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So you want an ASIC, what next?

In an era of continuous innovation, standing out from the crowd is no easy feat. Putting the rate of product development into perspective, Statista reports that the total installed number of Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices in the world will total 30.9 billion units by 2025. With every electronic product getting smaller and smarter, developing a true differentiator may seem out of reach for manufacturers. However, using an ASIC can make innovative product development possible. Here, Richard Mount, Director of Sales at ASIC design and supply company Swindon Silicon Systems, offers his advice for finding a perfect ASIC partner.

An application-specific integrated circuit, or ASIC, is a custom integrated circuit (IC) that is designed specifically for the customer’s requirements. Functionality, size, power, cost and environmental conditions all form part of an ASIC specification. They are all vital factors an ASIC developer needs to know in order to deliver a successful end result.

However, not every customer will know the exact details of their ASIC specification when they first decide to explore the technology. So, how should they work with an ASIC partner to ensure a successful conclusion?

The ASIC checklist

A customer doesn’t need to know exactly what they want from the design and performance of their ASIC from day one. Instead, a good ASIC developer will be able to guide the customer through the process, taking what it learns about their individual and unique needs and translating them into technical recommendations. However, there are a few early considerations that will aid this process.

Ultimately, the customer should understand what they are trying to achieve by using an ASIC. Custom ICs offer a host of important benefits to the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) such as higher performance, lower power, smaller footprint, a reduced bill of materials and higher reliability. ASICs also offer higher intellectual property (IP) security due to the circuits being much harder to reverse-engineer, so companies driven by the need to comply with standards for cybersecurity or functional safety will see the benefits a custom IC solution delivers.

Knowing the main drivers behind the customer’s ASIC design choices will help the ASIC partner understand these goals, without requiring too much technical detail from the offset. In addition to understanding these goals, a company looking to invest in an ASIC will always want to establish the business case for the investment.

When building a business case, budget will ultimately come into play, of course; but the organisation should also understand its primary aim. It is likely that the ASIC will be built into a specific or family of products, therefore, what is the lifespan and expected volume profile of these products? This vision for the investment payback from the outset is crucial so that a robust business plan can be realised by both parties.

The initial planning phase of a custom IC is vital to ensuring success. This time should be spent working with an ASIC partner locking-down the requirements for the blocks and circuits, to eventually translate these requirements into a requirement specification and ultimately an ASIC specification.

Specification or feature ‘creep’ in ASIC developments, when changes or additions are made over time, can and are often accommodated, however they may increase cost, both in time and resources, especially if late on in the development. Therefore, no matter how much detail a customer first brings to the table, a valued ASIC partner will help to refine the requirements in the discovery process and provide the optimum design architecture.

Designing for the future

How do you know you’re choosing a good ASIC partner? First and foremost, a potential partner should possess the credentials to instil confidence that they can deliver a successful IC into production, in your particular market and application, and for the product’s forecasted lifetime.

As previously mentioned, IP protection is a key ASIC strength, and at Swindon Silicon Systems, we can provide our customers full ownership of the completed system design, to ensure the system IP remains firmly in the customer’s possession. Choosing an ASIC partner that does not sell standard parts may also alleviate the risk of IP potentially being used at a future date in an in house product.

Obsolescence is another common concern with both design and purchasing departments. Companies often choose the ASIC route to maximise component supply availability for the lifetime of their product, with no gaps in availability or stock shared with competitors. This sharply contrasts solutions built from standard components, where manufacturers readily consign components to the ‘obsolescence bin’ when the part no longer makes financial sense to the supplier.

Obsolescence is the bane of any purchasing department, but it can be proactively managed with the right support. Swindon, for example, work with its customers to develop an obsolescence management plan, which results in the chip being available for as long as the customer requires it. Several methods are used to provide non-obsolescence, such as storing wafers in dry nitrogen storage for up to 25 years or porting the chip design onto a modernised process.

