Assembly / placement cost versus component cost and custom integrated circuits

While the initial reason for designing a semi-custom or custom IC is to reduce cost (as well as maybe size and power consumption), for products manufactured in the UK or Europe even an integrated circuit costing more than the parts it replaces can produce a cost saving!  The simple reason is that components can cost more to place than the cost of the components themselves.

Often companies are paying 5p to place a 2p component.  By the time you have a few dozen components, even cheap ones, the cost can be significant.  For example, a dozen transistors and two dozen resistors will probably cost less than £1.  However the cost of placing them on the board might be nearer  £2 bring the total cost to £3.  Replacing it all with a custom or semi-custom IC could halve the total cost, even if the chip cost more than the individual components.

An example of a simple IC is shown below.  This Zetex 700 series array provides automatic control of LED brightness over a 1400:1 range with just three external components – a photodiode, LED and capacitor.  Additionally, the peak LED current can be set with one time programming (OTP) by on-chip fuses.  The circuit can operate at  just 1µA total current with the LED illuminated at low duty cycles.  A shutdown mode drops the current to leakage values.

Two control pins allow the chip to be controlled using a digital circuit or microcontroller to further extend the brightness operating range and to provide manual brightness operation and remote shutdown.

All of this could be done with discrete circuitry but the cost would be considerably higher than the semi-custom IC even in modest quantities.

If you want to know more, visit my web site Key Design Electronics Ltd.

LED Driver Semi-Custom IC

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Do custom ICs (ASICs) really have to cost $500k to $1M to prototype? (£300k to £600k)

If I ever needed a reason why companies are reluctant to consider custom ICs the answer was in this weeks CIE magazine. I would like to link to it but the only way I could find it online was through an idiotic Flash, page turning,  version which you cannot link to. (side note – am I the only person who would much rather flick through a pdf than wait for some pointless, oversized animated page turning Flash monster which takes ages to load?). It is on page 32 of the February 2011 edition at CIE if anyone wants to read it.

It says that the cost of prototyping an ASIC has now come down to as little as $500k!  I have designed many ASICs for a fraction of that price (in fact, all of them).  OK, that aren’t on 300mm wafers using 40nm (but the article says that would cost $2M to $3M), but they are useful, cost effective solutions to companies who don’t need the smallest geometries.  As I design analogue and mixed signal ICs usually with less than 10k gates and often fewer, older technologies like 1µm and 0.35um can be cost effective as well as Zetex bipolar arrays.  Non-recurring engineering charges (NRE) can be tiny compared to the latest nano-metre technologies.

If anyone wants to know more, have a look at my web site KDEL or leave a comment or ask a question – I would be happy to get on my soapboax again and explain how you can get a chip done for as little as a tenth of those costs.

Bugs, Birds and Butterflies (& moths)

Macro photographs show levels of detail that can be missed by the naked eye.

Firebug - Pyrrhocoris apterus

Snipe - Gallinago gallinago

Angle Shades moth emerging - Phlogophora meticulosa

Puch MS50D, Kawasaki KR1S and BMW K1200RS

What do all these machines have in common?  I have owned each of them, as well as a few others.  The BMW K1200RS is a gorgeous machine and the reason for my ID – keith1200rs.  Before buying one I joined a forum about them and chose that username.  It has stuck ever since.

BMW K1200RS

It was a great bike but I just didn’t use it enough to make it worthwhile keeping it.  The only complaint with it was the weight, but for such a heavy bike it handled beautifully and if you need a bike to spend all day on and cover a lot of miles, it would be high on my list.

Earlier (interesting) bikes of mine were the Kawasaki KR1S.  Yet another bike with my initials in it, it was the opposite of the BMW – tiny, light and highly tuned.  Fantastic fun, but a bit “manic”.  Excuse the clash of colours!

Kawasaki KR1S

The first “motorised bicycle” I bought was a moped.  A Puch MS50D.  It was actually used quite a lot as my main means of transport including an epic Hull to York to Scarborough and back journey one day.

Samba drumming on the drumkit

My drum teacher introduced me to samba drumming as a way of improving four limb independence.  I came across Cintia Orlandi’s posts on a Yahoo drumming group which has some good lessons on samba drumming on the drum kit.  You can see her site here (click on picture):

See her other videos on YouTube Cintia Orlandi

I am a sucker for unusual drumming or different versions of classic songs.  Here are three guitarists with a tractor playing Sweet Georgia Brown.

Tunny Fishing, Scarborough 1949

Scarborough had a strong fishing industry in the past.  Some of that was tunny fishing.  Here is more information: Tunny fishing in Scarborough in the 1930’s

The picture above was taken by Dennis Raper.  It shows Mr Weatherley with four tunny caught during the early hours of 25th August 1949.

The picture below is from 16th September 1949 and shows Mr Lewis of Corby with the heaviest caught in British waters up to that date (852lbs).  On the right is Tom Pashby – the skipper of the coble “Good Cheer”.  Again, taken by my father Dennis Raper.

Promoter, Supporter, Analyst or Controller?

Yet another course I went on a long time ago (I didn’t go on many but at least some of them were interesting ;)) along with the rest of the R&D team was aimed to promote team working by helping people understand their personality and that of their colleagues. By use of questionnaires filled in by people who knew you well, your personality was categorised as one of Promoter, Supporter, Analyst or Controller and your flexibility. The personality was not black and white but a “point” on a square divided up in to the four personalities. I was on the fence between promoter/controller, about halfway towards the centre.

The flexibility turned out to be very important. Your flexibility needs to make your personality “overlap” with the people you were working with. This was fascinating for a few particular combinations of people. Why the R&D director and food scientist struggled to get on, for example. They were diagonally opposite on the square and with very low flexibility.

I was high flexibility, which I think explains why I manage to work well with most people. Even better, having been on the course and found out my [new] boss was an analyst it made me able to appreciate what he needed to keep him happy which made our working relationship a lot better.

If you search for “Promoter Supporter Analyst Controller” you will find it is quite a common categorisation. This site shows the Behavioural Characteristics and related information. I also like this comparison of Personality Types . I am not sure if the collumns directly relate to one another, but the comparison with Tigger, Pooh, Rabbit and Eeyore is interesting! It seems that the categorisation of personalities goes back at least as far as Hippocrates & Plato in 370BC so it is nothing new.