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Precision Technology

USE PRECISION SIGNAL CHAINS TO WORK FOR YOU

Precision Signal Chain Technology With Analog Devices

One of the biggest trends in the electronics industry, and the world as a whole, is the proliferation of sensors. Today, you can find sensors in almost every facet of our lives, including wearable devices, industrial robots, test and measurement equipment, and many more. With the increasing development of new technologies to support Machine Learning and the Internet of Things (IoT), it is only expected that this trend continues into the distant future.

As sensors become more and more integral in electronic design, the requirements on the system performance become more and more stringent. Namely, engineers today are demanding higher precision signal chains across a variety of applications.

In this article, we’ll discuss signal chain technology, the demands of the industry today, and how Analog Devices is making it easier to solve many of these challenges.  
Example of an analog signal chain.

Precision Signal Chain Technology

Besides the sensor itself, the biggest contributor to sensor-based system performance is the analog signal chain.

In most sensor-based systems, a sensor will produce an output signal and, before that signal can be interpreted by the processing unit, it must be conditioned. This conditioning often consists of steps including filtering, amplification, isolation, and conversion. The series of signal-conditioning electronic components that live in between the sensor itself and the MCU is known as the signal chain.

Within a signal chain, the major subsystems that one can find include amplifiers, analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), digital-to-analog converters (DACs), isolation, and voltage references. The signal chain’s performance is often a culmination of the individual performances of each of these components, as well as their interoperability and layout.

In high-performance applications, most engineers strive to achieve a signal chain with extremely high precision. The goal of precision technology, or a precision signal chain, is to offer the highest performance, best resolution signal possible to the MCU. Oftentimes this means achieving the highest signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) possible.

Generally, precision technology is often achieved through employing high precision discrete components in a signal chain. When interconnected correctly, the collective use of high precision converters, references, and amplifiers can lead to extremely high performance for sensor-based systems. 
Signal chains will work to perform sensor-specific conditioning. Image from Eren et al.

Tailor-Fit Precision

Importantly, precision cannot be achieved generally, but instead, signal chains must be optimized for a given use case. That is to say, a signal chain that will achieve high precision for a certain application may not work nearly as well for another application. 

Put simply, different kinds of signals need differently configured signal chains. Variations in the signal type, including bandwidth, frequency, and power require different components within the signal chain for maximum performance. Additionally, to maintain the performance of the precision signal chain, it is important to also optimize the underlying power management system. 

To ensure maximum performance, power systems need to be tailor-fitted to the key value proposition of the signal chain. Power systems designed specifically for current sensing signal chains may not be the best fit for medium-bandwidth signal chains, and those power systems may not be feasible for narrow bandwidth signal chains. These systems can vary significantly based on signal chain device power requirements such as rail voltages, supply currents, power supply rejection ratio (PSRR), and transient requirements. 

Even further, the overall solution specifications of an application will impose demands on a signal chain. For example, an IoT device may be more concerned about achieving the lowest power per performance possible in order to extend device battery life. In this application, the entire signal chain will need to be optimized for the lowest power possible while maintaining precision. On the other hand, a wearable device, like a smartwatch, may be concerned with the lowest cost and smallest size possible without sacrificing performance. Here, a signal chain would need to be optimized for cost and area while maintaining precision. 

All things considered, designing a high-precision signal chain can be a very daunting task for design engineers. 
Some of the signal chain families offered by Analog Devices.

Solutions Offered By Analog Devices

Analog Devices understands that, in order to ensure maximum performance, engineers need to optimize their signal chain for a given application. To address these needs, the company offers a wide variety of product families meant to optimize signal chains, and their power systems, for whatever needs an engineer may have. 

For example, if an engineer is working with a signal chain where DC precision is the highest priority above all else, they may consider ADI’s Precision Narrow Bandwidth family of solutions. Designed to provide the highest possible accuracy, stability, and repeatability while measuring DC and low-frequency signals, Precision Narrow Bandwidth solutions can achieve up to 24-bit measurement resolution and single-digit ppm linearity. 

On the other hand, Precision Wide Bandwidth signal chains bring fast sampling rates for measurement or drive applications from DC to 1Mhz. These signal chains can be optimized for key specifications such as measurement noise (SNR), DC linearity, settling time performance, closed-loop or measurement latency, or total harmonic distortion (THD).

Where a precision signal chain is required to have the lowest power utilization ADI offers Precision Low Power signal chains. These minimize power consumption and are ideally suited to applications such as portable vital signs monitors, wireless environmental monitoring (gas, CbM, pH, temperature), and industrial uses such as intelligent flow where low power is a key requirement. 

Finally, for signal chains that require robust isolation as well as optimized driving capabilities, ADI offers the Isolated Gate Drive & Sense family of signal chain solutions. Perfect for applications like driving robotics or EV charging, the Isolated Gate Drive & Sense family provides scalable solutions for high-performance silicon carbide (SiC) drives as well as isolated system monitoring.

While this is not a comprehensive list of ADI signal chain families, it serves to depict ADI’s vast and impressive collection of signal chain solutions, aligned to a wide variety of application requirements. All of the ADI solutions seek to make it easy for design engineers to achieve the highest precision while balancing out power, cost, and size overall. The net effect is the optimum signal chain design with a faster time to market. 

Conclusion

As sensors become more important in the world today, developing precision signal chains becomes equally as important. With Analog Device’s comprehensive and extensive suite of signal chain offerings, engineers can develop application-optimized signal chain solutions for the best performance, cost, and time to market possible. To learn more about ADI’s comprehensive set of precision technology solutions, follow this link:

https://www.analog.com/en/applications/technology/precision-technology.html

Resource - ADI Precision Measurement Solutions PDF Catalogue


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