7 responses to “Are we losing the art of simple circuit design?”

  1. Carmen

    I think that all these new SOC’s, fancy micros, and pre-written libraries are simply changing the definition of what simple is. I’m not a huge software guy, but as far as I know, I2C and SPI are pretty standard protocols and it would seem rewriting those functions each time you wanted to start a new project would be time better spent working on more “complex functions”. Now a days it seems that these types of functions are basic while something like Ethernet communications or Zig-Bee are more advanced.

    I’m not saying all these things will work for every application, there’s still plenty of value in being able to do them yourself, but for someone looking to advance technology having to redo well established standards and designs all the time is counter productive. This is much the same reason there aren’t many (if any) transistor level op-amps on a PCB anymore. The op-amp has evolved to become a basic building block in and of itself and perhaps these new micros and communication protocols are becoming building blocks too.

  2. Fluxor

    Paul, I think you’re lamenting the declining art of circuit design using simple components at the board level. But circuits are still being designed. It’s just being designed at the chip level.

  3. Dave Young

    I agree that when I’m designing a product a simple circuit probably wont make the grade for one reason or another. However I find I make lots of simple circuits on the bench. These quick test circuits wont ever see the light of day since I’ll be the only customer — Like whipping up a 555 because all I need is a variable trigger that I know will work inside of 15 minutes. But they still exist!

  4. Bryce

    Paul, I don’t think your concerns are valid. I’m a junior in a computer engineering program and we cover EVERYTHING you are worried about. Our lab professors prohibit use of chips that do everything (7-segment display, SPI, and I2C drivers). We are required to write the code to control those things.

    We also cover how interrupts are adressed in our lecture and Stacks and Heaps in another class.

    Even considering your last example about the transistor and Fluxor’s blog post, California schools prevail. Just using the teachings from my Microelectronic Circuit Design class, I was able to answer almost every question correctly.

  5. Mike Burr

    Paul, I would have to say yes they are loosing more and more. I have the advantage to be working for a small manufacturing company that has been around for 40 years in a niche market. The majority of the material that we produce is based on designs about 20 years old, so there’s not much that’s SoC. We utilize 555s, with ripple counters and an EEPROM to generate the signals to run the system. That being said, we also have a “Digital” design that is 85% SMD, with an MCU and a CPLD. The MCU is to control the UI and allow for ease of system setup, while the CPLD takes over the functions of the EEPROM, counters and timers. The digital design was done by a company that they were working with before I was hired, and manufactured with that same company. I was hired as a repair tech(18 years of troubleshooting electronics systems on military aircraft). But had the advantage of having worked through my AS and BS over the span of about 8 years(AS-99, BS-07). The basics I was taught with military electronics weren’t covered in the same fashion as the AS course, which made it easy to keep my grades up. When I went back for my BS, I found that even less physical building was being done in favor of more simulation. And even more of that moved towards small scale programming in C. Just enough to give you a taste, but not enough to let you really understand what you don’t know. We’re moving to a more integrated world and we’re slowly loosing all those unique qualities that made us engineers and are turning them into just another subset of programmers.

    1. Fluxor

      The circuit world is moving towards more integration, like it has for the last four decades. But who’s doing the integration? Who’s designing those circuits inside the SoCs? Engineers, of course. It is true, however, that software continues to play a bigger role. But the reasons for doing so are based on good engineering decisions. Engineering, esp. EE, will continue to morph and evolve as it has since the prediction of Moore.

  6. Sean_VN

    I have written a numerical optimizer for LTSpice IV. Maybe that can contribute to an even greater level of non-understanding by automatically adjusting component values in a circuit. You simply set the circuit performance targets you want and let it grind away for while.