It’s that time of year again (at least in the U.S.) to reminisce about the things we’re thankful for. Even if it’s not your “Thanksgiving,” EEs sure do have a lot to be thankful for.
Let’s talk about the top 5.
1. Modularization of RF Hardware
The world of radio frequency (RF) hardware design can be a daunting place. Some may even go so far as to call it “black magic.”
In the past, if you were tasked with creating a design that incorporated RF functionality, you would have to understand the ins and outs (or enough to get by) to build the RF circuitry. Signal modulation, upconversion, antenna design, downconversion, filtering, demodulation, phase locking, and so much more made building an RF communication system a difficult challenge. System design issues included poor matching, out-of-band radiated emissions, PCB cross-talk, and signal reflections.
An example block diagram of an RF module. Image used courtesy of Qorvo via Mouser Electronics
One definite thing to be thankful for is RF modularization. This trend has put most of the pressure of designing sound RF circuitry onto the shoulders of the dark wizards employed at semiconductor companies. Everyone else can buy the modules they create and plug them into applications with very little witchcraft required.
Having a host of RF modules to choose from to best fit your design can help speed up the design process, as well as cut back some of the stress of doing the RF design work yourself.
Is it even possible for us to count all the reasons to be thankful for our beloved operational amplifier? The applications of op-amps include signal amplification, buffering, and filtering. They are used in the design of data converters, signal generators, oscillators… the list goes on and on.
Example of an op-amp circuit. Image from AAC’s Introduction to the Operational Amplifier
No need to design your own amplification circuit from a pile of discrete components. What kind of op-amp do you need? Wide bandwidth, low noise, unity gain stable, differential, instrumentation, low input offset, rail-to-rail input, rail-to-rail output? There is an op-amp to meet every need.
Op-amps can help you not only simplify your design but also shrink its footprint, something that is always a concern. Additionally, many companies also provide simulation support, typically through SPICE models, that designers can use to validate their op-amp designs before taking the plunge into the building stage.
Speaking of SPICE models, that lead’s us into our next thing to be thankful for.
3. Spice Simulation Software
Though nothing truly beats the simplicity—and, possibly, nostalgia—of a pencil and paper, SPICE simulators are definitely something to be grateful for. Thanks to these simulators, you no longer need to use that trusty paper and pencil to design and optimize circuits (unless you really want to).
An example of a schematic on a SPICE simulator. Image used courtesy of Logipipe
Whether you prefer free models like LTSpice or OrCAD, or need more advanced simulators like HSpice, there’s no doubt that these simulators lend a huge hand in easing the day-to-day design process that EE’s have to go through. Simulation advancements like process corner models and Monte Carlo analysis help get the designs out the door more quickly and done right the first time.
The divide between software and hardware engineering keeps shrinking as applications like AI and machine learning require EEs to have more and more proficiency in coding. However, thanks to compilers, designers no longer have to, for example, write microcontroller code in assembly language.
An example schematic of a compiler. Image used courtesy of HPC Wiki
In general, compilers take the source code and translate it into object code that can be run at any time, thus saving you time and energy devoted to the software side of things (which many of you probably didn’t want to deal with, anyways).
5. Layout Design Tools
At the dawn of time (or actually not that long ago), when designers had no choice but to layout and review PCBs by hand, PCB design would take a lot more trial and error, and thus time.
And don’t even get us started on IC design.
Anyone who used Rubylith in the house? Image from the Hughes Aircraft Company
However, that era has, thankfully, been left in the past with the help of layout design tools.
There are myriad programs out there for PCB layout, logic synthesis, circuit simulation, design rule checking, and more. But, no matter which program you prefer or what you use it for, you can’t deny the advantage these programs give designers. Having this much control and flexibility of your design without having to create expensive prototypes can be a lifesaver.
I’m thankful for all the EEs who keep innovating and pushing technology to the next level. Oh, and I’m thankful that they sometimes make grammar and spelling mistakes and need an editor. It keeps me busy!
These are just a drop in the bucket of what EEs have to be thankful for. We would love to find out what YOU are thankful for! Let us know in the comments down below!
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