San Francisco " Observers of Programmable Analog as a business option may take heart in the announcement this week by Anadigm, Inc. that a Canadian recreational boat company, Teleflex, is using Anadigm's parts for steering controls.
The field programmable analog array, Anadigm's AN121E04 FPAA, enables a smart parts-count (BOM), faster time to market and rapid reconfiguration for multiple engineering projects according to the press release issue issued Monday (August 30th).
"Teleflex is performing 'concurrent engineering' on digital and analog portions of the steering control system," explained Nathan John, Anadigm's director of marketing. "They make use of the ability to configure the analog portion without touching a soldering pencil or sending the design out to a prototype assembler," he said.
The Anadigm FPAA, which includes multiple op amps and filter components, is used in Telefex Canada's implementation to demodulate the output of a linear variable distance transducer (LVDT), a subsystem which determines the rubber position of small boats.
The real news may be that Anadigm (based in Tempe, Arizona and Crewe, England) is finding successful fits for its $7-9-parts. (The press release says that Andigm's AN121E04 " a 44-pin QFP -costs $8.95 in 10,000-piece lots.) "The programmable analog parts are solving a problem for those who need a specialized signal conditioning configuration, but are unwilling to finance an analog custom," John said. Anadigm can easily service customers who need only 10,000 pieces per year, he acknowledged.
"Like FPGAs, programmable analog is winning more converts," he claimed. "This is because the solution in THEIR hands. They don't have to give their IP anyone else; they don't have to depend on an outside vendor to configure their semiconductors for them."
The real competition for programmable analog may not be custom analog ASICs, but rather modules with discrete op amps and passives which can often be produced at a small fraction of the $7-9 Anadigm is asking. Some customers may be compelled, in fact, to build a prototype with Anadigm's software and programmable parts, but " once the working configuration is tweaked and smoothed " to go into production with discrete ICs and components.
This solution is not as obvious as it seems " especially for space-constrained applications, Nathan John argues. The production costs of configuring a module with discretes " including board layout and soldering - may be considerably larger than the parts list would imply. Thus, a $2-3-bill-of-materials (BOM) could actually be $3-5 in production. Anadigm will be moving closer to these price points in future iterations of its technology, John acknowledged.
The programmable analog technology, sometimes applauded in trade magazines for the "do-it-yourself" capability it offers engineers, has so far had limited success as a business proposition. The programmable analog parts developed by International Microelectronic Products (IMP, now defunct) never sold very well. A similar product line (developed by the same design team, in fact) is promoted by Lattice Semiconductor (Beaverton, Ore.), which undoubtedly amortizes its costs with an extensive line of programmable logic, complex programmable logic (C-PLDs) and FPGAs.
Anadigm's programmable analog capability was initially developed by Pilkington Electronics (in the UK). The technology was acquired and promoted Motorola SPS during 1990s. Anadigm was spun out when programmable analog failed to capture the revenues that Motorola was hoping for, and has since received several rounds of venture funding.
In the years since its departure from Motorola, the Anadigm team has worked on a closer coupling between its design tools (the current suit is called AnadigmDesigner2 EDA) and the programmable silicon " as well as a manufacturing process which will make FPAAs cost-competitive with discretes. It is, like the semiconductor "learning curve," something of a chicken-or-egg debate. But each design win " like the Teleflex implementation announced this week " may bring the company closer to true business success. #