Microchip: Creating Embedded Systems Takes a Coordinated Approach



Embedded systems design is a diverse field and one that is constantly evolving. An embedded solutions provider must be able to offer a full range of leading technologies and comprehensive design support. Microchip’s strategy of organic growth and acquisitions enables it to offer a broad range of products and technologies. In combination with the industry’s only no-commission sales and applications-engineering team, Microchip is focused on providing technical support and solutions for engineers that deliver the freedom to innovate.

Embedded design is being driven by innovation at a relentless pace. Designs have to be faster, smaller, lower power and more cost effective than earlier generations. Embedded solutions must be flexible in terms of technology offerings, development support and manufacturing, to meet the designers’ needs for increased integration and programmability. They must also support the various connectivity options in use today, such as Controller Area Networks (CAN), Local Interconnect Networks (LIN), Ethernet, Wi-Fi®, IEEE 802.15.4/ZigBee® and Bluetooth®, along with a host of newer protocols like the long-range and low-power LoRa® wireless standard.

Microchip is a complete embedded control solutions provider. It is the only company currently offering—and innovating—in 8-bit, 16-bit and 32-bit microcontrollers (MCUs). Its extensive portfolio also encompasses a range of other products, including analog, mixed-signal, wired and wireless networking, memory and timing devices, along with an extensive selection of hardware and software development tools. Uniquely, all of Microchip’s more than 1,400 PIC® microcontrollers, and most of its memory devices, are supported by a single tool chain, so an engineer only needs to learn one Integrated Development Environment—the MPLAB® X IDE.

Figure 1: Microchip offers embedded control with a broad portfolio of specialty devices, which it is continually growing through both internal development and strategic acquisitions.

Figure 1: Microchip offers embedded control with a broad portfolio of specialty devices, which it is continually growing through both internal development and strategic acquisitions.

This diverse scope offered by a single company is the result of both organic growth and acquisition. Microchip’s steady and strategic acquisition path has added to each sector served by the company. For example, in 2010, the acquisition of SST brought high-density Flash devices and IP to the Microchip stable. For human-machine interface (HMI) applications, a portfolio of touchscreen and touchpad controllers, which came from the acquisition of Hampshire in 2008, was supplemented with gesture-recognition capabilities when Microchip bought Ident in 2012. Additional Bluetooth and Wi-Fi solutions were added with the acquisition of Roving Networks and ISSC in 2012 and 2014, respectively. Last year, the high-voltage analog and mixed-signal range of products from Supertex joined the Microchip portfolio. Most recently, this year’s acquisition of Micrel added more power management, Local Area Network (LAN), Micro Electromechanical Systems (MEMS), timing and clock devices to the company’s range of products.

This breadth of technology from a single source provides customers with the freedom to innovate in embedded design, integrating many capabilities into a single embedded solution. Yet, despite the range, design engineers can use a single, universal IDE for development with Microchip’s ICs and modules.

Figure 2: A single, universal IDE allows working across the entire Microchip microcontroller range without having to learn a set of tools for each bit width.

Figure 2: A single, universal IDE allows working across the entire Microchip microcontroller range without having to learn a set of tools for each bit width.

Development tools

The free MPLAB X Integrated Development Environment provides a single platform on which users can develop code for Microchip’s entire portfolio of PIC MCUs and dsPIC® Digital Signal Controllers (DSCs), along with most of its memory devices. Offering support for multiple debug and programming tools, this IDE helps designers focus on creating innovative products rather than spending time learning a new design tool whenever they change devices.