A recipe for success

Finally, an organisation should choose an ASIC partner with quality markers to solidify its own credibility. Does the partner have ISO 9001, the quality management system, accreditation to ensure the customer gets consistent results? For those exploring ASICs for automotive applications, TS 16949 is another important quality marker. This accreditation is a technical specification aimed at the development of a quality management system which provides for continual improvement, emphasising defect prevention and the reduction of variation and waste in the automotive industry supply chain and assembly process.

While TS16949 is not required for fabless ASIC companies, fabless suppliers should adhere to the standards and processes required by the automotive industry and their customers. Swindon, for instance, fully adheres to this accreditation as another marker of quality service.

Start the process

For companies looking to engage in ASICs, it’s never too soon to explore how the technology can give your product an edge, both technically and commercially, versus your competition. However, it is wise for a business to make some careful considerations before committing to a custom IC solutions partner.

Choosing a trustworthy, qualified ASIC partner will be the key to success — one that can deliver both the design and production test of the ASIC, using only in-house capabilities, is a prudent first step. Whether a business already has its ASIC wish list, or just a few ideas and requirements, it is never too early to engage with an established and trusted ASIC partner. Having an informal discussion with the right people is the perfect place to start.

Anritsu and dSPACE accelerate simulation and testing of 5G automotive applications

Anritsu Corporation and dSPACE, two leading companies in the fields of test and measurement as well as simulation and validation, will jointly demonstrate the integration of PC-based simulation systems with sensor-realistic simulation in a 5G network emulator at the Mobile World Congress 2022 (MWC). The joint showcase will demonstrate how to avoid collisions between vehicles and objects or people in intersections with limited visibility.

The example application used in the demonstration is the advanced intersection collision warning (AICW). For this purpose, sensor-based information is exchanged between the vehicles and the infrastructure in the intersection area through the use of 5G communication technology. In the demonstration, V2X data and video data collected by camera sensors is provided and analyzed to warn of people or objects such as vulnerable road users (VRUs) located in blind spots, commonly found at intersections. The demonstration uses 5G network slicing technology to establish a separate URLLC link to provide V2X hazard warning data and an eMBB link to share HD video.

Gregor Hordys, responsible for connectivity topics at dSPACE, explains: “This solution adds a state-of-the-art sensor-realistic and vehicle simulation to the radio communication test system to enable testing of advanced applications for connected and cooperative automated driving, based on 5G and edge computing in the lab.”

“This joint integration and the power of such a solution is a significant step forward for 5G V2X testing and emulation. This industry-leading demonstration is an exciting example of the development of 5G V2X applications,” says Jonathan Borrill, Head of Global Market Technology at Anritsu.

To provide a 5G network slicing test environment for automotive V2X use cases, the showcase uses an Anritsu MT8000A radio communication test station and dSPACE VEOS (a PC-based simulation platform) with the dSPACE AURELION solution for sensor-realistic simulation.

The joint showcase will be on display at the Anritsu booth (Hall 5, D41) at the Mobile World Congress 2022, which will be held in Barcelona from February 28 to March 3. It will also be showcased at Anritsu’s Virtual MWC22—Wireless Technology Showroom which will be launched on February 28. Register here to enter the showroom: bit.ly/AnritsuMWC22.

What can IO-Link do for me? Fit for the future with Contrinex and IO-Link

Perhaps many of us can be guilty of thinking that Inductive Proximity and Photoelectric sensors ‘just’ give us an ‘On’ or ‘Off’, and don’t think of the ‘digital-world’ also offered by the IO-Link communication protocol.

Contrinex is respected as a manufacturer of high-performance sensors and often utilises unique technologies to provide solutions, but its approach to IO-Link, the point-to-point communication protocol offers an often unrecognised advantage.

Contrinex has the largest selection of IO-Link sensors in the World, across its inductive, photoelectric and RFID ranges. It provides consistent and simple configuration, through IO-Link and conventional switching outputs are available in the same versatile sensor. Contrinex sensors are available from PLUS Automation.

SMART sensors are perhaps now receiving more attention as the next ‘new thing’ and Contrinex also offers a wide range of SMART sensors offering help with predictive maintenance, production monitoring and measurement applications, but the benefits of IO-Link should not be overlooked.

Contrinex is an ideal supplier because its products can help manufacturers in their journey towards industry 4.0 and will continue to bring out new technologies to make its customers more successful.

