Thursday, October 17, 2013

Quickly Measure a High Brightness LED’s (HBLED) Forward Electrical Characteristics

It’s not hard to notice (or extremely hard not to notice!) how high brightness LEDs, or HBLEDs, are quickly becoming commonplace all around us in our daily lives. LEDs are no longer relegated to being an indicator light on a display panel. HBLEDs have drastically ratcheted up their output to become sources for illumination.  More and more autos use them for their tail and brake lights. It’s easy to see the “instant on” they have when the auto in front of you hits its brakes, not to mention the deep purity of color they have in comparison to the incandescent predecessors.  They are also turning up in the headlights, the traffic lights, even high power street and parking lot illumination lights, and in countless other places. A lot of testing, characterization, and development work has, and continues to take place, to achieve this level of performance from HBLEDs. This includes making careful measurements of electrical power being provided and the corresponding luminous efficacy outputted, in order to assess its performance.

In my title above I am using the term “quickly” for two reasons in my posting today. First, it is important when trying to capture the forward characteristics of an HBLED that it is performed in a minimum amount of time in order to minimize temperature change due to self-heating.  The temperature an HBLED is running at has in impact on its performance. Minimizing the amount of temperature change improves accuracy of test results in determining the performance of the HBLED, for a given operating temperature. My second reason for using quickly is providing a means to make these HBLED measurements with just a little time and effort.

It turned out using the N6784A four-quadrant SMU module in an N6705B DC power analyzer mainframe worked out really well on both counts of quickly. This set up is depicted in Figure 1.



Figure 1: HBLED test characterization set up

While the N6784A is an extremely fast voltage source it is even a faster current source. With current rise and fall times of just a few microseconds was a simple matter to generate sub-millisecond-long high amplitude pulses of current with fast settling edges to provide the necessary stimulus for performing the forward electrical characterization of the HBLED. This allowed testing to take place in minimum time and avoid significant heating of the HBLED die.

One of the outcomes of the testing is shown in Figure 2, displayed graphically by the 14585A software.  Here a ramped current pulse was used instead of a flat top pulse. The HBLED’s voltage and current were simultaneously digitized as the current was ramped up. This gave a way of characterizing the HBLED’s forward voltage drop for all levels of drive current, from zero to maximum.



Figure 2: HBLED forward characterization results
The N6705B DC Power Analyzer mainframe and 14585A companion software made quick work of the setup, testing, and display of results.  A ramp waveform from the library of pre-defined ARBs was selected and used to generate the current ramp. In this instance it was set to ramp up to 1.2 amps in 1 millisecond. The oscilloscope mode was used to set up the simultaneous capture of voltage and current, synchronized to the current ramp stimulus. As voltage and current were captured it is also a simple matter to display the power, being the point-by-point product of the voltage and current. The electrical power in can then be correlated with a light output measurement on the HBLED for evaluating its performance.

Not only is this setup able to measure the HBLED’s forward characteristics, as the N6784A can source negative voltage and measure down to nanoamp levels it can quickly test the HBLED’s reverse leakage characteristics as well.

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