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Showing posts with label output characteristic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label output characteristic. Show all posts

## Friday, August 14, 2015

### Not all two-quadrant power supplies are the same when operating near or at zero volts!

Occasionally when working with customers on power supply applications that require sourcing and sinking current which can be addressed with the proper choice of a two-quadrant power supply, I am told “we need a four-quadrant power supply to do this!” I ask why and it is explained to me that they want to sink current down near or at zero volts and it requires 4-quadrant operation to work. The reasoning why is the case is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Power supply sinking current while regulating near or at zero volts at the DUT

As can be seen in the diagram, in practical applications when regulating a voltage at the DUT when sinking current, the voltage at the power supply’s output terminals will be lower than the voltage at the DUT, due to voltage drops in the wiring and connections. Often this means the power supply’s output voltage at its terminals will be negative in order to regulate the voltage at the DUT near or at zero volts.

Hence a four-quadrant power supply is required, right? Well, not necessarily. It all depends on the choice of the two-quadrant power supply as they’re not all the same! Some two-quadrant power supplies will regulate right down to zero volts even when sinking current, while others will not. This can be ascertained from reviewing their output characteristics.

Our N6781A, N6782A, N6785A and N6786A are examples of some of our two-quadrant power supplies that will regulate down to zero volts even when sinking current.  This is reflected in the graph of their output characteristics, shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Keysight N6781A, N6782A, N6785A and N6786A 2-quadrant output characteristics

What can be seen in Figure 2 is that these two-quadrant power supplies can source and sink their full output current rating, even along the horizontal zero volt axis of their V-I output characteristic plots. The reason why they are able to do this is because internally they do incorporate a negative voltage power rail that allows them to regulate at zero volts even when sinking current. While you cannot program a negative output voltage on them, making them two-quadrants instead of four, they are actually able to drive their output terminals negative by a small amount, if necessary. This will allow them to compensate for remote sense voltage drop in the wiring, in order to maintain zero volts at the DUT while sinking current. This also makes for a more complicated and more expensive design.

Our N6900A and N7900A series advanced power sources (APS) also have two-quadrant outputs. Their output characteristic is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Keysight N6900A and N7900A series 2-quadrant output characteristics

Here, in comparison, a certain amount of minimum positive voltage is required when sinking current. It can be seen this minimum positive voltage is proportional to the amount of sink current as indicated by the sloping line that starts a small maximum voltage when at maximum sink current and tapers to zero volts at zero sink current.  Basically these series of 2-quadrant power supplies are not able to regulate down to zero volts when sinking current. The reason why is because they do not have an internal negative power voltage rail that is needed for regulating at zero volts when sinking current.

So when needing to source and sink current and power near or at zero volts do not immediately assume a 4-quadrant power supply is required. Depending on the design of a 2-quadrant power supply, it may meet the requirements, as not all 2-quadrant power supplies are the same! One way to tell is to look at its output characteristics.

## Thursday, April 3, 2014

### Why have programmable series resistance on a power supply’s output?

A feature we’ve included on our 663xxA Mobile Communications DC Sources, our N6781A 2-quadrant Source Measure Module, and most recently our N69xxA and N79xxA Advanced Power System (APS) is the ability to program in a value for a resistance that exists in series with the output voltage. So why do we offer this?

Batteries are not ideal voltage sources. They have a significant amount of equivalent series resistance (ESR) on their output. Because of this, the battery’s output has a voltage drop that is proportional to the current drawn by the DUT that is being powered. An example of this is shown in the oscilloscope capture in Figure 1, where a GPRS mobile handset is drawing pulsed transmit current from its battery.

Figure 1: Battery voltage and current powering a GPRS handset during transmit

In comparison, due to control feedback, a conventional DC power supply has extremely low output impedance. At and near DC, for all practical purposes, the DC output resistance is zero. At the same time, during fast load current transition edges, many conventional DC power supplies can have fairly slow transient voltage response, leading to significant transient overshoots and undershoots with slow recovery during these transitions, as can be seen in the oscilloscope capture in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Example general purpose bench power supply powering a GPRS handset during transmit

It’s not hard to see that the general purpose bench power supply voltage response is nothing close to that of the battery’s voltage response and recognize that it will likely have a significant impact on the performance of the GPRS handset. Just considering the performance of the battery management, the battery voltage drop during loading and rise during charging, due to the battery’s resistance, will impact discharge and charge management performance.

We include programmable resistance in the above mentioned DC power supplies as they are battery simulators.  By being able to program a series output resistance these power supplies are able to better simulate the voltage response of a battery, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: N6781A battery simulator DC source powering a GPRS handset during transmit

While the 663xxA and N6781A are fairly low power meant to simulate batteries for handheld mobile devices, The N69xxA and N79xxA APS units are 1 and 2 KW power supplies meant to simulate much larger batteries used in things like satellites, robotics, regenerative energy systems, and a number of other higher power devices. Figure 4 shows the voltage response of an N7951A 1 KW APS unit programmed to 20 milliohms output impedance, having a +/- 10 amp peak sine wave load current applied to its output.

