“I Made That”

The Importance of Fun Projects in Engineering

by Jim Turley

Most little kids want to grow up to be cowboys, ballerinas, astronauts, or firemen. Not you. You wanted to be an engineer, didn’t you? You wanted to make stuff.

I’m willing bet you didn’t become an engineer or a programmer by accident. You chose that career. You weren’t born into it. You probably didn’t inherit your father’s engineering practice. Your family doesn’t come from a long line of engineers that expected you to uphold the family tradition. You weren’t assigned to Job Classification 35.984.001 by an immense and bureaucratic government agency.

You’re an engineer because you like it.

 

Designing for the Long Haul

Considering EDA Tool Longevity

by Kevin Morris

There is a story in the American South about two “country boys” who walk into a lumber yard and ask to buy some wood. The lumber yard attendant asks what size they want. They look confused. He gives them some choices “two-by-fours, two-by-sixes, four-by-fours...”

They step aside for a minute to confer with each other. “We’ll take two-by-fours.”

The lumber yard attendant takes them to the aisle with the two-by-fours. “How long do you need them?”

 

Digital to Analog and Back Again

by Amelia Dalton

This week’s Fish Fry is all about those persistent pesky power problems that plague our designs and what we can do to solve them. If you’re a digital guy or gal struggling to get into the analog game, or even if you’re an analog person trying your hand at digital design, this Fish Fry is for you. First, I interview Steve Logan (Xilinx) about how Xilinx has added analog ADCs to their recent development kits and how you can start designing with one. I also chat with Rob Chiacchia (Linear Technology) about the state of the art in digital power management.

 

All You Need Is Love

(and Some Good Tools)

by Amelia Dalton

PCB problems got you all tangled up and blue? Never fear, all you need is love. Well, that and some good tools. This week my guest is Steve McKinney (Mentor Graphics). Steve and I are going to talk to about Mentor’s HyperLynx tool suite and why the newest features of this tool may make those pesky PCB problems a thing of the past. Also this week, check out why power and system management decisions might best be made sooner than later.

 

The Perils of Performance

Mentor HyperLynx Helps Handle the Hot Spots

by Kevin Morris

Is it just me, or is digital design getting a lot trickier? We were all going along just fine, flipping our little zeroes and ones happily back and forth, and then somebody comes up with the brilliant idea to replace our nice, simple parallel busses with serial IO. OK, so maybe those parallel busses were not quite so simple by that time; it was starting to be nearly impossible to do the board layout so that all those signals arrived at somewhat the same time. To make matters worse, we kept raising the clock frequencies until “somewhat the same time” wasn’t even close to good enough anymore.

 

All the Signal Integrity You Can Shake A Stick At

Fish Fry Takes On DesignCon

by Amelia Dalton

Eye diagrams, Bert Scopes and more SerDes than anyone knows what to do with...what could it be? DesignCon of course. In this week’s Fish Fry, I look into to why DesignCon was so popular this year and why signal integrity issues were the un-offcial theme of the show. I also interview Brad Griffin of Cadence about why we need power distribution analysis and why he thinks DesignCon is the best show of the year.

 

The Valley of FPGA

Where Green Pastures End

by Kevin Morris

Just about every electronic technology on the market today has alternatives. Between custom chips, ASSPs, pre-built modules, embedded processors, microcontrollers, FPGAs, and a host of other silicon-based goodies, there are always numerous ways to solve any given problem. As engineers, we make our choice based on any number of criteria - cost, power, size, reliability, our familiarity and experience with the technology, our company’s preferences... all of them weigh into our decision.

 

There Goes the Neighborhood

Zuken Redesigns their Board Tools from Scratch

by Bryon Moyer

Anyone who’s ever done any serious remodeling of their home knows the big decision. At some point, wouldn’t it really be easier just to mow down the existing structure and start over?

Little by little, as you add new ideas – “while you guys are at it” – the costs mount, and that’s even without considering the surprises that are inevitably encountered. And if you go from a two-dimensional home – one story – and add a third dimension, it gets crazier. Most single-story homes aren’t built strong enough to support a second story. So you end up doing things like building a separate support framework to hold up the new top floor or, even more crazily, hoisting the original house up to make it the top floor and then building a new first floor under it. (Yes, people do this.)

