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Power Integrity Pioneer: Steve Sandler Is 2023 DesignCon Engineer of the Year

Image courtesy of Spencer Chin sandlerdesigncon.jpg
Steve Sandler (right), founder of Picotest, was chosen as DesignCon’s Engineer of the Year for his pioneering work in power integrity. On the left is Naomi Price, DesignCon’s Conference Director, who presented the award.
The latest DesignCon Engineer of the Year winner discusses how decades of power engineering work led to innovative work in power integrity.

For many years, power systems could be easily boiled down to a discussion of volts and amps. But for the past decade, the move to higher operating frequencies has brought another wrinkle to the power supply equation: power integrity. A key contributor to this rapidly emerging science is Steve Sandler, who received the award for 2023 DesignCon Engineer of the Year.

Sandler was chosen from a strong pool of candidates that included Walter Katz, Chief Scientist of MathWorks; Casey Morrison, Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder of Astera Labs; Larry Smith, Principal Signal Integrity Engineer for Micron; and Kenneth Wyatt, Principal Consultant of Wyatt Technical Services LLC. Sandler is no stranger to DesignCon, having given numerous papers and chairing many sessions at DesignCon for years.

In winning the Engineer of the Year award, Sandler received a $1,000 grant, which he has decided to donate to Cambridge University.

For Sandler, the science of power integrity is something that has emerged over the past decade of a long career in power systems engineering that has spanned more than 40 years. Sandler is the founder of Picotest, a company specializing in power integrity solutions including measurement products, services, and training.

In a recent interview, Sandler told Design News that power systems was not something he originally planned to go into. Sandler’s first foray in electronics was with audio electronics, as he first dabbled in audio systems in the 1970s when he lived in Long Island in New York state. At the time, the avionics industry was thriving in the region, so Sandler soon started working at a company called Aerospace Avionics in Bohemia, working on power electronics systems for the Space Shuttle program. This was the beginning of Sandler’s long career in power systems engineering.

For the next two decades, Sandler hopped between several power systems companies, including a consulting stint at Space Systems/Loral. It was during this period that circuits started to miniaturize substantially as signal speeds increased, and effects such as noise and ringing became more pronounced in power systems, baffling many engineers.

 “This was when I started realizing that high speed was affecting power supplies,” Sandler said. “But many power supply engineers could not see the problem using traditional oscilloscopes. Power engineers didn’t understand phase noise.”

Sandler founded Picotest, based in Phoenix, AZ, in 2010, and has been busy running the company ever since as the challenges of power integrity have grown as rising operating frequencies and denser electronics exacerbate power integrity issues. Sandler frequently leads workshops internationally on the topics of power, PDN and distributed systems, and authored the book, Power Integrity Using ADS, from Faraday Press in 2019. He also founded AEi Systems, a well-established leader in worst case circuit analysis and troubleshooting of high reliability systems.

Power integrity issues are going away no time soon, according to Sandler. Attributing the problem to a lack of understanding of the causes and symptoms, Sandler said, “No one knows how to make measurements.” He noted that in one case, engineers found it mind-boggling when told they were using the wrong cable.

Sandler said there is more hope now, as more people are starting to recognize there are power integrity issues. He added that at the university level, more education and research is taking place on power integrity.

Spencer Chin is a Senior Editor for Design News covering the electronics beat. He has many years of experience covering developments in components, semiconductors, subsystems, power, and other facets of electronics from both a business/supply-chain and technology perspective. He can be reached at [email protected]

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