Figure 4: N7951A 1 KW APS DC source voltage response to sine wave load

Programmable series output resistance is one more way a specialized DC source helps improve performance and test results, in this case doing a better job simulating the battery that ultimately powers the device under test.

## Thursday, June 20, 2013

### How can I measure output impedance of a DC power supply?

In my last posting “DC power supply output impedance characteristics”, I explained what the output impedance characteristics of a DC power supply were like for both its constant voltage (CV) and constant current (CC) modes of operation. I also shared an example of what power supply output impedance is useful for. But how does one go about measuring the output impedance of a DC power supply over frequency, if and when needed?

There are a number of different approaches that can be taken, but these days perhaps the most practical is to use a good network analyzer that will operate at low frequencies, ranging from 10 Hz up to 1 MHz, or greater, depending on your needs. Even when using a network analyzer as your starting point there are still quite a few different variations that can be taken.

Measuring the output impedance requires injecting a disturbance at the particular frequency the network analyzer is measuring at. This signal is furnished by the network analyzer but virtually always needs some amount of transformation to be useful. Measuring the output impedance of a voltage source favors driving a current signal disturbance into the output. Conversely, measuring the output impedance of a current source favors driving a voltage signal disturbance into the output. The two set up examples later on here use two different methods for injecting the disturbance.

The reference input “R” of the network analyzer is then used to measure the current while the second input “A” or “T” is used to measure the voltage on the output of the power supply being characterized. Thus the relative gain being measured by the network analyzer is the impedance, based on:
zout = vout/iout = (A or T)/R
The output voltage and current signals need to be compatible with the measurement inputs on the network analyzer. This means a voltage divider probe may be needed for the voltage measurement, depending on the voltage level, and a resistor or current probe will be needed to convert the current into an appropriate voltage signal. A key consideration here is appropriate scaling constants need to be factored in, based on the gain or attenuation of the voltage and current probes being used, so that the impedance reading is correct.

Figure 1: DC power supply output impedance measurement with the Agilent E5061B

One example set up using the Agilent E5061B network analyzer is shown in Figure 1, taken from page 15 of an Agilent E5061B application note on testing DC-DC converters, referenced below. Here the disturbance is injected in through an isolation transformer coupled across the power supply output through a DC blocking capacitor and a 1 ohm resistor. The 1 ohm resistor is doing double duty in that it is changing the voltage disturbance into a current disturbance and it is also providing a means for the “R” input to measure the current. The “T” input then directly measures the DC/DC converter’s (or power supply’s) output voltage.

A second, somewhat more elaborate, variation of this arrangement, based on using a 4395A network analyzer (now discontinued) has been posted by a colleague here on our Agilent Power Supply forum: “Output Impedance Measurement on Agilent Power Supplies”. In this set up the disturbance signal from the network analyzer is instead fed into the analog input of an Agilent N3306A electronic load. The N3306A in turn creates the current disturbance on the output of the DC power supply under test as well as provide any desired DC loading on the power supply’s output. The N3306A can be used to further boost the level of disturbance if needed. Finally, an N278xB active current probe and matching N2779A probe amplifier are used to easily measure the current signal.

Hopefully this will get you on your way if the need for making power supply output impedance ever arises!

Reference: “Evaluating DC-DC Converters and PDN with the E5061B LF-RF Network Analyzer” Application Note, publication number 5990-5902EN (click here to access)

## Monday, June 10, 2013

### DC power supply output impedance characteristics

In a previous posting; “How Does a Power Supply regulate It’s Output Voltage and Current?” I showed how feedback loops are used to control a DC power supply’s output voltage and current.  Feedback is phenomenally helpful in providing a DC power supply with near-ideal performance. It is the reason why load regulation is measured in 100ths of a percent. A major reason for this is it bestows the power supply, if a voltage source, with near zero impedance, or as a current source, with high output impedance. How does it do this?

The impedance of a typical DC power supply’s output stage (like the conceptual one illustrated in the above referenced posting) is usually on the order of an ohm to a couple of ohms. This is the open-loop output impedance; i.e. the output impedance before any feedback is applied around the output.   If no feedback were applied we would not have anywhere near the load regulation we actually get. However, when the control amplifier provides negative feedback to correct for changes in output when a load is applied, the performance is transformed by the ratio of 1 + T, where T is loop gain of the feedback system. As an example, the output impedance of the DC power supply operating in constant voltage becomes:

Zout (closed loop) = Zout (open loop) / (1+T)

The loop gain T is approximately the gain of the operational amplifier times the attenuation of the voltage divider network. In practical feedback control systems the gain of the amplifier is quite large at and near DC, possibly as high as 90 dB of gain. This reduces the power supply’s DC and low frequency output to just milliohms or less, providing near ideal load regulation performance. Another factor in practical feedback control systems is the loop gain is rolled off in a controlled manner with increasing frequency in order to maintain stability. Thus at higher frequency the output impedance of a DC power supply operating as a voltage source increases towards its open loop impedance value as the loop gain decreases. This is illustrated in the output impedance plots in Figure 1, for the Agilent 6643A DC power supply.

