The Challenges of Modern Mixed Signal Design

In a world of automation and digital logic, it would seem there is little room for analog circuits. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some of the most sophisticated technology blends the best features of digital with analog functions. Yet, mixed signal design can sometimes be challenging for several reasons. Here is a closer look at the technology and how it is meeting the challenges of 21st Century electronics.

Difference between Digital and Analog

Think of analog as standard or typical sound waves and if you turn those waves into numbers you digitize them. Changing something into numbers is not uncommon as your computer does it all the time. Every bit of data a computer uses must first be converted to numbers in a base two counting system. Computers utilize the language of numbers to take in, process and store information. This method is far more accurate and faster than conventional data processing methods.

An analog circuit for recording captures sound from tape as it originally was produced. A microphone transmits the sound to tape and then to the circuit. In other words, once the sound is made, it is recorded on a tape and when the tape is played back, an analog circuit amplifies it so it can be heard.

During the process of recording, a digital circuit converts the sound to numbers that a computer can understand. This is done in samples and thousands of samples per second can be stored on a hard drive or CD media. To hear the recorded sound one activates the digital circuit (which changes numbers back to sound waves) reproducing the original sound with stunning accuracy and clarity. Imagine what can be accomplished by blending analog and digital with mixed signal design.

Challenges

Today’s electronics manufacturers face a number of challenges in analog/digital design. For example, there are two basic options to consider:

  • Incorporate both designs into their production process – this can be done but it may involve major expenses and investments. In some cases, entire processes must be completely redesigned and rebuilt. This is beyond the capacities of many companies today.
  • Outsource the work to a trusted contract manufacturer – this is the easiest option and by far the most cost effective solution for solving mixed signal design issues in the electronics field. Specific components or circuit boards can be added to existing products for improvement or may be used to create an entire new line of electronics, without making major investments.
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