WHAT DOES CONTRINEX’S IO-LINK FUNCTIONALITY PROVIDE

Data monitoring

The sensor’s switching state is monitored continuously. This not only monitors the signal itself but also the state at 80% of the switching distance. One can therefore ensure that the sensor is not working at the limit of its specifications, to ensure robust and reliable switching.

Diagnosis

The operating state of the sensor is checked. In case of open circuit, under-voltage, LC oscillator failure or installation of the wrong sensor, information is provided directly through IO-Link to enable fast repair, maintenance and replacement.

Detection counter

Detection events are counted. By registering the number of detections, it is possible to calculate the speed or number of parts. The counter can be reset using a unique IO-Link message.

Temperature

The internal temperature of the sensor is measured continuously, which provides an indication about the ambient temperature in the application. Moreover, the maximum temperature measured is saved for diagnosis and preventive maintenance purposes.

Switching timer

The timing of output switching can be configured. Depending on the needs of an application, output switching can be delayed or the duration stretched through programming.

NO/NC selection

The output switching mode can be selected as NO or NC. A single sensor type is configurable for the various needs of an application. This helps reduce the number of different sensor types required in stock.

Sensitivity and teach

The sensor’s sensitivity can be adjusted remotely by changing the threshold. Alternatively, the teach function can be used to adapt the threshold to the application. Calibrated sensing ranges ensure easy sensor replacement by uploading the existing sensitivity to the replacement sensor.

Light-ON/Dark-ON selection

The output switching mode can be selected as Light-ON or Dark-ON. A single sensor type is configurable for the various needs of an application. This helps reduce the number of different sensor types required in stock.

Sensor mode

Three different modes are selectable depending on the application needs: “Normal”, “Fast” and “Fine”. “Normal” mode is a good balance of speed and precision. In “Fast” mode, speed is higher and in “Fine” mode precision is higher.

Sequence selection

For cross-talk immunity with through-beam photoelectric sensors, up to nine different emitting sequences can be selected to pair the emitter with the receiver.

Halma acquires new capabilities in light measurement technology

Halma, the global group of life-saving technology companies, has acquired International Light Technologies, Inc. (ILT) for its Environmental & Analysis sector business, Ocean Insight.

ILT, based in Peabody, Massachusetts, USA, is a leading developer of technical lighting sources and light measurement systems, which are used biomedical, environmental, agricultural, food and beverage, and industrial applications.

The company’s technologies are highly aligned with Halma’s purpose. Its products are used to test life-saving equipment across a range of markets, from healthcare to gas safety. These markets are all driven by long-term growth drivers, including rising demand for healthcare, and increasing health and safety regulations.

Andrew Williams, Group Chief Executive of Halma, commented: “ILT’s focus on the generation and measurement of light is highly aligned with Ocean Insight’s mission to use the measurement of light to expand scientific discovery, reduce waste and improve the quality of life. ILT’s products and services will bring complementary capabilities and technologies to Ocean Insight, allowing it to serve a greater range of customer needs.”

Kistler returns to growth trajectory

The Kistler Group was able to close last year with slight growth despite the continuing pandemic and some major delays in global supply chains. Sales rose by 14 percent year on year to reach mCHF 411. A key part in the Group’s business success was played by the strategic reorientation measures that were introduced in 2020 and continued in 2021. This positive performance gives grounds for optimism about the current year. Order intake in January was significantly above expectations, easily reaching the highest level in the company’s history. A major staffing increase is also planned in 2022.

Kistler Group CEO Rolf Sonderegger

“Last year put the effectiveness of our new structures to the test in a difficult global situation, with the ongoing pandemic, crises affecting suppliers and rising raw material prices. The year-end result and orders already received prove that we are on the right track,” Kistler Group CEO Rolf Sonderegger notes in his summary of the situation.

The company responded to the worldwide shortage of electronic components (including semiconductors in particular) by astutely building up stocks so that it could meet its delivery commitments. As regards the current financial year, Kistler is optimistic that it will continue the trend set in 2021 and will soon return to the pre-crisis level of two years ago. The signals are good: based on the positive order inflow to date, the target of mCHF 450 is now within reach.

