Showing posts with label DC electronic load. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DC electronic load. Show all posts

Monday, February 9, 2015

Consider using an electronic load for generating fast, high-power current pulses

Often there is the need for generating high-power current pulses, typically of short duration, and having rise and fall times on the order of microseconds. This is a common need when testing many types of power semiconductors, for example.

When looking for a DC power supply capable of generating very fast, high-power current pulses, one will find there are not a lot of options readily available that are capable of addressing their needs. There are specialized products dedicated for specific applications like this; an example of this is Keysight’s B1505A purpose-built semiconductor test equipment. They are capable of generating extremely fast, high-power current pulses.

Apart from specialized products however, DC power supplies generally to not offer this kind of speed when operating in a constant current mode (or current priority mode). One exception that comes to mind that we provide is our N6782A and N6782A DC source measure modules. They can create fast current pulses having just a couple of microseconds of rise and fall time. However, they are limited to 20V, 3A, and 20W of output. Most of the higher power, more general-purpose DC sources are not able to generate these kinds of fast, high-power current pulses and most are really more optimized to operate as voltage sources.

One alternative to consider for generating fast, high-power current pulses when working with general-purpose test equipment is to use an electronic load. You may initially say to yourself “an electronic load is for drawing pulses of current, not sourcing them!” but when coupled to a standard DC power supply operating as a voltage source, the setup is able to source fast, high-power current pulses. Most electronic loads are designed to have very fast current response. To illustrate this, I helped one customer needing to test their high brightness LED (HBLED) arrays with fast pulses of current. This was accomplished with the setup shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Load setup generating fast, high power current pulses for LED array testing

In this setup the power supply operates as a fixed, static voltage source. The power supply’s output voltage is set to the combined total of the full voltage needed to drive the HBLED array at full current plus the minimum voltage needed for the electronic load. The minimum voltage required for the electronic load is when it conducting maximum current and most of the power supply voltage is then applied across the HBLED array. The electronic load’s required minimum voltage is that which supports its operation in its linear range and maintains full dynamic response characteristics. In the case of Keysight electronic loads this minimum voltage for linear dynamic operation is 3 volts.  Conversely the maximum voltage required for the electronic load is when it drops down to minimum current level, where the power supply’s voltage is instead now being dropped across the electronic load instead of the HBLED array. Note that the electronic load may need to maintain a very small amount of bleed current to maintain linear operation in order to provide truly fast rise and fall times. In this way the electronic load is able to regulate the current across the full range with excellent dynamic response. This can be seen in Figure 2 where we were able to achieve approximately 15 microsecond rise time right from the start.

Figure 2: Pulsed current rise time in HBLED array

One advantage of this setup is the wide range of voltage and power that can be furnished to the DUT using a relatively low power electronic load. A common characteristic of electronic loads is that they can dissipate a given amount of power over an extended range of current and voltage. When the electronic load is at maximum current it is at minimum voltage. Conversely when it is near or at zero current it is then at its maximum voltage. In both cases there is only a small amount of power that the electronic load needs to dissipate. For an HBLED array it does not conduct a lot of current until it reaches about 75% of its full operating voltage. As a result the electronic load does not see a lot of power even on a transient basis. For this particular situation we chose to use the Keysight N3303A 240V, 10A, 250W electronic load. This gave a wide range of voltage, current, and power for testing a comparably wide range of different HBLED array assemblies.

So next time you need to source fast, high-power current pulses, you may want to think “load” instead of “source”!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why does an electronic load draw a pulse of current when a voltage is initially applied?

We recently had a customer contact us about one of our electronic loads. He had a solid state switch in series with a fixed output voltage source (for example, 50 V) and set the load to a fixed current (for example, 1 A). He used a current probe and a scope to observe the current flowing into the electronic load. When the switch changed from open to closed he saw a pulse of current flowing into the load that was significantly higher than the load set value before the load settled to the set value of 1 A. He was wondering if this was normal. It is normal. Here’s why:

The electronic loads have a snubber network across their input terminals. The snubber typically consists of a resistor in series with a capacitor. For example, the Keysight N3304A electronic load has 2.2 uF in series with about 2 ohms. The snubber network is there to maintain stability on the load input for all settings and operating modes. When the customer’s switch was closed, the initially discharged capacitor in the snubber pulled a pulse of current to begin charging. If the dV/dt of the load input voltage waveform was infinitely fast, the cap would initially look like a short and the initial current pulse would be limited by the resistor as I = V/R. In this example, the current pulse would have been 50 V / 2 ohms = 25 A. But he was seeing a much smaller current pulse: around 2.4 A instead of 25 A, but still higher than the expected set value of 1 A. This means the dV/dt was not infinite (the solid state switch had a finite risetime). In this case, the current pulse would be limited by the dV/dt of the input voltage waveform.

