Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How does power supply overvoltage protection work?

In past posts, I’ve written about what overvoltage protection (OVP) is (click here), where it is sensed (click here), and its history (click here). Today I want to cover a little about how it works inside the power supply.

As a quick review, OVP is a built-in power supply feature that protects the device under test (DUT) from excessive voltage by shutting down the power supply output if it senses voltage that exceeds the OVP setting. Depending on the power supply design, the voltage may be sensed at the output terminals or at the sense terminals.

Most of Agilent’s older power supplies sense OVP at the output terminals and use a simple analog comparator circuit to determine when the output exceeds the OVP threshold set by the user. The OVP threshold is translated into an overvoltage reference voltage (OVref) that could come from a simple divider with a potentiometer for adjustment (uncalibrated and rather crude) or from a more sophisticated calibrated digital-to-analog converter (DAC) voltage. When the comparator sees the scaled output voltage exceed the OVref voltage, the overvoltage trip (OVtrip) signal is generated which shuts down the power supply output and, on some designs, fires an SCR across the output. See Figure 1 for a simplified representation of this arrangement.

Some of our newer designs look for an overvoltage condition on the sense terminals for better accuracy. In this scheme, the sense voltage feeds one comparator input through a differential amplifier while the other comparator input is driven by the user-set calibrated OVref voltage. See Figure 2. An output terminal OVP as described above must also be used as a backup with these designs (not shown in Figure 2) because some OV conditions are not caught when sensing OV on the sense terminals. For example, if the sense leads are shorted together, the output voltage will go up uncontrolled yet the sense voltage will remain at zero volts.

Some other OVP designs use a calibrated analog-to-digital converter (ADC) on either the output terminal voltage or the sense terminal voltage and compare the measured digital data to the user’s threshold setting. See Figure 3. To avoid nuisance OVP shutdowns, this scheme frequently requires several analog-to-digital conversions in a row exceed the threshold (for example, 4). This adds a minor delay to the OVP response time. With fast ADC conversion rates, the OVP response can still be just a few tens of microseconds and it is worth spending a little extra time to gain immunity against nuisance tripping. For example, the Agilent N6781A uses this technique. Since it does an ADC conversion every 5 us and requires 4 consecutive conversions exceed the OVP threshold to cause a shutdown, it will trip in less than 30 us.

So you can see that there are various ways to implement overvoltage protection. In all cases, rest assured that your DUT is protected against excessive voltage when using Agilent power supplies!

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