Integrated circuit designers have been using analog simulation software for over three decades. The difficulty of bread-boarding and high production engineering costs have made the use of such software essential.
For discrete designers the case has not been so clear cut. For them prototyping is straightforward, inexpensive and generally provides an accurate assessment of how the final production version of a circuit will behave. By contrast computer simulation has been seen as slow and prone to inaccuracies stemming from imperfect models.
In recent years, however, the simulation of discrete analog circuits has become more viable. This has come about because of the almost relentless advances in CPU power, the increased availability of device models from their manufacturers and the introduction of easy to use and affordable simulation tools such as SIMetrix.
The pressure to reduce product development time-scales has meant that for many projects the traditional bread-boarding phase is skipped altogether - with or without simulation - and circuit development is carried out on the first revisions of PCB. The use of simulation on a circuit or parts of a circuit can help to eliminate errors in a circuit design prior to this stage and reduce the number of PCB revisions required before the final production version is reached. Of course, to be useful, the simulation process must therefore not be too time consuming.
Computer simulation, does however, have many more uses. There are some things you can do with a simulator which cannot be achieved with practical approaches. You can remove parasitic elements, you can make non-invasive measurements that are impossible in real-life or you can run components outside of their safe operating area. These abilities make simulation a valuable tool for finding out why a particular design does not behave as expected. If the problem can be reproduced on a simulator then its cause can be much more easily identified. Even if a problem cannot be reproduced then this gives some clues. It means that it is caused by something that is not modelled, a wiring parasitic perhaps.
Simulation is extremely useful for testing ideas at the system level. Sometimes it is not easy to test a concept because the hardware to implement it is very costly or time consuming to build. It may even be that you don't know how to implement the idea in hardware at all. The alternative is to design a model and simulate it with a computer. Once it has been established that the concept is viable then attention can be given to its implementation. If it proves not to be viable, then a great deal of time will have been saved.
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