Texas Instruments is an American company based in Dallas, Texas, which develops and commercializes analog and embedded processing integrated circuits (ICs) and solutions. TI is the third largest manufacturer of semiconductors worldwide, the largest producer of analog semiconductors, and the second largest producer of embedded processing ICs, including digital signal processors (DSPs), microcontrollers and multi-core processors.
Brian Crutcher, Senior vice president and general manager, Analog, Texas Instruments Incorporated spoke to Dilin Anand and Ashwin Gopinath of EFY about the analog market and TI’s recent acquisition of National Semiconductor.
Q. What do you believe to be one of the most important recent innovations that has helped design engineers?
A. TI’s WEBENCH online design center is definitely important. It is the top tool in the industry for anyone designing power circuits. It basically enables you to design circuits as models that can simluate everything online. WEBENCH Designer tools are software algorithms and visual interfaces that deliver complete power, lighting, and sensing applications in seconds. This enables the user to make value based comparisons at a system and supply chain level before a design is committed.
Since the integration of National, we have added more than 100 TI products into the tool, and recently unveiled WEBENCH System Power Architect for DC/DC power supply systems. We are expanding the WEBENCH tool to design analog front ends and clock circuits, as well.
Q. What about innovation w.r.t the architecture angle?
A. It’s important to not just look at technology from an IP or process node perspective. We ned to look at innovation in terms of packaging, too, such as the packaging of a FET, an inductor and other components inside one device. National was also very innovative in terms of packaging technology and multi-chip modules.
Q. Could you elaborate on this innovation in packaging technology and multi-chip technology ?
A. Both National and TI have been pioneering packaging technologies for several decades. Both companies have had the advantage of internal research as well as high-volume manufacturing capabilites, which led to great inventions in the fields of miniaturization and integration. National was one of the earliest in the industry to come up with MicroSMD and LLP pacakges to address space-constrained applications, such as mobile phones. In SMD there are more than 2000 devices offered now by our SVA team. Regarding multi-chip pacakges, TI is shipping a large volume of units each year with multiple chips,. And TI and National have been offering several variations of 2D and 3D integration of multiple dies.
Q. What is one of the key areas where advances are being made?
A. One of the key areas we are advancing is in higher voltage, such as work on higher voltage FETs. We are currently working on 600-700V technologies and will reach even higher voltages in the near future. It is in a sweet spot of industrial and automotive, which is in the the midst of significant growth (especially in the Indian market). So, you’ll see us continue to innovate in the high-voltage field.
Outside that, with respect to Power Management, we have most of the bases covered and are continuing to innovate across multiple fronts. We can get better in certain areas like hot swap and isolation, among others.
Q. What are the challenges in Hot Swap and Isolation?
A. Customers face several design challenges in hot-swap and isolation, depending on the voltage level and targeted application. Hot-swap applications require plugging a high-powered, sensitive system board into a live (hot) backplane power rail, which is very typical in base stations, blade servers and networking equipment. This situation requires the hot-swap controller to limit inrush current when first powering up as well as reacting to transient and overload events and reporting system power consumption. Our newest devices support voltages up to 100V and provide extensive protection under start-up and normal operating conditions. In addition, TI’s system protection and management controllers, provide additional parametric system information regarding current and power consumption as well as temperature and fault information that data center managers can use to diagnose issues in advance of a system failure.
TI has several isolated devices that eliminate ground loops, reduce common-mode noise and provide safety from high voltages. Many of these TI products eliminate the need for optocouplers and integrate isolation with communication transceivers like RS485 and CAN. Addressing these challenges further are products that integrate gate drivers, delta-sigma ADCs and op amps (current and voltage sense) to provide targeted solutions for market-specific issues that require high PCB integration.
Q. What are the latest trends you see in the Industry?
A. Energy Efficiency is a hot topic in India. Customers are increasing design activity for applications that help improve energy efficiency, such as LED lights used in street lights, and renewable energy applications, such as solar power. We continue to develop leading-edge analog and embedded processing components that help our customers achieve higher energy efficiency in designs ranging from motor drives, large solar panels, batteries used in UPS systems and DC brushless motor drives.
Q. What technological developments made their way into the new generation of analog and embedded processing components to improve energy efficiency?
A. Improving energy efficiency takes a very comprehensive approach. We use new processes to reduce the losses in the power path, for example. We are developing new packaging technology that helps maintain this very low loss achieved by our process, such as advanced QFN packages. Additionally, these packages have very high thermal performance that helps these devices operate at lower temperatures, providing even lower resistive losses.
In addition to making our chips more energy-efficient, we have designed into our products features that enable our customers to develop energy-efficient applications. In the case of LED lighting, TI introduced products with constant power regulation that improve the efficacy of light fixtures by up to 10 percent. Another new technology we have incorporated in recent products is intelligent management of TRIAC dimmer hold circuitry, which dissipates energy only when the dimmer is conducting. Most all of TI’s lighting products are now offered with analog and PWM dimming controls as well, to make it easy for sensors to adjust LED light output depending upon environmental conditions, such as daylight, dark or occupancy. And the development continues as we work toward ever-better energy efficiency in all sorts of consumer and industrial applications.
Q. Does TI target startups in India in a manner similar to how it does universities and colleges?
A. Well, not exactly. We do have a dedicated program for startups and IDHs as part of our third party and partner program called TI Design Network. We interact with these startups and IDHs, collaborating with them to develop solutions and provide other technical support to address their innovation challenges. Since the IDHs in India are very active, this is another opportunity for us to get in on the ground floor with future big customers.
Q. From TI’s point of view, is India merely a huge sales destination? Does the feedback you get from your Indian clients affect your APAC operations?
A. Why just APAC? The feedback we get from any region can affect our worldwide operations. We have a large team of analog and mixed signal engineers in India, who are designing products for customers worldwide. It is very advantageous to have them here from a relationship-building point of view. If, for example, a team is working on products for telecom base stations, they can visit the key customers in person and talk with them about the innovations that we are considering. Hence, on that front, we engage with customers well in advance.
So, when customers give feedback for products they use, we treat it with care and take it into account for future designs.