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Electronic Components Datasheets - Then and Now

In the world of electronic components, datasheets are the main document created by component manufacturers to inform engineers how to use their products. Datasheets contain texts and drawings about the components in question, such as technical specifications, functionality and mechanical characteristics, without which it would be impossible to design circuits that are functional and reliable.

Having a datasheet is a necessary, but usually not sufficient, condition for a successful design. And there is a reason for that.

Decades ago, datasheets were bundled together in a printed catalogue (example from Texas Instruments) and shipped to engineers designing electronics. They were usually short and succinct to limit the number of printed pages and still provide engineers important information. Catalogues were usually books with hundreds of pages.

Technology evolved and integrated circuits started to deviate from basic logic gates towards more complex functionality. Complete circuits for power supply regulation and motor control could be found within a single chip, reducing circuit size and production costs.

But the integration of complex functionalities also reduced the engineer’s capability to understand the overall behaviour of the circuit from a single datasheet, as it wasn’t just a bundle of miniaturized logic gates or operational amplifiers anymore.

To better explain their products without giving up its intellectual property, component manufacturers hired application engineers to support customers in the design  of their components. With a huge demand for support, they started to publish  technical articles in  well-known  electronics printed magazines, which were very popular among engineers. These articles explained in detail how a component worked, the applications it was made for, the features it contained, important design rules, whilst  providing example designs that anyone could test. Engineers were happy. The application note with reference designs was born.

For a long time, application notes and reference designs on printed material were one of the main sources of information for a broad number of engineers, who didn’t happen to have an application engineer at their disposal. There was information on new components, innovations on the industry and resources  for further education.

How Things Have Changed 

Today, engineers work in a very different way compared to  past decades. With computers and the internet available practically everywhere, just a little fraction of the work survived the migration to a digital screen.

Spreadsheets and specialized software, such as Matlab, help with calculations. CAD and EDA software provide design tools for drawings of schematics and layout files, and the generation of manufacturing files. The internet, with its search engines and strong presence of all players of the electronics industry, enables sharing of, and access to, content in a volume of information never before available.

No engineer is using old-tech components for their designs anymore just because they don’t know about the newer ones. Competition among component manufacturers got fiercer. Engineers now expect to see files of application notes and reference designs to support their design, as a minimum, otherwise they just look for other options that have it. 

Content availability and price turned out to be more important than it was before. Nevertheless, application notes, datasheets and reference designs are - more often than not - only available in PDF. Though this was  a more up-to-date version of the paper, in practice PDFs offered no new capabilities to the engineer looking to make use of it.

This fact gave birth to a brand new challenge, on the opposite side of the spectrum – information overload. With literally hundreds of options on components, and thousands of pages of application notes and reference designs to go through for an optimal decision, how can project timelines be met? 

How Things Have to Adapt

To work efficiently within this ocean of information, engineers need the right information, at the right time, and in the right form. In other words, they need to:

  • Find the best fitting components and the design information that is applicable to their project;

  • Understand the definitions they are looking at and find a consistency to be able to compare the solutions;

  • Quickly visualize, manipulate and experiment with the information they get to generate insights;

  • Readily apply the information to a project, with little-to-no need of manual rework;

  • Be empowered to create great designs independent of their experience level.

Is that even possible? Yes. Are we already there? No. Are we on the right path? I am confident that we are.

You can see the first steps in this direction by looking a bit deeper at how processes around component symbols and footprints are changing. Some companies in the field, such as UltraLibrarian and Samacsys, have created central databases that can be easily browsed and accessed by engineers, and the symbol and footprint data can be downloaded in a variety of different CAD formats, all from the same source. These comply with industry standards such as IPC-7351B and enable even inexperienced engineers to create boards with footprints that are optimized for manufacturing.

To bring application notes and reference designs to the same level, there are many other challenges to be tackled. There is much more information to be taken care of.

We need a data bundle that can support the complexity of the information available on those documents. It needs to enable all the points we mentioned before, and even go beyond them. It needs to be digital, crafted for the technology levels we have available today, and represent the future of application notes and reference designs. At CELUS, we call this a CUBO™.

What Is a CUBO™?

A CUBO™ holds all its information in digital form, which can be queried for and digitally compared. It follows strict definitions of technical terms, categories and interface definitions, just like a hardware description language. Because of its digital nature, it can be shaped, transformed, viewed, calculated, simulated and optimized using software tools, based on requirements and pre-defined variables. We strongly believe CUBOs are the way to go towards smarter and more efficient workflows and invest heavily in technology that can support engineers to extract the most out of them.

Do you want to know more about CUBOs and how you can use them to work more efficiently?

Reach out to the CELUS team to discuss your needs!

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