Online Tools

Online Power and Analogue Design Tools Deliver Better Productivity

Mark Cundle, Head of Technical Marketing at RS Components, provides a roundup of some of the industry’s best free online design and product-selection software tools from leading semiconductor vendors that help designers deliver fast power supply, LED and sensor-based designs.

One of the major challenges today in the electronic design environment is the decreasing availability of specialist skills within design teams. Engineers today, and particularly those just out of university, are increasingly expected to have a broad skillset and knowledge base across all electronic engineering disciplines. Engineering departments have been shrinking over the past decade or so, which has meant a loss of these specialists, especially power supply designers and those with expertise in analogue circuitry. Fortunately, leading semiconductor companies have developed free design and product-selection software tools both online and/or for download to help ease some of the problems created by this lack of specialist know-how.

 

WEBENCH

One of the best-known series of free online tools is the WEBENCH suite from Texas Instruments, which offers power and analogue circuit simulation. The tools use powerful software algorithms and visual interfaces that can deliver complete power, lighting or sensing applications in seconds, enabling engineers to makes quick decisions using advanced analysis and simulation capabilities on both a system and Bill-of-Materials (BOM) cost level before committing to a design. Prior to its acquisition by TI in 2011, it was National Semiconductor that originally developed the WEBENCH suite more than a decade or ago. National saw this increasing lack of specialization as a major block to enabling engineers to get the best out of its products, as its technology demanded a high level of power-supply design experience and expertise. Hence the tool was created as a way to quickly and easily produce highly efficient PSUs and it quickly developed into one of the industry’s most powerful free power-supply design tools, while also winning many awards along the way.

The WEBENCH suite has grown over the years to include the ‘Designer’ series of entry-level tools including Power Designer, along with tools for LEDs, sensors and amplifiers, among others. It also has the ‘Architect’ series including LED Architect, Power Architect and other more specific tools for powering processors, FPGAs and system-level power designs. Taking WEBENCH Power Designer as an example, it enables the creation of customized power supplies or DC-DC converters circuits, allowing the solving of switching-power-supply design problems before moving to the prototype stage. For instance, the tool helps engineers find the best switching regulator or MOSFET controller for the power-supply circuit. In addition, analogue design files created by the TI WEBENCH suite of tools, including Power Designer, can be exported to many CAD development platforms. The WEBENCH suite of tools is available at www.ti.com/webench.

 

Signal Chain Designer

A second tool, taking on a strong analogue and mixed-signal focus is Signal Chain Designer from Analog Devices. This is an advanced selection and design environment that enables direct interactive access to verified product combinations and more than 200 tested application circuits, including 50 for sensor-based designs. The reference circuits can be employed to jumpstart a design and then customized to specification; or the tool can be used to create entirely new designs or signal chains, as the company prefers to describe them.

The tool’s drag and drop GUI eases search and selection by providing dynamic recommendations for products, reference designs, engineering tools, evaluation boards and documentation. It also provides direct access to Engineering Zone, which is ADI’s online technical support community. The tools enables the sharing saving and downloading of all design materials, including the project design, application notes, reference circuits and the complete BOM. Signal Chain Designer is available at www.analog.com/scd.

 

LTspice IV

Linear Technology (LTC) also hosts a series of custom design simulation tools and device models on its site, allowing even novice designers to evaluate circuits using high-performance switching regulators, amplifiers, data converters and filters, among many others. LTspice IV is a high-performance SPICE simulator, schematic capture and waveform viewer with enhancements and models for easing the simulation of switching regulators. The company’s enhancements to SPICE have made the simulation of switching regulators extremely fast compared to normal SPICE simulators, allowing the viewing of waveforms for most switching regulators in just a few minutes. Included in the downloadable software are: LTspice IV, macro models for the vast majority of the company’s switching regulators, more than 200 op-amp models, as well as resistors, transistors and MOSFET models.

Also available for download from Linear are LTpowerCAD II and LTpowerPlay, which are aimed at power supply designers. LTpowerCAD II is a complete power supply design program based around the company’s µModule regulators and many other products such as step-down regulators. The tool guides the user throughout the whole design process, searching suitable parts according to user specifications and guiding selection and optimization of circuit component values with suggestions and warnings. The tool shows real-time results of feedback-loop bode plots, as well as power stage performance, and also allow exports to LTspice for further design verification. LTpowerPlay is a development tool for digital power system management based around the company’s PMBus power system manager and DC/DC converter ICs. LTspice IV, LTpowerCAD II and LTpowerPlay are available at www.linear.com/designtools/software.

