Analog Means Never Having To Say "You're Obsolete"

June 7, 2004
One of the amazing things about the world of analog is the huge depth of product lines offered by the market's leading manufacturers. Just as noteworthy, product obsolescence issues are real and important, as outlined in Ron Schneiderman's cover...

One of the amazing things about the world of analog is the huge depth of product lines offered by the market's leading manufacturers. Just as noteworthy, product obsolescence issues are real and important, as outlined in Ron Schneiderman's cover story this issue ("Getting A Grip On Product Obsolescence," p. 47). But for chip manufacturers and for you as their customers, the counterpoint to this story is the ultra-long shelf life that most analog products enjoy.

Leading vendors in the analog field pride themselves on the immense numbers of analog parts—the thousands of stock keeping units (SKUs)—they have available. Some even boast of "never obsoleting" an analog product. They also vaunt the number of new parts they annually release, tweaked to every conceivable specification—literally hundreds of new products each year. Finally, they know that the secret to success is in understanding the needs of the designer, figuring out which new flavors of analog are necessary to provide that just-right combination of features to optimize analog designs.

Texas Instruments is making a focused push into high-performance analog. Attendees at the company's recent press and financial analyst day asked plenty of interesting questions during the presentation on analog technology. Clearly, many of these Wall Streeters are used to the quick lifecycle times of most application-specific digital processors, which are quickly obsolesced by the race to more gates, faster speeds, and lower prices driven by Moore's law. Financial analysts also asked TI how quickly it would stop selling analog parts after volume dropped to certain levels. Gregg Lowe, the company's senior vice president of high-performance analog, had to explain that designers believe "analog is forever," or very close to it.

LASTS A LONG TIME The long shelf life of high-performance analog products is, in fact, one of the things that makes the market niche very attractive to a company like TI. The extended lifespan of the products offers stability for semiconductor manufacturers because in analog, they don't have to feverishly revamp production with ever-smaller process geometries.

TI likes analog because of its inherent "return on infrastructure capacity," i.e., the ability to use established foundries and process technologies for much longer periods of time. The company's strategy is to find the right mix in producing analog in its established fabs while moving advanced-logic products to new fabs, currently ramping-up 90-nm fabs—all while farming out a portion of its shortest-lifecycle products to partner foundries like TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd.) and UMC. TI's advanced-logic products have a process-migration cycle of two years peak to peak. Its mixed-signal products for application-specific applications like automotive, communications, and consumer applications have a cycle of about three years. Analog can be produced with the same process technologies for five years or more.

At the same time, TI and its competitors recognize the stable market-growth opportunity represented by those of you working on analog projects—projects that won't ever reach the huge single-piece volumes of the mass market yet consume large volumes of analog parts nonetheless—in key markets like industrial, medical, communications, and automotive. Lowe, in his presentation, cited one piece of test equipment that uses 1600 TI devices per tester shipped!

OUR WORLD AND WELCOME TUITE Speaking of the breadth of the power and analog space, one of the main missions of our magazine is helping you sift through those thousands of product introductions and understand the truly significant new trends that will affect your design. Fortunately, a new expert has joined us in that mission.

I am pleased to announce that Don Tuite is now part of the Electronic Design editorial team as Analog/Power Editor. Don comes to us with more than 15 years of experience as a technical writer. During the course of his career, he has been a magazine editor, a technical writing supervisor, and a technical articles manager. He also has been part of some of Silicon Valley's most prestigious technical communications firms. He has been a marketing manager, a TV writer/producer, and a PR manager as well. And, he holds a BSEE and an MS in technical writing and communications from one of the top programs in the country.

Don is based in the heart of the industry—Redwood City, Calif. You can welcome him at [email protected] or (650) 367-6268.

We'd additionally like to thank Roger Allan, our Components/Test/Packaging Editor, for his fine work over the last few months as he pulled some double duty in covering the analog/power beat as well.

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