A staffing increase of 150 jobs is already included in the definite planning for 2022, with the goal of bringing the headcount to around 2,100 by year’s end. The new positions are mainly being created in research and development, production, logistics, and the international sales and service teams.

Investment in innovation

Kistler took advantage of the past year to focus its energies and consolidate its target markets. Investments are being channeled primarily into the growth areas of digitalization in the automotive industry and industrial automation. This is the highest development budget in the company’s history, accounting for eight percent of total sales revenue.

MTC joins University of Birmingham in new research partnership

The Manufacturing Technology Centre and the University of Birmingham have joined forces to launch a new research group aimed at leading a sustainable manufacturing revolution.

Pictured: Front (l-r): Dr Clive Hickman, chief executive, MTC, and Professor Stephen Jarvis, head of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Birmingham. Back: Heather Clarke, non executive director, MTC, and Professors Clive Roberts and Karl Dearn, University of Birmingham

Following the landmark National Manufacturing Summit at the MTC which looked at the implications of a net zero future, the group will bring together the expertise of each institution across the research and development and product development lifecycle, and working with a range of industrial partners will establish a world-leading research group focused on the de-carbonisation of the manufacturing sector.

The group will see researchers working across the MTC and the University of Birmingham, as well as with industrial partners to apply fundamental science, engineering and thought leadership to transform the sector through sustainable future growth.

The group will include a new Chair in Sustainable Manufacturing and five research fellows. It will lead research in the field of manufacturing engineering with a focus on sustainable and de-carbonising processes including:

  • Intelligent manufacturing
  • Lifecycle analysis
  • Data-driven predictive manufacturing
  • Manufacturing digital twins
  • Product control and management
  • Cyber-physical embedded systems and industrial internet of things
  • Industrial photonics

MTC chief executive Dr Clive Hickman said, “As an organisation, the MTC is prioritising support for sustainable manufacturing as a key factor in the delivery of net zero. We believe that the sector should have the benefit of a specific funding pot for net zero manufacturing as part of a Government Manufacturing Strategy. This would align the Government’s net zero priority with the manufacturing sector and ensure UK manufacturing is capable of realising the innovation and other economic opportunities it brings.”

He added, “The new joint research group will help the development of the next generation of green manufacturing to deliver clean growth. The overall impact on society of a green manufacturing sector is considerable.”

Professor Stephen Jarvis, Head of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham, said, “The de-carbonisation of manufacturing is a significant global energy challenge and one which we will need to address is we are to meet our 2050 net-zero goals. The opportunities and potential impact of this partnership are immense and it is fitting that this initiative launches in the Midlands, a region recognised worldwide for its industrial heritage.”

The group will split its time between the two institutions, ensuring fundamental research is translated into applied innovation, using both the MTC’s and the University’s world-class facilities, expertise and contacts. The research group further demonstrates the investment in engineering at the University of Birmingham, and will be based at the University’s state-of-the-art £85m engineering complex, which includes the new School of Engineering, the world-class centre for rail research and education (UKRRIN), and the National Buried Infrastructure Facility.

The new collaboration builds on the University’s well-established partnership with the MTC in manufacturing technology and materials, and signals the intent of both institutions to collaborate on a number of world-leading manufacturing initiatives.

Endress+Hauser charts path to growth

With strong growth in 2021, Endress+Hauser left the coronavirus pandemic behind economically. The Group’s consolidated sales rose more than 11 percent to just under 2.9 billion euros. As a result, the measurement and automation specialist significantly exceeded its own expectations.

In terms of net sales and profit, the family company not only grew compared to the prior year but also eclipsed the comparative numbers for 2019. Headcount also experienced sizable growth. At the end of 2021, the Group had more than 15,000 employees worldwide, over 600 more than a year ago. “We moved forward with and implemented all of our planned major investment projects,” emphasised CFO Dr Luc Schultheiss.

