Mixed-signal system integration

The goal of Chain-IC is to enable system integration for nearly every electronic device to improve performance and add new features, even if a product runs in low volume. To justify the business case for system integration, one-time investment for development as well as the recuring component price are of importance. The trade-offs can differ significantly for low volume compared to high volume. We strive to achieve low-entry system integration in the following ways.

System partitioning

By making a well founded decision on the partitioning of the system functions over the analog and the digital domain, the total cost versus system performance can be optimized. The rapidly increasing performance of digital chips such as FPGA, DSP and uP can support and often relax the requirements on analog circuitry.

Main-stream technology

Nowadays, a variety of IC technologies are available for a reasonable price, especially for analog circuitry where the use of the most modern technologies is not even preferred. We will make use of a main-stream and mature silicon technology that best fits the required system specifications.

Of-the-shelf available IP

Buying available IP’s is often cheaper and comes with less risks than developing an IP from scratch. After several decades of IC design, a wide variety of IP’s in the main-stream technologies are available.

Qualification & production test

Dependent on the volume a trade-off can be made between NRE cost, qualification and test coverage. For low volume and also depending on the application, extensive qualification and testing is not necessarily the optimal way to go. All activities here should carefully be questioned to find the optimal ratio between yield, test coverage and upfront investments.

Reusable application targeted platforms

A reusable application targeted platform consists of an analog chip, that we call an AGIC, and a digital chip which can be for example an FPGA. The goal of an AGIC is that it can be used for more than one product. Since it is impossible to make one analog IC that covers all kind of applications, the AGIC is targeted to a specific application area. An AGIC can be tailored to meet specific system requirements.


Application Generic Integrated Circuit (AGIC)

To enable product integration for low volumes, Chain-IC uses generic analog platforms which are targeted for a specific application. Thanks to the flexibility of an AGIC, the AGIC can be used in a family of products, improving the overall business case. The same AGIC could also be shared by several customers whose products require similar specifications. Nonetheless, an AGIC can be customized and optimized based on the customer’s needs. By taking advantage of the increasing capabilities of digital computing, for example by an FPGA, full signal processing is covered in the analog domain as well as in the digital domain. Below some examples are given that illustrate the concept of an AGIC.


Sensor read-out

The figure on the right shows the main building blocks of a sensor readout circuit. For each of the operations (i.e. amplification, filtering and A-D conversion) different implementations can be selected based on the type of sensor that is being used and the required overall system performance. The analog signal chain can be fully customized to the customer’s needs, such that the optimal result is achieved. Moreover, the same AGIC can be used for several sensors in the system.

Power Management

Power management is required in many applications. Voltages need to be up-converted or down-converted with high efficiency. The power management AGIC provides drivers for external power transistors and senses inputs for power control. Linear LDO’s are integrated for low power devices. The system start-up behavior is mostly crucial to avoid undesired conditions. The start-up sequence can largely be programmed. Derivatives can be targeted to specific system requirements.

Transceiver

With a transceiver AGIC a flexible building platform is realized that can implement the standard functions required for wireless communication. Similar as in the previous two examples the transfer function of the blocks can be adjusted, such that different transceiver characteristics can be obtained. A transceiver AGIC is targeted to specific ISM bands, e.g. 430MHz and 2.4GHz bands.

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