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Power Electronics

Power Management Basics: Power Supply Characteristics

A power supply’s characteristics influence the design of a power management subsystem. Two major characteristics are efficiency and performance over its specified temperature range, which may require cooling. Also, there are important characteristics that protect the power supply and its load from damage, such as overcurrent, overtemperature, and overvoltage, etc. Then, there are operating parameters that describe a power supply’s performance, like drift, dynamic response, line regulation, load regulation, etc.

Efficiency determines the thermal and electrical losses in the system, as well as the amount of cooling required. Also, it impacts the physical package sizes of both the power supply and the final end-item system. Plus, it affects the operating temperatures of system components and the resultant system reliability. These factors contribute to the determination of the total system cost, both hardware and field support. Power supply data sheets usually include a plot of efficiency vs. output current, as shown in Figure 2-1. This plot shows that efficiency varies with the power supply’s applied voltage as well as the output load current.

Efficiency, reliability, and operating temperature are inter-related. Power supply data sheets usually include specific airflow and heat sink requirements. For example, the ambient operating temperature affects the output load current that the power supply can handle reliably. Derating curves for the power supply (Figure 2-2) indicate its reliable operating current vs. temperature. Figure 2-2 shows how much current the supply can be safely handle if it is operating with natural convection, or 200 LFM and 400 LFM.

Protecting the Supply

There are several other characteristics that impact power supply operation. Among these are those employed to protect the supply, which are listed below.

Overcurrent: A failure mode caused by output load current that is greater than specified. It is limited by the maximum current capability of the power supply and controlled by internal protection circuits. It can also damage the power supply in some cases. Short circuits between the power supply output and ground can create currents within the system that are limited only by the maximum current capability and internal impedance of the power supply. Without limiting, this high current can cause overheating and damage the power supply as well as the load and its interconnects (p.c. board traces, cables). Therefore, most power supplies should have current limiting (overcurrent protection) that activates if the output current exceeds a specified maximum.

Overtemperature: A temperature that is above the power supply’s specified value must be prevented or it can cause power supply failure. Excessive operating temperature can damage a power supply and the circuits connected to it. Therefore, many supplies employ a temperature sensor and associated circuits to disable the supply if its operating temperature exceeds a specific value. In particular, semiconductors used in the supply are vulnerable to temperatures beyond their specified limits. Many supplies include overtemperature protection that turns off the supply if the temperature exceeds the specified limit.

Overvoltage: This failure mode occurs if the output voltage goes above the specified dc value, which can impose excessive dc voltage that damages the load circuits. Typically, electronic system loads can withstand up to 20% overvoltage without incurring any permanent damage. If this is a consideration, select a supply that minimizes this risk. Many supplies include overvoltage protection that turns the supply off if the output voltage exceeds a specified amount. Another approach is a crowbar zener diode that conducts enough current at the overvoltage threshold so that it activates the power supply current limiting and it shuts down.

Soft Start: Inrush current limitation may be needed when power is first applied or when new boards are hot plugged. Typically, this is achieved by a soft-start circuit that slows the initial rise of current and then allows normal operation. If left untreated the inrush current can generate a high peak charging current that impacts the output voltage. If this is an important consideration, select a supply with this feature.

Undervoltage Lockout: Known as UVLO, it turns the supply on when it reaches a high enough input voltage and turns off the supply if the input voltage falls below a certain value. This feature is used for supplies operating from utility power as well as battery power. When operated from battery-based power UVLO disables the power supply (as well as the system) if the battery discharges so much that it drops supply’s input voltage too low to permit reliable operation.

Power Factor Correction (PFC): Applicable only to ac-dc power supplies. The relationship between the ac power line voltage and current is called power factor. For a purely resistive load on the power line, voltage and current are in phase and the power factor is 1.0. However, when an ac-dc power supply is placed on the power line, the voltage-current phase difference increases and power factor decreases because the process of rectifying and filtering the ac input upsets the relationship between voltage and current on the power line. When this occurs it reduces power supply efficiency and generates harmonics that can cause problems for other systems connected to the same power line. Power factor correction (PFC) circuits modify the relationship between power line voltage and current, by making them closer to being in phase. This improves the power factor, reduces the harmonics and improves the power supply’s efficiency. If power line harmonics are important, choose a supply with PFC that has a power factor of 0.9 or higher.

Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC)

Manufactured power supplies must employ design techniques that provide electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) by minimizing electromagnetic interference (EMI). In switch-mode power supplies, a dc voltage is converted to a chopped or a pulsed waveform. This causes the power supply to generate narrow-band noise (EMI) at the fundamental of the switching frequency and its associated harmonics. To contain the noise, manufacturers must minimize radiated or conducted emissions.

Power supply manufacturers minimize EMI radiation by enclosing the supply in a metal box or spray coating the case with a metallic material. Manufacturers also need to pay attention to the internal layout of the supply and the wiring that goes in and out of the supply, which can generate noise.