Figure 1: Agilent 6643A 35V, 6A system DC power supply output impedance

As can be seen in Figure 1, for constant voltage operation, the 6643A DC power supply is just about 1 milliohm at 100 Hz, and exhibits an inductive output characteristic with increasing frequency as the loop gain decreases.

As also can be seen in Figure 1, feedback control works in a similar fashion for constant current operation. While a voltage source ideally has zero output impedance, a current source ideally has infinite impedance.  For constant current operation the 6643A DC power supply exhibits 10 ohms impedance at 100 Hz and rolls off in a capacitive fashion as frequency increases. However, for the 6643A, it is not so much the constant current control loop gain dropping off with frequency but the output filter capacitance dominating the output impedance. While the 6643A can be used as an excellent, well-regulated current source (see posting: “Can a standard DC power supply be used as current source?”) it is first and foremost optimized for being a voltage source. Some output capacitance serves towards that end.

An example of one use for the output impedance plots of a DC power supply is to estimate what the amount of load-induced AC ripple might be, based on the frequency and amplitude of the current being drawn by the load, when powered by power supply operating in constant voltage.

## Friday, January 18, 2013

### Types of current limits for over-current protection on DC power supplies

On a previous posting “The difference between constant current and current limit in DC power supplies”, I discussed what differentiates a DC power supply having a constant current operation in comparison to having strictly a current limit for over-current protection. In that post I had depicted one very conventional current limit behavior. However there is actually quite a variety of current limits incorporated in different DC power supplies, depending on the intended end-use of the power supply.

Fold-back Current Limit
The output characteristic of a constant voltage (CV) power supply utilizing fold-back current limiting is depicted in Figure 1. Fold-back current limiting is sometimes used to provide a higher level of protection for DUTs where excess current and power dissipation can cause damage to a DUT that has gone into an overload condition. This is accomplished by reducing both the current and voltage as the DUT goes further into overload. The short circuit current will typically be 20% to 50% of the maximum current level. A reasonable margin between the crossover current point and required maximum rated DUT current needs to be established in order to prevent false over-current tripping conditions. Due to the fold-back nature, and depending on the loading nature of the DUT, the operating point could drop down towards the short-circuit operating point once the crossover point is reached/exceeded. This would require powering the DUT down and up again in order to get back to the CV operating region.

Figure 1: Output characteristic of a CV power supply with fold-back current limiting

In addition to providing over-current protection for the DUT, fold-back current limiting is often employed in fixed output linear DC power supplies as a means for reducing worst case dissipation in the power supply itself. Under short circuit conditions the voltage normally appearing across the DUT instead appears across the power supply’s internal series linear regulator, requiring it to dissipate considerably more power than it has to under normal operating conditions. By employing fold-back current limiting the power dissipation on the series-linear regulator is greatly reduced under overload conditions, reducing the size and cost of the series-linear regulator for a given output power rating of the DC linear power supply.

Fold-forward Current Limit
A variety of loading devices, such as electric motors, DC-DC converters, and large capacitive loads can draw large peak currents at startup. Because of this they can often be better suited for being powered by a DC power supply that has a fold-forward current limit characteristic, as depicted in Figure 2. With fold-forward current limiting after exceeding the crossover current limit the current level instead continues to increase while the voltage drops while the loading increases.

Figure 2: Output characteristic of a CV power supply with fold-forward current limiting

As one example of where fold-forward current limiting is a benefit, it can help a motor start under load which otherwise would not start under other current-limits. Indeed, with fold-back current limiting, a motor may not and then it would remain stalled, due to the reduced current.

Special Purpose Current Limits
Unlike the previous current limit schemes which are widely standard practice, there is a number of other current limit circuits used, often tailored for more application-specific purposes. One example of this is the current limiting employed in our 66300 series DC sources for powering mobile phones and other battery powered mobile wireless devices. Its output characteristic is depicted in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Agilent 66300 Series DC source output characteristics

We refer to this power supply series as battery emulator DC sources. One reason why is they are 2-quadrant DC sources.  Like a rechargeable battery, they need to be able to source current when powering the mobile device and then sink current when the mobile device is in its charging mode.  In Figure 3 there are actually two separate current limits; one for sourcing current and another for sinking current. Each has different and distinctive characteristics for specific purposes.

