actual interface ICs handle a variety of signals. Say you're designing automotive sub-systems, where each system runs on the same communications bus but each also has a different priority. Protocol-specific redrivers and equalizers would enhance link performance and system reliability. In addition to signal translation, interface ICs are used for interconnection, voltage protection, current protection, and electrical isolation.
You know just what to do without being asked. Besides being intuitive, you're also very loyal to your job and extremely reliable. Sometimes you can be a bit moody and short-tempered, but I certainly won’t hold that against you. That's part of what makes you a sensor.
And sensors are the "rock" in your design: faithful, steadfast, and just solid all around. For systems placed in harsh environments, temperature sensors help ensure that the board won't overheat. Op amps and voltage references give you a higher level of signal integrity when you're measuring signals. Current-sense amps watch over power consumption, ensuring that you don’t have overcurrent or undercurrent. Comparators make sure batteries in devices like wearables operate within their output ranges.
Steady as she goes – that's you. You don't mind routine at all, probably because you're so organized that you cringe at anything that knocks you off your game. You like working independently, and people can count on you to do what you say you'll do—and when. You’re such a timing IC.
Like you, timing ICs can predictably do what you need them to do. Take real-time clocks (RTCs). Since they're already integrated into microcontrollers, many of you might not consider integrating a discrete RTC into your design. But what if your system has to be rugged—and it's in an environment where the microcontroller's clock could get screwed up? Like in the desert or in the tundra. That’s when an RTC can shore up your system with accuracy even in the event of wide temperature swings. RTCs with MEMS oscillators are even more robust, since they don’t have the more sensitive crystal oscillators. MEMS oscillators are temperature-compensated for high accuracy, and they're tolerant to shock and vibration. They’re also smaller than crystal oscillators and consume very little power—perfect for, say, factory automation equipment or wearables.