 

Hi-Tech Spark Arrestor

by Bryon Moyer

Hoover Dam is pretty damn impressive. Why, some might simply say it’s a pretty dam.

As you take the tour, much is said about its size, the effort to build it, the clever techniques used to cool the concrete, and, if you’re lucky, the volume of water rumbling through the penstocks inches below the ominously vibrating surface you’re standing on.

 

(un)Rolling with the Times

by Brad Dixon and Anil Khanna, Mentor Graphics

A HW engineer and an embedded SW developer, who are slated to work together on a common project, strike up a conversation at the proverbial water cooler.

HW guy: “I just finished a month long evaluation for a new co-verification tool. We finally made a decision on the product and vendor we’re going with.”

SW guy (nonchalantly): “Really? I wouldn’t know much about evaluations, I build my own toolchain.”

 

Methods of Estimating Component Temperatures

Part 3 – Board Temperature

by Matt Romig and Sandra Horton, Texas Instruments

In electronics systems, the board temperature adjacent to the component often is known or controlled as a part of the system design. This means that by measuring the board temperature during operation, you can estimate the component’s junction temperature. You can use the thermal parameter Psi-JB (ΨJB) for this purpose since it is unique to a particular device, and is generally provided by the component manufacturer. This Part 3 in this three-part series details the proper method to determine the component junction temperature by measuring the board temperature. By carefully addressing component temperature, you can ensure operation within the thermal limits of the component.

 

Methods of Estimating Component Temperatures

Part 2 – Case Temperature

by Matt Romig and Sandra Horton, Texas Instruments

In electronics systems, the case temperature (sometimes referred to as top temperature) of a component often is easy to measure. Fortunately, the component case temperature is very close, both physically and thermally, to the component junction temperature. This means that you can estimate the component’s junction temperature by measuring it’s case temperature during operation. You can use the thermal parameter Psi-JT (ΨJT) for this purpose since it is unique for a particular component under typical use conditions, and is generally provided by the component manufacturer. This article details the proper method to determine the component junction temperature by measuring the case temperature. By carefully addressing component temperature, you can ensure operation within the thermal limits of the component.

 

Methods of Estimating Component Temperatures

Part 1

by Matt Romig and Sandra Horton, Texas Instruments

It is well known that IC components heat up during operation as they dissipate power while doing their analog and digital magic. But how can the user determine if a component (semiconductor device) is too hot? Many engineers have seen videos on this or may even have personal lab experience with overloaded components which start to smoke or melt. What is not commonly known, however, is that well below this temperature the component function or reliability starts to degrade. How can you be certain that each component in an electronic system is within its safe operating range?

 

Creating a Virtual Factory

Averna’s Proligent Keeps Tabs and Makes Changes Where Needed

by Bryon Moyer

We in the semiconductor world live in a relatively self-contained environment. Processing is highly specialized, equipment is expensive and not really usable for anything else, and risks are high if something goes wrong.

So we tend to get a little, oh, inbred, with a few companies providing the variety of tools and services in a small-town supply chain.

 

Leading Lattice

Billerbeck Steers a Fresh Course

by Kevin Morris

Darin Billerbeck looks out of place and restless in the dark, heavy, ostentatious ambiance of Lattice Semiconductor’s boardroom. Like a well-trained athlete donning his grandfather’s hat and cane, his energy bursts through the seams - fighting with the oppressive atmosphere that echoes the values of his predecessors. Lattice was once a house of hierarchy - a top-down, micro-managed, dictatorship where blame flowed downward and credit upward.

Today, the baroque trappings of the company’s tumultuous past are being cleared to make way for a cleaner, more welcoming future. Pieces of art that adorned the hallways as silent reminders to the passers-by that they were in the presence of power far greater than their own are being sold off - and ping-pong tables and discussion lounges are appearing in their place. Lattice is undergoing a cultural transformation of epic proportions, and evidence is everywhere you look.

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