Many battery powered mobile wireless devices draw power and current in short, high peak bursts, especially when transmitting. To better accommodate these short, high peaks, the 66300 series DC sources have a time-limited peak current limit that is of sufficient duration to support these high peaks. They also have a programmable constant current level that will over-ride the peak current limit when the average current value of the pulsed current drain reaches this programmed level. With this approach a higher peak power mobile device can be powered from a smaller DC power source.

Just like an electronic load, when the 66300 series DC source is sinking current the limiting factor is how much power it is able to dissipate. Instead of using a fixed current limit, it uses a fold-forward characteristic current limit (although folding forward in the negative direction!). This is not done for reasons that a fold-forward current limit that was just discussed is used; it is done so higher charging currents at lower voltage levels can be accommodated, taking advantage of the available power that can be dissipated. Again, this provides the user with greater capability in comparison to using a fixed-value limit.

Other types of current limits exist for other specific reasons so it is helpful to be aware that not all current limits are the same when selecting a DC power supply for a particular application!

Reference: Agilent Technologies DC Power Supply Handbook, application note AN-90B, part number 5952-4020 “Click here to access”

## Tuesday, August 7, 2012

### How Does an Electronic Load Regulate It’s Input Voltage, Current, and Resistance?

In a sense electronic loads are the antithesis of power supplies, i.e. they sink or absorb power while power supplies source power. In another sense they are very similar in the way they regulate constant voltage (CV) or constant current (CC). When used to load a DUT, which inevitably is some form of power source, conventional practice is to use CC loading for devices that are by nature voltage sources and conversely use CV loading for devices that are by nature current sources. However most all electronic loads also feature constant resistance (CR) operation as well. Many real-world loads are resistive by nature and hence it is often useful to test power sources meant to drive such devices with an electronic load operating in CR mode.

To understand how CC and CV modes work in an electronic load it is useful to first review a previous posting I wrote here, entitled “How Does a Power Supply Regulate It’s Output Voltage and Current?”. Again, the CC and CV modes are very similar in operation for both a power supply and an electronic load. An electronic load CC mode operation is depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Electronic load circuit, constant current (CC) operation

The load, operating in CC mode, is loading the output of an external voltage source. The current amplifier is regulating the electronic load’s input current by comparing the voltage on the current shunt against a reference voltage, which in turn is regulating how hard to turn on the load FET. The corresponding I-V diagram for this CC mode operation is shown in Figure 2. The operating point is where the output voltage characteristic of the DUT voltage source characteristic intersects the input constant current load line of the electronic load.

Figure 2: Electronic load I-V diagram, constant current (CC) operation

CV mode is very similar to CC mode operation, as depicted in Figure 3.  However, instead of monitoring the input current with a shunt voltage, a voltage control amplifier compares the load’s input voltage, usually through a voltage divider, against a reference voltage. When the input voltage signal reaches the reference voltage value the voltage amplifier turns the load FET on as much as needed to clamp the voltage to the set level.

Figure 3: Electronic load circuit, constant voltage (CV) operation

A battery being charged is a real-world example of a CV load, charged typically by a constant current source. The corresponding I-V diagram for CV mode operation is depicted in figure 4.

Figure 4: Electronic load I-V diagram, constant voltage (CV) operation

But how does an electronic load’s CR mode work? This requires yet another configuration, as depicted in figure 5. While CC and CV modes compare current and voltage against a reference value, in CR mode the control amplifier compares the input voltage against the input current so that one is the ratio of the other, now regulating the input at a constant resistance value.  With current sensing at 1 V/A and voltage sensing at 0.2 V/V, the electronic load’s resulting  input resistance value is 5 ohms for its CR mode operation in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Electronic load circuit, constant resistance (CR) operation

An electronic load’s CR mode is well suited for loading a power source that is either a voltage or current source by nature. The corresponding I-V diagram for this CR mode for loading a voltage source is shown in Figure 6. Here the operating point is where the output voltage characteristic of the DUT voltage source intersects the input constant resistance characteristic of the load.

Figure 6: Electronic load I-V diagram, constant resistance (CR) operation

As we have seen here an electronic load is very similar in operation to a power supply in the way it regulates to maintain constant voltage or constant current at its input.  However many real-world loads exhibit other characteristics, with resistive being most prevalent. As a result most all electronic loads are alternately able to regulate their input to maintain a constant resistance value, in addition to constant voltage and constant current.

## Monday, July 23, 2012

### Why Does My Power Supply Overshoot at Current Limit? Insights on Mode Crossover

One often encountered issue with power supply use is expecting that the current limit will clamp the current to no greater than the set value, only to discover the current initially overshoots when the DUT demands current in excess of the set limit. In some cases the short surge of excess current may be enough to damage a sensitive DUT. Those experienced with power supplies will recognize this as a dynamic characteristic of mode crossover.