The quick recovery was not anticipated by the company. “We experienced strong catch-up effects but also solid growth in virtually all of our strategic industries,” said CEO Matthias Altendorf. Endress+Hauser was “always able to deliver” despite restrictions due to the pandemic, procurement shortages and strained logistics chains.

Solid growth expected for 2022

In 2021, incoming orders grew even faster than net sales. Endress+Hauser began the current year with a significantly increased order volume. Provided there are neither unexpected setbacks at the political level nor major upheavals in the financial markets, the company expects sales growth in the upper single-digit range for 2022.

Endress+Hauser will present its audited 2021 financial figures on 5 April 2022 in Basel, Switzerland.

RAFI Electronics expands production capacities

Last December, the RAFI Group’s Chinese branch, RAFI Electronics, moved into its new production facility in Shanghai. In the new factory in Quingpu, RAFI Electronics has a production area of 7,800 m², of which 4,600 m² is a clean room area for the production of electronics using SMT and THT assembly. The HMI specialist will use five SMT lines to produce mainly electronics for the medical technology, robotics, and automotive industries. The other 3,200 m² of production space is allocated to product assembly. With cutting-edge energy supply technology, RAFI Electronics also meets its green responsibilities: Installed on the roof is a solar power system with an area of 2,200 mand a capacity of 200 KVA. It powers a micro grid with an energy storage system.

On the opening date on December 22, 2021, Zhu Mingfu, Director of the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress of Qingpu District, visited the new factory and praised the sustainable development of the industrial park, which he called a win-win situation for all stakeholders. Thanks to the new factory, RAFI Electronics can not only considerably expand its production capacities, but also moves closer to the Asian markets. Simultaneously, RAFI customers in Europe and the USA benefit from the good price-performance ratio the manufacturer achieves by purchasing components in China. On this basis, RAFI with its production locations in Germany, Italy, Hungary, the USA, and China, can offer ideal solutions for every customer requirement.

UK manufacturer extends its protection of stored bulk crops across the globe

Titan Enterprises and Stored Crop Conservation Limited celebrate 20 years of collaboration as Stored Crop reports a significant shift in their business model and growth. Agrochemical specialists, Stored Crop use a modified application system to extend the life of crops before and after harvest and maintain healthy storage environments.

Having established themselves in a niche market, designing fogging systems to treat customer environments, over the last 12 months Stored Crop has seen a demand for their crop ‘fogging’ machines installed around the world. Nick Green, Stored Crop’s CEO, enthuses: “Where we are primarily servicing the food packaging industry and major food processing companies in the UK, our fogging machines are now being requested by an international market. This has significantly increased our manufacturing demand, and Titan’s excellent service and response to demand has been a great support.”

Stored Crop’s fogging machines utilise Titan’s 900 series turbine flow meters to record and monitor the volume of dispensed chemical used to treat and protect crops, grain stores, poultry units and glasshouses. Hygiene and the elimination of pests and fungus is a major problem in the storage of bulk crops in modern agriculture. From the preparation of buildings used for food production through to mass food stores, cleanliness is essential to ensure the quality of the raw materials.  For example, when potatoes are put into storage, the efficient application of a sprout-suppressing agrochemical extends the life of the product.

Titan Enterprises and Stored Crop have much in common, both being UK-based manufacturers, family-run companies and specialists in their field, so it’s not surprising that the relationship is still going strong.

Nick Green reflects: “Early on in our operation, we found a sprayer that utilised Titan’s flowmeters. We trialled one of Titan’s measuring devices, working with them to adjust the flow meters to meet our exact requirements. We use both the PVDF and stainless-steel cased mini turbines as they are able to function accurately and reliably with aggressive chemicals where careful control of application volume is absolutely critical.”

Stored Crop’s system for fogging agricultural food stores and crops with a very fine mist of appropriate agrochemical, ensures the whole volume is treated evenly. The flow and volume of dispensed chemical is measured by Titan’s 900 series mini turbine flowmeters to ensure consistent and safe dispersal of these controlled chemicals. The durability and chemical resistance of Titan’s flow meters means that the different ‘fogging’ chemicals dispensed through Stored Crop’s machines, can be used in Europe, Argentina, Russia, China and Pakistan, for example, where each country has its own regulations regarding chemicals used for this process.