MPLAB X IDE runs on the Windows®, Mac® and Linux operating systems. It is the central development hub, working in tandem with Microchip’s MPLAB XC compilers, as well as integrated programmer’s editors, source-level debuggers and project-management capabilities. The broad range of compatible Microchip and third-party ecosystem software choices include compilers, Real-Time Operating Systems (RTOS) and wireless control software. Compatible hardware programmer/debuggers are equally plentiful, including a selection of MPLAB Starter Kits, as well as the universal PICkit™ 3 Programmer/Debugger, the MPLAB ICD 3 In-Circuit Debugger and the MPLAB REAL ICE™ In-Circuit Emulator. Plug-ins for the MPLAB X IDE, which is based on the open-source NetBeans platform, include an RTOS Viewer, PC Lint as well as data monitor and control interfaces.

Microchip’s MPLAB XC Compilers integrate with the MPLAB X IDE to provide a full graphical front end that produces highly optimized code. In addition to the free compiler’s optimizations, advanced optimizations can be unlocked with a PRO or Standard license, depending on the designer’s specific needs and budget. An optional compiler subscription model will soon be introduced to allow users to access the PRO compilers on an as-needed basis.

Demo and evaluation kits include microsticks, motion-sensing demo boards, multimedia expansion boards, remote-control demo boards, Wi-Fi demo boards, a digital power starter kit, as well as over 200 tools from third-party partners. Of particular note is the latest addition to the Microchip-based offerings for the Internet of Things, the chipKIT™ Wi-Fire development board by Digilent. It is based on the powerful PIC32MZ and Microchip’s Wi-Fi modules, and is fully Arduino™ compatible, including pin compatibility with Arduino shields. The chipKIT Wi-FIRE can be programmed directly from within the Arduino IDE, using the free chipKIT-core download, or by using the MPLAB X IDE, when programming in C.  Additionally, Microchip’s chipKIT Platform Sketch Importer is a plug-in that allows for source debugging of chipKIT platform-based Arduino sketches within MPLAB X.

Another recent innovation is Microchip’s MPLAB Code Configurator, a free, graphical programming environment. It plugs into the MPLAB X IDE and generates seamless C code via an intuitive interface for insertion into a project to configure a set of peripherals and functions. It frees up time, so the engineer can focus on creating a unique design, rather combing through data sheets and writing code to implement basic functionality.

Commitment to MCU development

There are many microcontroller manufacturers that have abandoned 8-bit MCUs to focus on providing 32-bit devices, yet Microchip realizes that this is still a vital product area. The company still drives innovation in 8-bit MCUs and continues to include them in its product offering of over 1,400 microcontrollers. The company rarely designates a product as end-of-life. In fact, engineers still can and do buy the first MCUs produced by the company when it was established in 1989.

There are over 1,000 8-bit PIC MCUs available from Microchip that come in a range of performance, memory and cost options. Some feature on-chip intelligent analog capabilities, including op amps, comparators, Analog-to-Digital Converters (ADCs) and specialized peripherals, together with internal interconnects to maximize on-chip resources. The operating range is predominantly 1.8 – 5V, with sub-volt capability available via companion chips. To extend battery life, some 8-bit MCUs feature eXtreme Low Power (XLP) technology that offers the industry’s lowest sleep and active power consumption mode currents.

The versatile 8-bit MCUs can be integrated into systems to maximize functionality at a low cost and without increasing system complexity. They are used in LED and fluorescent lighting for domestic, office and retail settings, as well as in automotive, flashlights and emergency lighting applications. They also deliver various connectivity options: CAN and LIN for industrial and automotive communications; USB connectivity for security dongles, portable handheld devices, remote control devices, computer mice and keyboards and medical devices; Ethernet for home, office and industrial automation; and wireless connectivity for products ranging from key fobs to the latest wearable health and fitness devices.

A thriving market, particularly in consumer products, is Human Machine Interfaces (HMI). Microchip’s 8-bit MCUs are integrated with peripherals that are used in capacitive-touch applications such as keys, buttons and sliders, as well as in access control devices and consumer electronics. They are also used in resistive and capacitive touchscreens found in Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) and navigation displays. Other displays using 8-bit MCUs are segmented Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs), Organic LEDs (OLEDs) and simple, graphical information displays.