What is mode crossover? Mode crossover is the transition point between Constant Voltage (CV) and Constant Current (CC) modes. The dynamic response characteristic of mode crossover is an aspect that separates real-world from ideal-world power supplies. To start it will be helpful to review a previous posting on “How Does a Power Supply regulate its Output Voltage and Current?” Here it is shown there are two control loops in most power supplies, one for regulating the voltage and one for regulating the current. Only one is in control at any given time while the other is “open loop”. The error amplifier that is open loop is up against it stops. When load conditions change such that the power supply transitions through mode crossover the open loop error amplifier needs to recover and gain control of the output. In the more common case of the power supply operating as a voltage source there can be a current overshoot during the brief moment when the load increases beyond the power supply’s current limit setting. Conversely, for a current source, there can be a voltage overshoot during the brief moment when the load decreases, causing the output voltage to rise to the voltage limit setting.

The magnitude of the overshoot depends on many factors relating to both the power supply and the DUT. Supplementary circuitry usually surrounds the error amplifiers to clamp them from being driven into saturation or cutoff so that they can more quickly recover when needed. Amplifiers are carefully selected for their recovery characteristics. Careful design is required to assure a stable transition between modes during crossover while at the same time minimizing the delay and overshoot.  The magnitude of the overshoot also depends on how quickly and to what extent the DUT transitions between loading conditions.

Figure 1 shows the mode crossover current overshoot of a 50 volt, 3 amp general purpose power supply, set for 10 volts and 1 amp output.  The loading DUT is an electronic load set to transition from no load to 10 amps with a slew of 0.8 amps per microsecond. This loading represented a worst case for all practical purposes. When the load transitions to full (i.e. overload) it takes about 6 milliseconds for the current limit control loop to fully take over and bring the current down. During this mode crossover period the current overshoot plateaus at 5 amps, which is the gross current limit capacity of the power supply. Basically this is the point where the power supply runs out of drive.

Figure 1: Constant voltage to constant current mode crossover for 10 V, 1A power supply settings

In Figure 2 the power supply current limit was reduced to 0.1 amps and the mode crossover was again captured. This had an interesting impact on the current overshoot. While the peak current still hit a plateau of 5 amps, the duration of the overshoot was considerably reduced to about 0.5 milliseconds.  The reason for this is there was a much larger difference driving the error amplifier’s input, causing it to transition more quickly. The peak level remained unchanged as it is determined by the power supply’s gross current limit capacity, which is fixed.

Figure 2: Constant voltage to constant current mode crossover for 10 V, 0.1A power supply settings

The extent of an overshoot during mode crossover depends on the power supply as well as the DUT. A power supply optimized for voltage sourcing usually has very little voltage overshoot at mode crossover, but then can have significant current overshoot, as we see here. Conversely, a power supply optimized for current sourcing usually has very little current overshoot at mode crossover, but then can have significant voltage overshoot. Higher performance power supplies may provide faster and better mode crossover performance, but this usually comes at greater expense. Some useful things to do include:
·         Be aware that overshoot during mode crossover is a reality that exists in most all power supplies
·         Try not to oversize the power supply. Be aware that the peak level of voltage or current during mode crossover may be governed more by the maximum voltage and current ratings of the power supply and less by the settings. Using an oversized power supply with its limit set to 5% of its capacity will likely yield a much larger overshoot than a smaller one with it limit set to 50% of its capacity.
·         Understand the nature of your DUT, behavior or fault modes that may cause it to draw an overload, and how sensitive it is to an overload
·         If your DUT is sensitive to an overload, include evaluating the response characteristics of mode crossover as part of your evaluation, using realistic conditions that reflect the characteristics of your DUT.

Recognizing that there is dynamic response characteristics associated with mode crossover of “real-world” power supplies, and they need to be considered, may save a lot of surprise and frustration later on!

## Tuesday, July 17, 2012

### How Does a Power Supply regulate It’s Output Voltage and Current?

We have talked about Constant Voltage (CV) and Constant Current (CC) power supply operation in many various ways and applications here on the “Watt’s Up?” blog in the past. Indeed, CV and CC are fundamental operating modes of most all power supplies. But what exactly takes place inside the power supply that endows it with the ability to regulate either its output voltage or current, depending on the load? If you ever wondered about this, wonder no longer!

Most all power supplies regulate either their output voltage or output current at a constant level, depending on the load resistance relative to the power supply’s output voltage and current settings. This can be summarized as follows:

·         If R load > (V out / I out) then power supply is in CV mode
·         If R load < (V out / I out) then power supply is in CC mode

To accomplish this most all power supplies have separate voltage and current feedback control loops to limit either the output voltage or current, depending on the load. To illustrate this Figure 1 shows a circuit diagram of a basic 5 volt, 1 amp output series regulated power supply operating in CV mode.