Most of the conducted interference on the power line is the result of the main switching transistor or output rectifiers. With power factor correction and proper transformer design, connection of the heat sink, and filter design, the power supply manufacturer can reduce conducted interference so that the supply can achieve EMI regulatory agency approvals without incurring excessive filter cost. Always check to see that the power supply manufacturer meets the requirement of the regulatory EMI standards.

Regulatory Standards

Compliance with national or international standards is usually required by individual nations. Different nations can require compliance with different standards. These standards attempt to standardize product’s EMC performance with respect to EMI. Among the regulatory standards are:

• Electromagnetic disturbance characteristics - Limits and methods of measurement.
• Electromagnetic compatibility - Requirements for household appliances
• Radio disturbance characteristics - Limits and methods of measurement for the protection of receivers except those installed in the vehicle/boat/device itself or in adjacent vehicles/boats/devices.
• Specification for radio disturbance and immunity measurement apparatus and methods

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Several characteristics affect power supply performance.

Drift: The variation in dc output voltage as a function of time at constant line voltage, load, and ambient temperature.

Dynamic Response: A power supply may be employed in a system where there is a requirement to provide fast dynamic response to a change in load power. That can be the case for the load of high-speed microprocessors with power management functions. In this case, the microprocessor may be in a standby state and upon command it must start up or turn off immediately, which imposes high dynamic currents with fast ramp rates on the power supply. To accommodate the microprocessor, the supply’s output voltage must ramp up or down within a specified time interval, but without excessive overshoot.

Efficiency: Ratio of output-to-input power (in percent), measured at a given load current with nominal line conditions (Pout/Pin).

Hold up Time: Time during which a power supply's output voltage remains within specification following the loss of input power.

Inrush Current: Peak instantaneous input current drawn by a power supply at turn-on.

International Standards: Specify a power supply’s safety requirements and allowable EMI (electromagnetic interference) levels.

Isolation: Electrical separation between the input and output of a power supply measured in volts. A non-isolated has a dc path between the input and output of supply, whereas an isolated power supply employs a transformer to eliminate the dc path between input and output.

Line Regulation: Change in value of dc output voltage resulting from a change in ac input voltage, specified as the change in ± mV or ± %.

Load Regulation: Change in value of dc output voltage resulting from a change in load from open circuit to maximum rated output current, specified as the change in ± mV or ± %.

Output Noise: This can occur in the power supply in the form of short bursts of high frequency energy. The noise is caused by charging and discharging of parasitic capacitances within the power supply during its operating cycle. Its amplitude is variable and can depend on the load impedance, external filtering, and how it is measurement.

Output Voltage Trim: Most power supplies have the ability to “trim” the output voltage, whose adjustment range does not need to be large, usually about ±10%. One common usage is to compensate for the dc distribution voltage drop within the system. Trimming can either be upward or downward from the nominal setting using an external resistor or potentiometer.

Periodic and random deviation (PARD)
Unwanted periodic (ripple) or aperiodic (noise) deviation of the power supply output voltage from its nominal value. PARD is expressed in mV peak-to-peak or rms, at a specified bandwidth.

Peak Current
The maximum current that a power supply can provide for brief periods.

Peak Power
The absolute maximum output power that a power supply can produce without damage. It is typically well beyond the continuous reliable output power capability and should only be used infrequently.

Power Supply Sequencing: Sequential turn-on and off of power supplies may be required in systems with multiple operating voltages. That is, voltages must be applied in a specific sequence otherwise the system can be damaged. For example, after applying the first voltage and it reaches a specific value, a second voltage can be ramped up, and so on. Sequencing works in reverse when power is removed, although speed is not usually as much of a problem as turn-on.

Remote On/Off : This is preferred over switches to turn power supplies on and off. Power supply data sheet specifications usually detail the dc parameters for remote on/off, listing the on and off logic levels required.

Remote Sense: A typical power supply monitors its output voltage and feeds a portion of it back to the supply to provide voltage regulation. In this way, if the output tends to rise or fall, the feedback regulates the supply’s output voltage. However, to maintain a constant output at the load, the power supply should actually monitor the voltage at the load. But, connections from a power supply’s output to its load have resistance and current flowing through them produces a voltage drop that creates a voltage difference between the supply’s output and the actual load. For the optimal regulation, the voltage fed back to the power supply should be the actual load voltage. The supply’s two (plus and minus) remote sense connections monitor the actual load voltage, a portion if which is then fed back to the supply with very little voltage drop because the current through the two remote sense connections is very low. As a consequence, the voltage applied to the load is regulated.

Ripple: Rectifying and filtering a switching power supply’s output results in an ac component (ripple) that rides on its dc output. Ripple frequency is some integral multiple of the converter’s switching frequency, which depends on the converter topology. Ripple is relatively unaffected by load current, but can be decreased by external capacitor filtering.

When using multiple output power supplies whereby one or more outputs follow another with changes in line, load and temperature, so that each maintains the same proportional output voltage, within specified tracking tolerance, with respect to a common value.

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