Mixed Signal & Analogue

While digital electronics tends to get more than its fair share of coverage, analogue electronics remains the technology that makes things happen. It’s the interface between the real world and the 1s and 0s of the digital domain.

The range of technologies falling into the analogue domain is wide; everything from data conversion to amplification to switches. Like electronics in general, analogue products are getting more complex as device developers look to integrate more functionality. Recognising this, manufacturers have started to develop more capable design tools to support engineers.

Because analogue design is so important, New Electronics covers all aspects of the technology regularly.

Avoiding power brownouts in high availability systems

For scalable capacity and modularity, systems such as servers, industrial computers, enterprise data storage and network routers are built with slots to accommodate multiple processing and I/O cards. To ensure high availability and uptime, hot-plug capability is required so that the entire system is not powered down for card insertion and removal.

ICs to bring longer battery life to portable devices

As users demand more functionality and longer runtime from their devices, the need to understand what is consuming a battery’s charge becomes more important. Hardware developers can use this information to track energy used in different conditions, while software developers can adjust their coding decisions to improve efficiency. Meanwhile, operating systems can monitor how processes use power and consumers can see how their battery is used and realise possible actions to take for longer runtime. The knowledge gained from measuring accurately how a product uses the battery leads to an understanding of the design trade-offs – turning knowledge into power.

Keeping operating areas MOSFET safe

Mission critical servers and communications equipment must continue to operate, even as circuit boards and cards are plugged-in or pulled-out for maintenance and capacity adjustment.

Revolutionising networking technology

The networking world has largely been defined by the development of fixed function chips. While these devices have been one of the means by which data rates have increased, this has been achieved at the expense of configurability.

Enabling robust data communications within a high voltage BMS

The primary purpose of the battery management system (BMS) is achieving reliability, performance and longevity of battery packs. As part of this, the battery management electronics measures each cell voltage and transmits this information to a central processor. For high voltage battery strings – such as is typical for automotive drivetrains –a modular distributed pack is an attractive choice. Battery modules can serve as the basic building block for multiple pack designs. Modules also allow for optimal weight distribution and maximum use of available space. The biggest challenge is the datalink required to operate the pack as a single unit.

Solar generation is powering up, but faces a range of materials issues

In 2015 the global installed capacity for photovoltaics hit 180GW and the European Photovoltaic Industry Association reckons more than 0.5TWwill be generated from solar cells by the start of the next decade. Government incentives intended to stave off climate change and falling costs have helped push up production, but one of the ironies of a technology meant to change the way we harness energy is the amount that it takes to produce each square centimetre of photon-harnessing panel.

Programmable matter could make evolutionary hardware a reality

First realised 20 years ago, evolutionary hardware design continues to fascinate a small group of researchers. The attraction is not difficult to understand; instead of trying to design behaviour or structure into a system manually, you let the system determine for itself how it should work. Just like biology – only you need it to happen in less than a few million years.

Manufacturers continue to push op amp precision and performance

While there is a trend towards integration within the electronics industry, the demand for discrete products appears to remain unaffected. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the analogue world, where product portfolios are not only broad, they are also long standing. A typical example is the seemingly humble op amp. Generally supplied in small package with a few pins, the op amp still performs a valuable function, particularly when linking sensors to the A/D converter input of a microcontroller.

As process technologies shrink, the problems for analogue designers grow in complexity

Low voltage supply rails and strict design rules are changing the way designers need to think about circuit design. It is sweeping away old assumptions – it is a topsy-turvy world in which iterative topologies can be fast and where you can implement analogue circuits using digital synthesis. Because of the complexity of the most advanced processes, some level of automated synthesis for analogue design has become almost essential.

Programmable analogue makes a resurgence

Some of the earliest computers used for controlling processes featured analogue architectures because they were much more responsive than valve based logic circuits. But they needed to be custom designed and succumbed to the more flexible – and ultimately cheaper – digital computer.

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