Figure 1: Basic DC Power Supply Circuit, Constant Voltage (CV) Operation

The CV and CC control loops/amplifiers each have a reference input value. In this case the reference values are both 1 volt. In order to regulate output voltage the CV error amplifier compares its 1 volt reference against a resistor divider that divides the output voltage down by a factor of 5, limiting the output voltage to 5 volts. Likewise the CC error amplifier compares its 1 volt reference against a 1 ohm current shunt resistor located in the output current path, limiting the output current to 1 amp. For Figure 1 the load resistance is 10 ohms. Because this load resistance is greater than (V out / I out) = 5 ohms, the power supply is operating in CV mode. The CV error amplifier takes control of the series pass transistor by drawing away excess base current from the series pass transistor, though the diode “OR” network. The CV amplifier is operating in closed loop, maintaining its error voltage at zero volts. In comparison, because the actual output current is only 0.5 amps the CC amplifier tries to turn the current on harder but cannot because the CV amplifier has control of the output. The CC amplifier is operating open loop. Its output goes up to its positive limit while it has -0.5 volts of error voltage. The output I-V diagram for this Constant Voltage operation is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Power Supply I-V Diagram, CV Operation

Now say we increase the load by lowering the output load resistance from 10 ohms down to 3 ohms. Figure 3 shows the circuit diagram of our basic 5 volt, 1 amp output series regulated power supply revised for operating in CC mode with a 3 ohm load resistor.

Figure 3: Basic DC Power Supply Circuit, Constant Current (CC) Operation

Because the load resistor is lower than (V out / I out) = 5 ohms, the power supply switches to CC mode. The CC error amplifier takes control when the voltage drop on the current shunt resistor increases to match the 1 volt reference value, corresponding to 1 amp output, drawing excess base current from the series pass transistor though the diode “OR” network. The CC amplifier is now operating closed loop, regulating the output current to maintain its input error voltage at zero. In comparison, because the actual output voltage is now only 3 volts the CV amplifier tries to increase the output voltage but cannot because the CC amplifier has control of the output. The CV amplifier is operating open loop. Its output now goes up to its positive limit while it has -0.4 volts of error voltage. The output I-V diagram for this Constant Current operation is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Power Supply I-V Diagram, CC Operation

As we have seen most all power supplies have separate current and voltage control loops to regulate their outputs in either a Constant Voltage (CV) or in a Constant Current (CC) mode. One or the other takes control, depending on that the load resistance is in relation to what the power supply’s output voltage and current settings are. In this way both the load and power supply are protected by limiting the voltage and current that is delivered by the power supply to the load. By understanding this theory behind a power supply’s CV and CC operation it is also easier to understand the underlying reason for why various power supply characteristics are the way they are, as well as see how other power supply capabilities can be created by building on top of this foundation. Stay tuned!

## Wednesday, March 28, 2012

### What Is Going On When My Power Supply Displays “UNR”?

Most everyone is familiar with the very traditional Constant Voltage (CV) and Constant Current (CC) operating modes incorporated in most any lab bench or system power supply. All but the most very basic power supplies provide display indicators or annunciators to indicate whether it is in CV or CC mode. However, moderately more sophisticated power supplies provide additional indicators or annunciators to provide increased insight and more information about their operating status. One annunciator you may encounter is seeing “UNR” flash on, either momentarily or continuously. It’s fairly obvious that this means that the power supply is unregulated; it is failing to maintain a Constant Voltage or Constant Current. But what is really going on when the power supply displays UNR and what things might cause this?
To gain better insight about CV, CC and UNR operating modes it is helpful to visualize what is going on with an IV graph of the power supply output in combination with the load line of the external device being powered. I wrote a two part post about voltage and current levels and limits which you may find useful to review. If you like you can access it from these links levels and limits part 1 and levels and limits part 2. This posting builds nicely on these earlier postings. A conventional single quadrant power supply IV graph with resistive load line is depicted in Figure 1. As the load resistance varies from infinity to zero the power supply’s output goes through the full range of CV mode through CC mode operation. With a passive load like a resistor you are unlikely to encounter UNREG mode, unless perhaps something goes wrong in the power supply itself.
Figure 1: Single quadrant power supply IV characteristic with a resistive load

However, with active load devices you have a pretty high chance of encountering UNR mode operation, depending where the actual voltage and current values end up at in comparison to the power supply’s voltage and current settings. One common application where UNR can be easily encountered is charging a battery (our external active load device) with a power supply. Two different scenarios are depicted in Figure 2. For scenario 1, when the battery voltage is less than the power supply’s output, the point where the power supply’s IV characteristic curve and the battery’s load line (a CV characteristic) intersect, the power supply is in CC mode, happily supplying a regulated charge current into the battery. However, for scenario 2 the battery’s voltage is greater than the power supply’s CV setting (for example, you have your automobile battery charger set to 6 volts when you connect it to a 12 volt battery). Providing the power supply is not able to sink current the battery forces the power supply’s output voltage up along the graph’s voltage axis to the battery’s voltage level. Operating along this whole range of voltage greater than the power supply’s output voltage setting puts the power supply into its UNR mode of operation.
Figure 2: Single quadrant power supply IV characteristic with a battery load