Core Independent Peripherals

Illustrating Microchip’s philosophy of constant innovation, the latest 8-bit PIC MCUs take performance to a new level by incorporating Core Independent Peripherals (Figure 3). Core Independent Peripherals are on-chip modules designed to handle their tasks with no code or supervision from the CPU. Recently introduced 8-bit MCUs feature Complementary Waveform Generators (CWGs) and Complementary Output Generators (COGs), while other peripherals include several different timers, high-endurance Flash memory, a math accelerator, Configurable Logic Cells (CLC) and multiple 16-bit Pulse Width Modulators (PWMs), each with an independent timer, which is targeted at driving RGBW LEDs. Core Independent Peripherals combine to simplify the implementation of complex application functions, giving designers the flexibility to innovate without sacrificing board space or power consumption, and without requiring large amounts of code and processor performance.

Figure 3: Microchip’s unique core-independent peripherals interconnect to deterministically and autonomously perform functions in hardware, allowing the Central Processor Unit (CPU) to do other tasks or simply sleep.

Figure 3: Microchip’s unique core-independent peripherals interconnect to deterministically and autonomously perform functions in hardware, allowing the Central Processor Unit (CPU) to do other tasks or simply sleep.

Power Management Technology

Like the 8-bit MCUs, Microchip’s 16-bit MCUs use XLP technology, allowing them to run longer and save power, particularly in battery-operated end products. XLP PIC24 MCUs have sleep currents down to 9 nA and run currents as low as 150 µA/MHz, to extend battery life and reduce energy consumption.  The latest XLP devices offer an integrated hardware crypto engine to securely transfer and store large volumes of data using Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), Data Encryption Standard (DES) and triple DES (3DES) protection.

A key focus area for this category of MCUs is the integration of intelligent analog peripherals such as precision ADCs, DACs, op amps and voltage references. As more displays are being integrated into embedded systems, 16-bit MCUs are able to reduce the component count, with a single chip being used in segmented or graphical displays.

In factory and industrial settings, 16-bit dsPIC DSCs are used for motor control, where specialized PWM peripherals can create tailored solutions for BLDC, PMSM and ACIM motors, including sensorless and field-oriented control, supported by an extensive assortment of development tools and application notes.

For digital-power applications, the 16-bit dsPIC DSCs feature fast and flexible PWMs and integrated ADCs to boost system performance with high-speed control loop execution. In automotive design, 16-bit MCUs enable CAN 2.0 connectivity and support temperatures up to 150C.

32-bit Connectivity Engines

The integrated connectivity options offered by Microchip’s 32-bit PIC MCUs (see Figure 4) make them particularly suitable for use in automotive designs, as well as in consumer, industrial, security and diagnostics applications. The scalable PIC32MX and PIC32MZ families include options that provide up to six UARTs, six SPI/I²S ports and five I²C buses, as well as single or dual CAN modules. Other connectivity options are high-speed and full-speed USB, integrated 10/00 Ethernet and software solutions for USB, TCP/IP, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. To protect all the data being transmitted and received, some devices in the PIC32MZ family also offer an optional hardware crypto engine.

There are also scalable memory options, with program Flash up to 2 MB, and RAM up to 512 KB, engineered for developing more intuitive Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs), faster Ethernet connectivity and the ability to run multiple communications stacks.

Figure 4: High-performance embedded-control applications demand a range of connectivity and interface options, which are supported by Microchip 32-bit MCUs.

Figure 4: High-performance embedded-control applications demand a range of connectivity and interface options, which are supported by Microchip 32-bit MCUs.

PIC32 MCUs also feature exceptional perfomance. Boasting a CoreMark™ score of 3.28 CoreMarks/MHz, the PIC32 MCUs are able to drive high-impact graphics and user interfaces, as well as support high-performance audio and a broad range of other multitasking embedded-control applications.  Additionally, they offer DMIPS performance up to 1.65 DMIPS/MHz and an integrated Floating Point Unit (FPU) that allows for fast single and double-precision math.