As an example, see Figure 1 below showing the input voltage and input current for an N3304A load. The voltage rises from 0 V to 50 V over about 75 us and the fastest part of the risetime is about 1V/us. Since I = C dV/dt, and for this electronic load, C = 2.2 uF, the peak of the current is calculated to be 2.2 uF x 1V/us = 2.2 A. The plot shows it to be about 2.4 A, so this is close to the expected peak value. As the dV/dt of the input voltage slows down, the current drops from its peak and approaches zero amps as the dV/dt slows to zero (horizontal). (Note that in the plot below, the load was set for zero current.)

So you can see that the current flowing into the input of an electronic load may not be simply the DC setting you expect. If you apply a dynamic voltage waveform to the input, the RC snubber network will also draw some current for a short time until the voltage applied to the load input stabilizes. There is another factor involved here that is worth mentioning but I will not cover in detail in this post since it is a secondary effect in this case. In this customer’s situation, the load was set for 1 A and initially had no voltage on it (his solid state switch was open). The load was trying to draw current by turning on its input FETs, but there was no voltage applied, so the load went to an unregulated state. When the voltage finally appeared (the solid state switch was closed), the FETs that were turned on hard had to recover and take a finite amount of time to begin regulating the set current. This effect can also contribute to brief, temporary unexpected current draw by the load when a voltage is suddenly applied to the input.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Upcoming Webinar on High Power Source/Sink Solutions for Testing Bidirectional Energy Devices

Bidirectional and regenerative energy devices both source and sink power and energy. Correspondingly, a solution that can both source and sink power and energy is needed for properly testing them. In the past here on “Watt’s up?” we have talked about what two and four quadrant operation is in our posting “What is bipolar four quadrant power? (Click here to review). We have also talked about cross over behavior between sourcing and sinking current with a DC source that will operate in two quadrants in a two-part posting  “Power supply current source-to-sink crossover characteristics” (Click here to review pt. 1) and (Click here to review pt. 2). These give useful insights about the nature of multi-quadrant solutions for bi-directional test applications.

Figure 1: The four operating quadrants

Bidirectional and regenerative energy devices that are used in many applications, such as satellite power systems, alternative energy, automotive, and many other areas, operate at kilowatt and higher power levels. These higher power levels have a significant impact on solutions and approaches taken to address their testing.  Also, the nature of these bidirectional and regenerative energy devices are not all the same. This also has an impact in that the capabilities of the test solutions need to be different to address these different types of devices.

In my upcoming webinar on June 18th, titled “Conquering the High Power Source/Sink Test Challenge” I will be exploring the test needs of key bidirectional and regenerative energy devices and then go into the details of various test solutions and approaches for sourcing and sinking power and energy, along with their associated advantages and disadvantages. This is just a couple of weeks away. So if you are involved in this kind of work and are interested, or would just like to learn more, you can register online at the following (click here).  In case you cannot join the live event you will still be able to register and listen to seminar afterward instead, as it will be recorded.  I hope you can join in!


Monday, February 24, 2014

How to test the efficiency of DC to DC converters, part 2 of 2

In part 1 of my posting on testing the efficiency of DC to DC converters (click here to review) I went over the test set up, the requirements for load sweep synchronized to the measurements, and details of the choice of the type and set up of the current load sweep itself. In this second part I will be describing details of the measurement set up, setting up the efficiency calculation, and results of the testing. This is based on using the N6705B DC Power Analyzer, N6782A SMUs, and 14585A software as a platform but a number of ideas can be applicable regardless of the platform.

Figure 1: Synchronized measurement and efficiency calculation set up

The synchronized measurement and efficiency calculation set up, and display of results are shown in Figure 1, taking note of the following details corresponding to the numbers in Figure 1:
  1. In the 14585A the data logging mode was selected to make and display the measurements. The oscilloscope mode could have just as easily been used but with a 10 second sweep the extra speed of sampling with the oscilloscope mode was not an advantage. A second thing about using the data logging mode is you can set the integration time period for each acquisition point. This can be used to advantage in averaging out noise and disturbances as needed for a smoother and more representative result. In this case an integration period of 50 milliseconds was used.
  2. To synchronize the measurements the data log measurement was set to trigger off the start of the load current sweep.
  3. Voltage, current, and power for both the input and output SMUs were selected to be measured and displayed. The input and output power are needed for the efficiency calculation.
  4. The measurements were set to seamless ranging. In this way the appropriate measurement range for at any given point was used as the loading swept from zero to full load.
  5. A formula trace was created to calculate and display the efficiency in %. Note that the negative of the ratio of output power to input power was used. This is because the SMU acting as a load is sinking current and so both its current and power readings are negative.

