Future Electronics — Precision, Accuracy and Flexibility: New Products Bring the Best of Digital and Analog to the Signal Chain


Amar Abid-Ali
Vertical Segment Director
Future Electronics

A properly functioning signal chain is essential to any interaction between electronics and the real world. The design of a high-performance signal chain presents engineering challenges which differ from application to application. For all, however, the goal is broadly the same: to process signals accurately and precisely enough to enable the correct monitoring or control of an electronic system.

A typical signal chain will consist of a sensor network, a signal conditioning element, often known as the Analog Front End (AFE) plus filters, an Analog to Digital Converter (ADC), ending with signal processing in the digital domain. Before processing, a sensor’s small signals need amplification to take full advantage of the ADC’s full dynamic range, a role for an operational amplifier.

A vast choice of op amps is available via Future Electronics from manufacturers such as ON Semiconductor and STMicroelectronics. The range is constantly expanding, however, to take advantage of technical improvements and to meet new customer requirements. This issue of FTM introduces the NCS21xR series of op amps for industrial applications, and the related NCV21xR parts for automotive applications. These devices feature an extremely low input-offset voltage, and gain error of just 1%. This means that they can be used to amplify the very low-voltage signal produced by a current-sense resistor in applications such as automotive battery management systems.

After digitization by a suitable ADC, this precision signal enters the digital domain. As this digital data streams into a microcontroller, the signal-to-noise ratio can be enhanced by filtering. A filter is a function that has traditionally been implemented in the analog domain. Today, however, it is possible to use filtering algorithms running in software. The ability to create filters digitally allows for some relaxation of the requirements of the analog signal chain.

This shift, implementing filtering in the digital domain rather than using more complex analog filtering components, can give the designer greater flexibility and can reduce the cost and complexity of analog components.

The introduction of microcontrollers with advanced on-board analog capabilities provides designers with the opportunity to integrate this kind of digital signal processing in an MCU alongside analog functions. This is the promise of the STM32F373 series from ST, a device which contains an ADC, DACs, comparators and other analog components, while also providing high digital performance with an Arm® Cortex®-M4 RISC core.

This issue of FTM gives a flavor of the signal chain capabilities available in the Future Electronics product range. Help with analog and mixed-signal designs and guidance on the complete range of components is available from the engineers at each of Future Electronics’ branches. Please get in touch with your nearest, or call 1.800.FUTURE.1 for help.