With good understanding and skills in areas such as custom circuit layout, electrical design and simulation, analogue designers plan, organise, execute and document as they steer their organisation towards its goals. The Indian electronics industry looks for designers who are flexible across domains and technologies.
“Especially, an expert in analogue design is highly valued. Lots of analogue design experience and strong basics in the field can fech high-profil jobs in India,” says P. Chow Reddy, manager-R&D (power division), ICOMM Tele Ltd.
Analogue design scenario in India
Basavaraj Garadi, chief expert, Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions, feels that the analogue design scenario is not that great. He says, “Sadly, India is not where analogue designs thrive. Analogue circuit design is not what excites the hardware designers in India, perhaps because it is not well understood. Designers would rather work on high-speed digital boards, clocking at mind-boggling multi-gigahertz speeds and churning out thousands of MIPS of processing.”
Garadi adds, “Besides, over the years, engineers have resorted to processing analogue signals in digital domain, by converting analogue signals to digital format and converting back to analogue after processing. Forgotten are the days when the only computers available were analogue. Even amplifcation of signals, which was typically perceived as pure analogue processing, is now being realised in binary format, with Class D amplifiers using power devices (MOSFETs) driven as switches rather than in linear mode.”
Engineers have realised the potential of digital processing of analogue signals. “Also working in favour of digital processing is the rapid fall in prices of digital signal processors. Therefore pure analogue board design will not gain any further foothold in India,” says Garadi. However, he points out, “If a digital electronic device is to interact with the real world, it will always need an analogue interface. Therefore in their minimal form, analogue circuit designs would perhaps be restricted to front-end interfaces. This is as far as board designs are concerned. However, IC or ASIC designs offer a different picture, providing a great deal of promise for analogue designers, both in terms of excitement as well as salaries.”
Comparing the Indian scenario with the Japanese electronics industry, Reddy says, “The Japanese electronics industry looks at specialisation and expertise in a single field. For example, if designer starts working on small-signal amplifiers and earns experience in it, he retires from this field only and neve concentrates on any other field. They never come across words like ‘job security.’ This is not the scenario in India.”
Sharing his thoughts on requirements in analogue sector, Binu Raj S., AVP-engineering, Dexcel Electronics Designs, says, “We as a design service company get less than 15 per cent of the requirement in analogue domain. It is a scarce but specialised domain.”
On a positive note, Rajani Rao, manager (analogue and mixed-signal IP development), LSI India Research Development, says, “Indeed, these are exciting times for analogue design sector in India.
A large number of MNCs have invested heavily in analogue design in their India centres. I also see many niche start-up companies emerging in this space. They plan to develop analogue IP for licensing as well as provide design services. Academia is also acting as a catalyst as many research projects are ongoing in niche analogue areas like power management and high-speed SerDes (serialiser/deserialiser) designs.”
Somashekhar B., technology manager-analogue/mixed-signal group, Semicon Technology–Systems BU, Tata Elxsi, adds, “More of analogue/mixed-signal design work is being outsourced to India, which was earlier done within the semicon product companies as core technology. As there is acute shortage of analogue resources globally, India is seen as one of the preferred countries for analogue design.”
Analogue scope in a digital world
According to Reddy, analogue circuit design requires more skills than digital systems design. An analogue circuit must be designed by hand, and the process is much less automated than digital systems.
Reddy says, “A design engineer having strong understanding of analogue electronics and capable of handling analogue components, small signals and the sensor to the instrumentation will always sit in a high profile having scope to work in power, digital, RF and instrumentation,” he adds.
Analogue circuit design is often considered a ‘mystical art.’ It requires long practice to become proficient in the dark art of analogue design. The connection between cause and effect is vague with so many physical and electrical interactions between components. A weak ground and some stray capacitance can make designs falter. The PCB layout also weights to a greater part of the analogue equations.
