Analog curriculum: A shift towards analog system design

The following is the second blog in the Analog Curriculum blog series. This blog summarizes Dr. KRK Rao’s views on analog curriculum and how it should evolve to meet today’s industry needs.

 Q. As you had mentioned in the previous conversation, we should introduce analog through signal processing applications. Please elaborate why and how.

 A. Analog systems are extensively used in the applied spaces like automotive, medical and motor control electronics. The analog functional building blocks are used to design the front end and the back end subsystems in these application areas for a variety of specifications. There is a greater need in the industry for application engineers who can judiciously use the analog integrated circuits (ICs) to design efficient analog systems rather than IC design engineers who design the analog ICs.

Therefore, engineering students should be first exposed to the applications so that they appreciate the analog processing still required in today’s digitally dominated signal processing systems. For example, front end signal processing functions in communications like amplification, modulation, demodulation, filtering, mixing and frequency multiplication are purely analog.

Students can then be taught about processing functions through the use of basic building blocks like operational amplifiers (op amps), multipliers and comparators, which can be used without device level know-how.

Structuring Analog Courses in UG Curriculum

Q. What is wrong with the traditional approach of introducing analog electronics from device level know-how?

A. With the evolution of devices, analog circuit has migrated from vacuum tubes to Bipolar Junction Transistors [BJTs] to MOSFET, which may be replaced by new devices of the future. The building blocks like op amps, multipliers and comparators will always remain the basic functional blocks of a system design, irrespective of the device technology used for them. Therefore, teaching should be geared towards designing with these building blocks.

Further, op amps have replaced transistors as amplifiers in the front end of the design because of their differential input capability, which improves the signal-to-noise ratio [SNR] and also provides larger dynamic range of operation, which makes them closer to the ideal amplifier. Teaching single ended transistor structures like common emitter, common base and common collector in basic analog courses is no longer relevant.

Q. What should be the focus while teaching analog system design using the building blocks?

A. Current system designs require the use of the intelligent macro model approach to study the input/output behavior of any analog subsystem. This approach starts with the building block and their macro models and uses it to design complex analog systems. It is also important to study the characteristics of the building block by studying the parameters of the macro model. Students must understand the significance of these parameters and their corresponding effect on the system behavior to meet varied application needs. 

To effectively absorb system design using the basic building blocks apart from simulation the lab must expose the students to hands-on exercises as an integral part of the theory course. It must not be isolated from the theory course. It is with this intent we designed Analog System Lab Kit to cover all the basic aspects of signal processing involved in current day analog system design.

Analog System Lab Kit

We will discuss the considerations behind the experiments in Analog System Lab Manual in the following and the last blog in the Analog Curriculum series.