A danger here is more sophisticated power supplies usually incorporate Over Voltage Protection (OVP). One kind of OVP is a crowbar which is an SCR designed to short the output to quickly bring down the output voltage to protect the (possibly expensive) device being powered. When connected to a battery if an OVP crowbar is tripped, damage to the power supply or battery could occur due to batteries being able to deliver a fairly unlimited level of current. It is worth knowing what kind of OVP there is in a power supply before attempting to charge a battery with it. Better yet is to use a power supply or charger specifically designed to properly monitor and charge a given type of battery. The designers take these things into consideration so you don’t have to!
I have digressed here a little on yet another mode, OVP, but it’s all worth knowing when working with power supplies! Can you think of other scenarios that might drive a power supply into UNR? (Hint: How about the other end of the power supply IV characteristic, where it meets the horizontal current axis?)

## Wednesday, February 29, 2012

### On DC Source Voltage and Current Levels and (Compliance) Limits Part 2: When levels and limits are not the same

In part 1 my colleague made a good argument for current and voltage level and limit settings actually being one and the same thing and it was really just a case of semantics whether your power supply was operating in constant voltage or in constant current mode. I disagreed and I was not ready to admit defeat on this yet. Now is my chance to explain why I believe they’re not one and the same thing.

I have been doing quite a bit of work with source measure units (SMUs) that support multi quadrant output operation. They in fact feature (constant) voltage sourcing and current sourcing modes of operation. This tailors the operation of the SMU for operating as a voltage source with a set current compliance range or conversely as a current source with a set voltage compliance range. Right at the start one difference is the set up conditions. The output voltage or current level is set to zero while the corresponding current or voltage limit is set to some value, often maximum, so that the DC source accordingly starts out in either constant voltage or constant current for normal operating conditions.

Some products feature a programmable or fixed power limits. In one product I know of, the programmable power limit acts accordingly to override and cut back the either the voltage limit when set for current sourcing, or the current limit when set for voltage sourcing. It does not do this in true real-time however. It cuts back the limit based on the level setting, as a convenient means as to help prevent the user from accidently over-powering the DUT. Alternately many auto-ranging output DC power sources exist that provide an extended range of output and voltage for a given output power capacity. They incorporate a fixed power limit to protect the power supply itself from being inadvertently overloaded, as shown in Figure 1. Usually the idea is for the user to stay below the limit, not operate in power limit. The point here on these examples is that the power parameter is an example of being a limit but not really a level.

Figure 1: Auto-ranging DC power supply power limit

More to the point is some SMUs may incorporate two limits to provide a bounded compliance range with specified positive and negative limits. Not all DUTs are passive, non-reactive devices. As one illustrative example a DUT may be the output of 2-quadrant DC voltage source which you want to force up or down, within limits, or a battery you want to charge and discharge at a fixed rate, with your test system DC source. This set up is illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Test system DC source driving the output of a DUT source

Figure 3 shows the constant voltage or voltage priority output characteristic for one particular SMU having two programmable current limits. Clearly both limits cannot also be the current level setting as you can only have one level setting. For the case of the external voltage source load line #1 (not all load lines are resistances!), when SMU voltage is less than the DUT source voltage (VEXT1 load line), the current is –ILIM. Conversely when SMU voltage is greater than the DUT source voltage (VEXT2 load line), the current is then +ILIM. In the case of the battery as a DUT this can be used to charge and discharge the battery to specified voltage levels. This desired behavior is achieved using voltage priority operation. Current priority operation would yield very different results. Understanding the nuances of voltage priority, current priority, levels, and limits is useful for getting more utility from your DC sources for more unusual and challenging power test challenges.

Figure 3: Example of a current priority output characteristic driving a DUT voltage source

In closing I’ll concur with my colleague, in many test situations using most DC sources the voltage and current levels and limits may not have a meaningful difference. However, in many more complex cases, especially when dealing with active DUTs and using more capable DC sources and SMUs, there is a clear need for voltage and current level and limit controls that are clearly differentiated and not one and the same! What do you believe?

## Wednesday, February 22, 2012

### On DC Source Voltage and Current Levels and (Compliance) Limits Part 1: When levels and limits are one and the same

I was having a discussion with a colleague about constant current operation versus constant voltage operation and the distinction between level settings and limit settings the other day. “The level and limit settings are really the same thing!” he claimed. I disagreed. We each then made ensuing arguments in defense of our positions.