With all of this completed really all that is left to do is first start the data logging measurement with the start button. It will be “armed” and waiting from a trigger signal from the current load sweep ARB that had been set up. All that is now left to do is press the ARB start button. Figure 2 is a display of all the results after the sweep is completed.

Figure 2: DC to DC Converter efficiency test results

All the input and output voltage, current, and power measurements, and efficiency calculation (in pink) are display, but it can be uncluttered a bit by turning off the voltages and currents traces being displayed and just leave the power and efficiency traces displayed. This happened to be special DC to DC converter designed to give exceptionally high efficiency even down to near zero load, which can be seen from the graph. It’s interesting to note peak efficiency occurred at around 60% of full load and then ohmic losses start becoming more significant.

And that basically sums it all up for performing an efficiency test on a DC to DC converter!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

How to test the efficiency of DC to DC converters, part 1 of 2

I periodically get asked to provide recommendations and guidance on testing the efficiency of small DC to DC voltage converters. Regardless of the size of the converter, a DC source is needed to provide input power to the converter under constant voltage, while an electronic load is needed to draw power from the output, usually under constant current loading. The load current needs to be swept from zero to the full load current capability of the DC to DC converter while input power (input voltage times input current) and output power (output voltage times output current) are recorded. The efficiency is then the ratio of power out to power in, most often expressed in a percentage. An illustration of this is shown in Figure 1. In addition to sourcing and sinking power, precision current and voltage measurement on both the input and output, synchronized to the sweeping of the load current is needed.

Figure 1: DC to DC converter efficiency test set up

One challenge for small DC to DC voltage converters is finding a suitable electronic load that will operate at the low output voltages and down to zero load currents, needed for testing their efficiency over their range, from no load to full load output power. It turns out in practice many source measure units (SMUs) will serve well as a DC electronic load for testing, as they will sink current as well as source current.

Perhaps the most optimum choice from us is to use two of our N6782A 2-quadrant SMU modules installed in our N6705B DC Power Analyzer mainframe, using the 14585A software to control the set up and display the results.  This is a rather flexible platform intended for a variety of whatever application one can come up with for the most part. With a little ingenuity it can be quickly configured to perform an efficiency test of small DC to DC converters, swept from no load to full load operation. This is good for converters of 20 watts of power or less and within a certain range of voltage, as the N6782A can source or sink up to 6 V and 3 A or 20 V and 1 A, depending on which range it is set to. One of the N6782A operates as a DC voltage source to power the DUT and the second is operated as a DC current load to draw power from the DUT. A nice thing about the N6782A is it provides excellent performance operated either as a DC source or load, and operated either in constant voltage or constant current.

An excellent video of this set up testing a DC to DC converter was created by a colleague here, which you can review by clicking on the following link: “DC to DC converter efficiency test”.

The video does an excellent job covering a lot of the details. However, if you are interested in testing DC to DC converters using this set up I have a few more details to share here about it which should help you further along with setting it up and running it.

First, the two N6782A SMUs were set up for initial operating conditions. The N6782A providing DC power in was set up as a voltage source at the desired input voltage level and the second N6782A was set to constant current load operation with minimum (near zero) loading current.

Note that the 14585A software does not directly sweep the load current along the horizontal axis. The horizontal axis is time. That is why a time-based current sweep was created in the arbitrary waveform (ARB) section of the 14585A. In that way any point on the horizontal time axis correlates to a certain current load level being drawn from the output of the DUT. The ARB of course was set to run once, not repetitively. The 14585A ARB set up is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Load current sweep ARB set up in 14585A software

This ARB sweep requires a little explanation.  While there are a number of pre-defined ARBs, and they can be used, an x3 power formula was chosen to be used instead. This provided a gradually increasing load sweep that allowed greater resolution of this data and display at light loads, where efficiency more quickly changes. As can be seen, the duration of the sweep, parameter x, was set to 10 seconds. As a full load current needed to be -1 A, using the actual formula (-x/10)3  gave us a gradually increasing load current sweep that topped out at -1A after 10 seconds of duration. The choice of 10 seconds was arbitrary. It only provided an easy way to watch the sweep on the 14585A graphing as it progressed. Finally, a short (0.1 second) pre-defined linear ramp ARB was added as a second part of the ARB sequence, to bring the load current back to initial, near zero, load conditions after the sweep was completed. This is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Second part of ARB sweep to bring DUT load current back to initial conditions

I hope this gives you a number of insights about creative ways you can make use of the ARB. As there is a good amount of subtle details on how to go about making and displaying the measurements I’ll be sharing that in a second part coming up shortly, so keep on the outlook!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why can’t you put electronic loads in series?