Analogue design needs a totally different approach to solving problems. It makes good sense to rig up the circuit and test, to unravel the mystery associated with a problem. Don’t use simulation tools (pSpice, Saber, etc) to do your design, but only to confirm your design when in doubt or perhaps to do a detailed analysis (tolerance, temperature, etc). Do not blindly copy application circuits from datasheets. If you follow these generic rules, you will be able to break the myth of ‘analogue circuit design is black magic.’
—Basavaraj Garadi, Chief Expert, Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions
1. Keep up-to-date with the basics of analogue and linear circuits.
2. Visualise any circuit you test to the transistor level.
3. Take up your own project and materialise it. This will give you exposure to the real world of analogue design.
4. Try making circuits that work with small signals, sensors and instrumentation. These will let you experience the noise and start working on eliminating it.
5. Become proficient in building and testing an analogue electronic circuit.
—P. Chow Reddy, manager-R&D (Power Division), ICOMM Tele Ltd
As analogue skills are more complex than other VLSI skills, many engineers tend to choose career in easier domains. However, many bright engineers who chose jobs in other domains after graduation, are considering to switch to analogue domain as their current job is no longer challenging. Hence I would suggest bright engineers to choose analogue domain and not just any job after their graduation.
—Somashekhar B., technology manager-analogue/mixed-signal group, Semicon Technology-Systems BU, Tata Elxsi
As far as board designs are concerned, Garadi believes that pure analogue circuit design does not have significant scope at the moment.
“At least not in the league of what used to happen in the good old 80’s and the 90’s. Back then, circuit diagrams would span over several sheets without you encountering a single microcontroller or a logic circuit. But now, the closest that one would be doing is mixed-signal circuit design. On that count, most boards interacting with the real world would certainly have front-end interfaces involving signal conditioning-amplifying, attenuating, filtering or buffering signals,” says Garadi.
However, Garadi believes IC, ASIC or VLSI designs are still the areas of interest to hardcore analogue designers, and look very promising in terms of salaries. Almost all the big names in semiconductor industry—STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments, Freescale Semiconductors and Maxim Integrated to name a few—have officesor design centres in India. This sector provides fairly decent opportunities either as an IC designer or as an application engineer for linear ICs.
According to Rajani Rao, for a major semiconductor company to succeed, it has to have a strong analogue design team.
Attributing to the fact that analogue design is indeed more challenging than digital, Somashekhar says, “As analogue skills are more complex and unique, it takes slightly more time to ramp-up. But once a person attains that level, it leads to a stable, long-term and highly rewarding career growth.”
“The design tasks are highly challenging and provide great job satisfaction. It is a pride to claim that you are an analogue engineer—a rare skill to stand out among others,” he adds.
“For analogue board design, a bachelor’s degree in electronics or one of its offshoots like electronics & communication or instrumentation would do. However, for engineers wanting to pursue a career in IC or VLSI design, a master’s programme in microelectronics and VLSI design or its equivalent would be the minimum requirement,” says Garadi.
“A master’s or above degree in integrated electronics is the most desirable. However, nowadays there is exposure to analogue design even at the undergraduate level,” adds Rajani Rao.
Dr S. Karthik, engineering director, India Product Development Centre (IPDC), Analog Devices India, too feels that for analogue design, an M.Tech in VLSI would be preferred. However, according to him, “B.Tech candidates with a strong background and interest in analogue design would also do well.”
Reddy believes that qualification is required just to enter the industry. Catering to designs required by the industry actually depends on the design skills of the engineer, adaptability of technologies and new trends emerging in the field.
More than the educational qualifiction, it is the interest and the opportunity that make someone an analogue designer, points out Binu Raj S.
Dr Karthik informs that entry-level roles mainly include design and verification of analogue blocks. “Their designation would be that of a design engineer focusing on areas like circuit design, layout design and circuit characterisation,” says Somashekhar.
Rajani Rao says, “Candidates would have had theoretical exposure on all these basic blocks in their academic courses. It is now time to actually design them and build on their fundamentals. They would also get an idea of how these building blocks get stitched into a complex analogue top level like a PLL.”