He based his argument on the case of a DC power supply that has both constant voltage and constant current operation. I’ll agree that is a reasonable starting point. As a side note there is a general consensus here that if it isn’t a true, well regulated constant voltage or constant current, whether settable or fixed, then it is simply a limit, not a level setting, end of story. He continued “if the load on the power supply is such that it is operating in constant voltage, then the voltage setting is the level setting and the current setting is the limit setting. If the load increases such that the power supply changes over from constant voltage operation into constant current operation then the voltage setting is becomes the limit setting and the current setting becomes the level setting!” (See figure 1.) He certainly has a good point! For your more basic DC power supply that only operates in quadrant 1 capable of sourcing power only, the current and voltage settings usually interchangeably serve as both the level and compliance limit setting, depending on whether the DC power supply is operating in constant voltage or constant current. The level and compliance limit regulating circuits are one and the same. Likewise with the programming, there are only commands to set the voltage and current levels. There are not separate commands for the limits. I might be starting to lose grounds on this discussion!
Figure 1: Unipolar single quadrant DC source operation

However, all is not lost yet. The DC power supply world is often more complicated than just this unipolar single quadrant operation just presented. Watch for my second part on when the levels and limits are not necessarily one and the same.

## Monday, January 23, 2012

### Six of seven new Agilent power supplies are autorangers, but what is an autoranger, anyway?

In this blog, I avoid writing posts that are heavily product focused since my intention is generally to provide education and interesting information about power products instead of simply promoting our products. However, when we (Agilent) come out with new power products, I think it is appropriate for me to announce them here. So I will tell you about the latest products announced last week, but I also can’t resist writing about some technical aspect related to these products, so I chose to write about autorangers. But first…..a word from our sponsor….

From last week’s press release, Agilent Technologies “introduced seven high-power modules for its popular N6700 modular power system. The new modules expand the ability of test-system integrators and R&D engineers to deliver multiple channels of high power (up to 500 watts) to devices under test.” Here is a link to the entire press release:

I honestly think these new power modules are really great additions to the family of N6700 power products we continue to build upon. We have several mainframes in which these power modules can be installed and now offer 34 different power modules that address applications in R&D and in integrated test systems. Oooooppps, I slipped into product promotion mode there for just a short time, but it was because I really believe in this family of products….I hope you will forgive me!

OK, now on to the more fun stuff! Since six of these seven new power modules are autorangers, let’s explore what an autoranger is. Agilent has been designing and selling autorangers since the 1970s (we were Hewlett-Packard back then) starting with the HP 6002A. To understand what an autoranger is, it will be useful to start with an understanding of what a power supply output characteristic is.

Power supply output characteristic
A power supply output characteristic shows the borders of an area containing all valid voltage and current combinations for that particular output. Any voltage-current combination that is inside the output characteristic is a valid operating point for that power supply.

There are three main types of power supply output characteristics: rectangular, multiple-range, and autoranging. The rectangular output characteristic is the most common.

Rectangular output characteristic
When shown on a voltage-current graph, it should be no surprise that a rectangular output characteristic is shaped like a rectangle. See Figure 1. Maximum power is produced at a single point coincident with the maximum voltage and maximum current values. For example, a 20 V, 5 A, 100 W power supply has a rectangular output characteristic. The voltage can be set to any value from 0 to 20 V, and the current can be set to any value from 0 to 5 A. Since 20 V x 5 A = 100 W, there is a singular maximum power point that occurs at the maximum voltage and current settings.

Multiple-range output characteristic
When shown on a voltage-current graph, a multiple-range output characteristic looks like several overlapping rectangular output characteristics. Consequently, its maximum power point occurs at multiple voltage-current combinations. Figure 2 shows an example of a multiple-range output characteristic with two ranges also known as a dual-range output characteristic. A power supply with this type of output characteristic has extended output range capabilities when compared to a power supply with a rectangular output characteristic; it can cover more voltage-current combinations without the additional expense, size, and weight of a power supply of higher power. So, even though you can set voltages up to Vmax and currents up to Imax, the combination Vmax/Imax is not a valid operating point. That point is beyond the power capability of the power supply and it is outside the operating characteristic.

Autoranging output characteristic
When shown on a voltage-current graph, an autoranging output characteristic looks like an infinite number of overlapping rectangular output characteristics. A constant power curve (V = P / I = K / I, a hyperbola) connects Pmax occurring at (I1, Vmax) with Pmax occurring at (Imax, V1). See Figure 3.

An autoranger is a power supply that has an autoranging output characteristic. While an autoranger can produce voltage Vmax and current Imax, it cannot produce them at the same time. For example, one of the new power supplies just released by Agilent is the N6755A with maximum ratings of 20 V, 50 A, 500 W. You can tell it does not have a rectangular output characteristic since Vmax x Imax (= 1000 W) is not equal to Pmax (500 W). So you can’t get 20 V and 50 A out at the same time. You can’t tell just from the ratings if the output characteristic is multiple-range or autoranging, but a quick look at the documentation reveals that the N6755A is an autoranger. Figure 4 shows its output characteristic.