After All These Years, Ideas For Design Get The Royal Treatment

Oct. 2, 2008
You'll find it all right here—commentary from legends, insights from our editors, and most importantly, great designs from you, our readers.

One of the most popular sections of Electronic Design in both print and on the Web over the years has been Ideas for Design (IFDs). We’d like to celebrate this department by dedicating this entire issue to IFDs, including insightful commentary from our editors and contributors alike.

First, we’ve asked some of the industry’s top engineers, who we like to call design gurus, to reflect and write about the circuits they’ve created over the years. Second, we’ve asked our editors to write about a myriad of design topics, such as reference designs and state machines. Of course, we haven’t lost the IFD spirit. You’ll find several new circuits as well as timeless IFDs, along with the backstories behind those classic designs right from their authors.

MASTERS OF DESIGN Contributing Editor and analog guru Bob Pease starts off the issue with his take on the current state of analog design. In his inimitable style, he asks, “What’s All This Analog Engineering Stuff, Anyhow?” Despite the rise of digital technology, Bob makes the case for the continued importance of analog engineering and argues that the analog guys are still critical members of any design team.

For this issue, Analog Editor Don Tuite interviewed Bob Dobkin, Linear Technology’s CEO and an IFD contributor. Bob has an interesting take on IFDs. He breaks them down functionally into those that provide a basic framework for inexperienced designers to follow and those that go beyond some component’s intended function to provide a novel solution. Bob also explains why he likes both types. And maybe more importantly, you’ll also find out what he doesn’t like about IFDs.

The parade continues with Walt Jung, who takes a look back at 40 years of Ideas for Design. Walt’s first IFD, “Gated Amplifier Uses FET in Feedback Loop,” was published in our Jan. 4, 1968 issue. Now, Walt asks if how a design was done in the 1970s or 1980s matters compared to today’s approaches. Eloquently, he says, “Yes! First, there is the adage of being ignorant of history’s mistakes, thus condemning one to repeat them. But what is so useful about a historical review of designs lies in extracting the optimization and evolution towards maturity.” He also states that some IFDs have a timeless quality about them, so they’re still relevant to today’s designs.

Design guru W. Stephen Woodward’s piece is a call to action to designers to get their ideas published, with two key incentives. Not only do you get to see your name in print, IFDs also enable you to present and develop new circuit design ideas and themes to the engineering community. Stephen specifically references three of his circuit ideas—the “take back half” approach to high-performance temperature control, thermal anemometry, and the self-compensating charge pump. He also cites several of his circuits that apply to each idea, which can be found in our archive.

Guru Rick Zarr points out in his piece how power requirements have changed over the years, from a carte blanche attitude for ac powered devices years ago to an expectation of power efficiency in all designs today. Systems not only need to provide their function, they also must do it with the fewest joules possible, he says.

THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB Besides the traditional IFDs, we tasked our editors with writing about different aspects of designing electronic circuits today. Specifically, they take a look at some of the tools you need to get the job done.

Contributing Editor Rich Quinnell explains how reference designs are typically used. He says the complexity of today’s designs along with the fast pace of many markets has forced some reference designs to evolve beyond educational tools into manufacturing documentation for fully defined end products. Part of the reason is that some of today’s chips are so complex that no one outside of the company making the chips can understand them as well.

Embedded/Systems/Software Editor Bill Wong focuses on digital design, specifically with complex programmable logic devices (CPLDs) and FPGAs. He explains how improvements in FPGA integrated development environments (IDEs) have simplified the development process. Unlike working with discrete devices, rewiring an FPGA is a matter of dragging a logical wire in an integrated development environment (IDE), recompiling a design, and downloading it to the device. This shows pointedly how times have changed when it comes to some aspects of digital logic design.

Components Editor Mat Dirjish, who tackles motors and motion control, describes how vendors are creating powerful tools to ease design chores and making them available at no extra charge in some cases. One of the products he cites takes users through a complete cycle from design to analysis and through optimization.

GREATEST HITS We’ve printed classic IFDs before, typically with additional commentary as one of our editors explains why he picked that particular IFD as a classic. For this issue, we looked at the most popular IFDs on our Web site and asked some of those authors to tell us how the design evolved and how they might design the same circuit today. We think this “backstory” in their own words makes for interesting reading, and we hope you will agree.

And, we haven’t forgotten about what got us here, with this issue’s expanded IFD department. Featuring fresh submissions from some of the industry’s top companies, these designs are ready and waiting for your workbench. Why not give them a try?

We hope this special issue will become a fixture on our editorial calendar for years to come. We certainly welcome your feedback.

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