Neil Hannay, Senior R&D Engineer with Titan Enterprises said: “These turbine flow measuring devices are an ideal low-cost component for OEM applications. The combination of chemically resistant flow meter design and low flow rates to ensure precision measurement is well suited for chemical dispensing or batch-filling systems.”

Titan’s 900 series offers 6 flow ranges from 0.05 to 15 L/min. The sapphire bearings give long life and reliability, and the choice of body materials makes this the ideal choice for metering aggressive chemicals, including ultra-pure water.

For further information on Titan’s 900 series turbine flowmeters please visit https://www.flowmeters.co.uk/turbine-flow-meters-titan-900-series-turbine-flow-measurement/. To discuss an optimised flow measurement device for your OEM application please contact Titan Enterprises on +44 (0)1935 812790 or email sales@flowmeters.co.uk.

For information about Stored Crop and their commitment to best practice in the agrochemical and crop storage sector, visit www.storedcrop.co.uk.

Drawing upon over 40-years of flowmeter innovation – Titan Enterprises Ltd is a leading manufacturer of high-performance flow measurement solutions, including the Atrato & Metraflow ultrasonic flowmeters, Oval Gear flowmeters, low flow Turbine flow meters and a flow instrument range. Titan’s company philosophy of “pushing the envelope by trying to do things a little different and better” has resulted in sales of over 2 million flowmeters and components into 50 countries worldwide and a repeat purchase percentage of 95%. All flowmeters produced by Titan Enterprises are designed and manufactured to ISO 9001 and calibrated to an uncertainty of ±0.25%.

Powelectrics IIoT technology helps the RSPB protect bird habitats and promote breeding

The Task

The RSPB is the largest wildlife conservation charity in Europe, maintaining over 200 nature reserves in the UK. They needed to remotely monitor and manage water levels at reserves to maintain sensitive wildlife habitats by opening sluices to achieve optimum water levels.

The Solution

Self-sufficient, solar-powered loT devices have been installed at various sites to monitor and control water levels and sluices. Data & alerts are received by wardens via Powelectrics cloud, on any web-enabled device.

The Result

Regular data & alerts help with habitat research. The RSPB can respond to issues quickly and inexpensively, without disturbing the wildlife or endangering employees, to maintain ideal breeding and feeding conditions.

Summary

  • Habitats are protected
  • Breeding is encouraged
  • Research data generated
  • Staff are safer
  • Creates time for other tasks

“Using Powelectrics loT kit to remotely monitor water levels has had multiple benefits. We are alerted to water level issues far more quickly meaning we can respond and take action quickly. There are significant time and cost savings when compared to manual observations and we can obtain the measurements without disturbing the wildlife. It also provides a great data set for analysis and research into species requirements and habitat condition.” Harry Paget-Wilkes, Site Manager RSPB Reserves

Powelectrics well-proven, versatile MetronView cloud collects data from a vast array of sensors, machines and IIoT devices. It gets your data flowing … fast … from your first step towards digital transformation to an international estate of connected assets!

In addition to water level monitoring, Powelectrics help customers achieve a vast range of environmental objectives, protecting people, livestock and assets from contamination, habitat and welfare issues, including:

  • Metering & energy management to achieve ISO50001 accreditation.
  • Landfill site monitoring including leachate levels to prevent contamination.
  • Monitoring emissions of gases and effluent from factories and other facilities.
  • CO2 & VOC monitoring to prevent infection in buildings.
  • Preventing hazardous overspills of chemicals, fuels and waste.
  • Pumping station monitoring to avoid sewage discharge.
  • Level monitoring (fuels, biofuels, chemicals, waste tanks & compactors) to enable efficient logistics & minimise fossil fuel usage.

More information: Powelectrics Remote Monitoring Solutions for Environmental Protection

More case studies: https://powelectrics.co.uk/case-studies/

What can Powelectrics do for you?

Please browse the Powelectrics website and get in touch with the company with a queries you have or applications you would like to discuss: telephone +44 1827 310 666 email sales@powelectrics.co.uk or use this contact form.