 

Power Supply WebDesigner

Fairchild Semiconductor’s free web-based tools include Power Supply WebDesigner, which targets those looking to complete an off-line flyback converter design. Following entry of input and output requirements, the tool promises to do the rest. The tool also offers the ability to fine tune parameters for optimized performance and performs detailed analysis and simulations, eliminating the need for a hardware prototype. The Motion Control Design Tool provides motion-control design engineers with efficient means of calculating the power losses and temperature rise in the company’s motion smart power modules. The tool addresses three-phase inverter sinusoidal modulation for variable speed drive applications powering permanent magnet synchronous motors (PMSM) and AC induction motors. Power Supply WebDesigner, and the Motion Control Design Tool are available at www.fairchildsemi.com/support/design-tools.

 

EE-Sim

Another free downloadable design generation and simulation tool is EE-Sim from Maxim. Based upon input requirements, EE-Sim generates an interactive schematic complete with sample components. EE-Sim also features a highly efficient simulation engine, whereby each design iteration can be simulated within a few minutes, and the resulting waveforms, such as Bode plots and voltage graphs are available for analysis in the tool’s waveform viewer. EE-Sim is available at www.maximintegrated.com/ee_sim.

 

GreenPoint Design Tool

On Semiconductor’s GreenPoint tools include a simulation and analysis module. The simulation module provides an interactive design and verification environment, including component selection, simulation and analysis, and download of schematic, BOM, and performance results for DC/DC converter and LED lighting designs. The analysis module provides an interactive environment that analyses product performance, including product selection, loss estimation and a download of performance results. The GreenPoint tools are available at onsemi.transim.com.

 

DesignSpark PCB

The final area to look at is the suite of free downloadable design tools from RS Components. DesignSpark PCB is the company's totally free and award-winning professional software for schematic capture and PCB layout. Launched in 2010, DesignSpark PCB has been quickly established itself as the de facto standard software for sharing circuit design files and offers advanced tools for designers to obtain quotes for the Bill-of-Materials (BOM) and production quotes from PCB manufacturing and assembly subcontractors. Also the latest version of DesignSpark PCB – Version 6.0 was introduced in early 2014 – also integrates cross probe functionality for faster hardware debugging and enhanced support for mechanical IDF file export, which have been introduced to further reduce design times for engineers and to minimise errors during the design process. The software tool’s library manager features an easy-to-use attribute and part number driven interface to the ModelSource component library, which contains more than 80,000 component schematics and footprints of semiconductors, passives and electromechanical components from leading manufacturers.

 

DesignSpark Mechanical

A second tool from RS is DesignSpark Mechanical, which is a brand new 3D concept modelling tool that is available totally free of charge. Developed in conjunction with SpaceClaim, the leading provider of flexible and powerful 3D modelling software for engineers, the highly intuitive DesignSpark Mechanical provides access to more than 38,000 3D models in the extensive DesignSpark online component library. The tool provides all electronics and mechanical engineers the ability to rapidly undertake an end-to-end design with professional-grade modelling tools that are available at zero cost. Both DesignSpark PCB and DesignSpark Mechanical are available for download via designspark.com.

 

RS Toolbox

And a final mention, last but certainly not least, for RS’ latest design tool: the free RS Toolbox app, which was launched at the end of 2013. The company’s first design support app for iOS operating system based mobile devices, RS Toolbox is available free-of-charge and provides a central access point to popular electronic reference materials and calculation and conversion tools in an easy-to-use format for electronics design engineers, hobbyists and students. Currently running on mobile devices including iPads, iPhones and iPod Touch devices from Apple, RS Toolbox offers an extensive range of functions, which are grouped as icons on the main screen, including a multitude of engineering calculators, converters and lookup tables. Included in the functions are filter frequency calculators, a 555-timer configurator, calculators for a variety of voltage regulators and op-amps, and essential tools such as numbering systems converters, Ohm's Law calculator and lookup tables for battery types and sizes. The app offers a high level of customisation and is available in 16 different languages. RS Toolbox is freely downloadable at au.rs-online.com/toolbox.