The quick answer to the above question is: because you will likely damage at least one of the loads with excessive voltage! For the longer answer, read on….

[By the way…this is a milestone post for Watt’s Up? since it is post # 100, so thank you to our readers…and Happy Thanksgiving to those in the US or celebrating elsewhere!]

I’ll start with a brief explanation of what an electronic load is, and what it is used for. I am specifically talking about DC electronic loads here. A DC electronic load is a two-terminal electrical instrument that draws power from a DC source. Loads are used to test DC sources. Any device that has a source of DC output power, such as a DC power supply, a DC-to-DC converter, a battery, a fuel cell, or a solar panel, can have power drawn from it with an electronic load. Click here to see Agilent’s DC electronic loads.

For example, to test a fixed-output DC power supply that is rated for 20 V, 5 A, 100 W, you would connect the power supply output to an electronic load with ratings that are equal to or greater than the power supply ratings and that can draw a constant current from the power supply. Since the power supply is regulating the voltage (20 V), the load must regulate the current it draws from the power supply (up to 5 A). If your DC power supply is a constant current source, the load must be capable of drawing power while regulating voltage. You can set most electronic loads to draw power by regulating either constant voltage (CV) or constant current (CC). You can also set many electronic loads to regulate constant resistance (CR) across their input terminals, and some can regulate constant power (CP).

If the power supply to be tested has a higher output voltage than a single electronic load can handle, you may be tempted to put multiple load inputs in series to accommodate the higher voltage. After all, you can do this will power supply outputs to get higher voltage (click here)….why not with loads?

Putting electronic loads in series can cause one of the load inputs to be exposed to a voltage beyond its capabilities that could result in damage to the load. You are putting loads in series because a single load does not have a high enough voltage rating to handle the voltage of your DC power source. But since one of the load inputs could become a low impedance (nearly a short circuit) during test, all of the voltage from your DC source could appear across the other load input in series. There are several scenarios that can result in this destructive situation. To understand these scenarios, you first have to understand how an electronic load works.

Loads work by controlling the conduction of FETs across their input terminals. The control is realized by using a feedback loop to adjust a measured level (such as the input current) so that it equals a reference level (such as the set current). My colleague, Ed Brorein, posted about this topic last year (click here).

When you put multiple electronic loads in series to accommodate higher voltage, one problem scenario occurs when you set both loads to operate in CC mode. You set the same current on both loads. The exact same current flows through both loads (see figure below), but due to small errors in the accuracy of the settings, the real set values will never be exactly equal. Therefore, one of the loads will be trying to draw a higher current (Load 2 in the figure) than the other load (Load 1 in the figure). Since Load 1 will limit the current at the lower value (9.99 A in this example), Load 2 can never attain its real set point (10.01 A in this example). So its internal feedback loop continues to tell the FETs to conduct more and more current until the FETs are fully on looking nearly like a short circuit. This results in nearly all of the power supply voltage appearing across the Load 1 input which can damage it.

If you operate one load input in CC and one in CV, at first this looks like it will result in a stable operating point. However you have to think about how you get to that stable operating point. If you set the loads first before you connect the voltage, before the voltage is applied, the CC load is not satisfied (no current is flowing) so it goes to a short and the CV load is also not satisfied (no voltage is present) so it goes to an open. When the test voltage is applied, all of the voltage initially appears across the open CV load and can damage it. There are other procedures to follow that could temporarily result in a stable operating point (such as slowly increasing the test voltage if you have that ability), but if any fault condition occurs in any of the loads, they try to protect themselves by either turning the FETs on hard (a short) or opening the FETs. In either case, the large destructive voltage will appear across one of the loads in the series connection resulting in damage.

One of my colleagues, Bob Zollo, wrote an article entitled “Why Can’t You Put Electronic Loads In Series To Get More Voltage?” that appeared in Electronic Design on November 4, 2013. For some additional information about this topic, click here to read the article.

So you can see that putting loads in series can too easily result in damage to at least one of the load inputs. I strongly recommend that you do not do it!