Integrating 32-bit Software, Licensing and Support

A large ecosystem supports development with the PIC32 family of products, including the MPLAB X IDE. The MPLAB Harmony Integrated Software Framework is a flexible, abstracted, fully integrated firmware development platform for PIC32 microcontrollers.  It takes key elements of modular and object oriented design, adds in the flexibility to use an RTOS or work without one, and provides a framework of software modules that are easy to use, configurable for your specific needs, and that work together in complete harmony. Third-party tools and software are also available, and Microchip provides one-stop shopping for the licensing and support of all Harmony software—whether from Microchip or one of its partners.

Putting Microchip to Work

Diverse application areas are served by Microchip’s broad portfolio. As illustrated earlier in Figure 1, the company has benefited from both organic growth and growth by acquisition. The result today is a company that provides one-stop shopping for embedded systems designers.

Its portfolio of MCUs, Digital Signal Controllers, mixed-signal, analog and interface products is complemented with wireless and RF products, non-volatile EEPROM and Flash memory products, SRAM, and clock and timing solutions. These can be combined to create designs for a number of markets, from automotive to wearable technology, from networked devices to computing, where low-power operation and differentiation through innovative features are a driving force.

New markets are emerging and presenting new demands. A single source, with a reputation for reliable, innovative and varied products that can be embedded within a single design environment will accelerate adoption in these areas. For example, Microchip’s product selection is well suited to meet the needs of designers in the burgeoning medical device market. Solutions that deliver low power, connectivity, touch and input sensing, and wireless operation are required for portable medical products, as well as portable and wearable healthcare devices (Figure 5). Microchip’s selection of MCUs, memory products, analog devices, power management devices, controllers and drivers can meet many of the requirements for these designs.

Figure 5: Wearable technology relies on wireless connectivity, low-power operation and small form factors, characteristics provided by PIC MCUs with XLP technology, as well as Microchip’s diverse portfolio of wireless modules and ICs.

Figure 5: Wearable technology relies on wireless connectivity, low-power operation and small form factors, characteristics provided by PIC MCUs with XLP technology, as well as Microchip’s diverse portfolio of wireless modules and ICs.

Similarly, home appliances now feature wireless connectivty, capacitive touchscreens, motor control and energy measurement – all of which are served by Microchip’s broad portfolio. Applications such as smart-energy utility meters, home area networks, and renewable-energy micro inverters and communications all rely on a range of power-conscious, mixed-signal, wireless and RF products. Additionally, power monitoring for IT and data centers utlize AC/DC power supplies and power distribution units with embedded power-monitoring solutions that employ both digital and analog power-conversion ICs, along with measurement devices.

In vehicles, increased fuel efficiency, comfort and safety, as well as connectivity for ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) and infortainment, all require the performance and flexibility of a complete embedded control solutions portfolio. With features such extended temperature support and AEC-Q100 qualification, PIC MCUs offer the design engineer the means to innovate and differentiate with HMIs, lighting, safety systems and CO² reduction in engine-management systems.

Just as Microchip’s portfolio continues to serve new, and even overlooked application areas, with its support for 8-bit MCUs, the company also ensures that established markets, such as computing, are continually served with innovative products. Examples of these applications include MCUs and embedded controllers for keyboard control, power sequencing, battery management, touch or proximity sensing in computing applications, as well as connectivity via USB hubs and Ethernet adapters, to name a few.

With its forward-looking focus on innovation, Microchip is able to offer a diverse portfolio that encompasses analog, mixed-signal, wireless and RF, as well as solid memory products. Once learned, Microchip’s universal tool chain enables an engineer to focus on innovation while reducing development time. All of these elements combine to provide Microchip’s customers with the freedom to innovate in their products and technologies, in response to the ever-changing market needs.

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