According to Garadi, fresh graduates from universities would be testing or debugging boards under the tutelage of senior design engineers.
Analogue electronics is a field where an engineer’s career grows slowly when dedicated to analogue sector alone, believes Reddy. Engineers need to start off from production or testing rather than designing in the entry level.
Reddy says, “Engineers need to concentrate on analogue assisted products like instrumentation, power or digital, so that they can have faster growth. The Indian industry requires engineers of that kind,” he adds.
“On an average, the starting salary of an application engineer in linear ICs is in the range of 600,000 per annum in some of the leading semiconductor companies. For an IC designer it can be about 30 to 50 per cent higher,” informs Garadi.
Binu Raj believes that there is not much difference between the pay packages of an analogue designer and a digital designer. “The only difference will be in the area of work,” he says.
Myth—It is a digital world and there is not much scope for analogue design.
Reality—Analogue semiconductor market is around $40 billion and has been increasing steadily. The real-world signals—for example, touch, sound, gesture, video, pressure and temperature—are all analogue in nature. Digital processing techniques are used to manipulate the real-world data. However, analogue processing is used to capture and condition the input data as well as for output processing. As digital processing has advanced significantly over the last few decades, demands on analogue processing have also increased. This has resulted in the increased number of bits for data converters (ADCs and DACs) as well as the ever-increasing sample rate. High-speed wired interfaces like HDMI and PCIe, as well as wireless communication (RF) have increased the need and scope for analogue design significantly.
Myth—Analogue design is only about designing transistor-based circuits.
Reality—Analogue design is an inter-disciplinary science that requires knowledge of diverse fields like control systems, signal processing, network synthesis and electromagnetics. For example, modern data converter designs use signal processing techniques to achieve high resolution.
—Dr S. Karthik, engineering director, IPDC, Analog Devices India
Somashekhar informs that the annual package for an entry-level B.Tech candidate would be between 350,000 and 400,000 per annum, whereas for an M.Tech graduate it would be around 400,000 to 500,000 per annum.
According to Reddy, pay package in the Indian electronics industry is a highly indefinite figure as it totally depends on the product that the industry is concentrating on.
Skills to be developed
Garadi believes that effective analogue circuit designs require a strong understanding of core linear devices and how they affect analogue circuit design. He says, “Analogue designs are a combination of discrete devices (BJTs, FETs, etc), ICs (more often than not, op-amps) and passives. Therefore a good understanding of discrete devices’ behaviour in linear mode will hold one in good stead for analogue designs.”
Garadi adds, “Having acquired the knowledge of discrete devices, op-amps would pose very little challenge in getting to know them. Be sure of which passive components you will use for what and be aware of their specific behaviour and functionalities.” Component modeling and circuit simulation is yet another skill that could unleash the full potential of an analogue designer.
Reddy too feels that analogue basics and knowledge of components and their behaviour must be strong. Patience in testing an analogue circuit is a skill that needs to be practised.
Inquisitiveness at a young age to experiment with analogue circuits plays an important role. Binu Raj says, “It could be at least the eagerness to open a radio or make some hobby circuit and feel the happiness when it works. That type of exercise makes one’s analogue fundamentals strong.”
The analogous conclusion
Garadi believes that although opportunities for analogue designers are numerous, there are fewer engineers wanting to take up analogue circuit design as a career. “On that count, if you have proved your mettle in analogue design, you would most certainly find a jo that interests you and you will definitely do well in mixed-signal and digital design, where the opportunities are a lot more,” he adds.
According to Somashekhar, until recently most of the design services outsourced to India were in the areas of software and digital VLSI design. Due to significant increase in analogue/mixed-signal content of the current-/future-generation system-on-chips, there is huge demand for analogue engineers to support this design activity. There is acute shortage of analogue engineers globally and hence more of analogue design work is being outsourced to India. To support these increased design opportunities, there is need to create more analogue engineers.
The author is a tech correspondent at EFY Bengaluru.