Thursday, February 28, 2013

Protect your DUT: use sense leads for overvoltage protection (OVP)

Earlier this week, one of our military customers providing DC power to a very expensive device during test asked about the availability of a special option on one of our power supplies. He wanted the option that changed the location of the overvoltage protection (OVP) sensing terminals from the output terminals of the power supply to the sense terminals of the power supply. Since his device under test (DUT) is located quite a distance away from the power supply, he is using remote sensing to regulate the power supply voltage right at his device under test. (Click here for a post about remote sense.) And since the DUT is very expensive and sensitive to excessive voltage, he needs to protect the input of the DUT from excessive voltage as measured right at the DUT input terminals.

The power supply he is using, an Agilent N6752A installed in an N6700B mainframe, normally uses the output terminals as the sensing location for the overvoltage protection. (Click here for a post that includes a description of OVP.) OVP is used to prevent excessive voltage from being applied to sensitive devices. If the voltage at the output terminals exceeds the OVP setting, the output of the power supply shuts down. Since this customer is very interested in preventing excessive voltage from being applied to his expensive DUT, sensing for an overvoltage condition right at the DUT is important. For the N6752A, Agilent offers a special option (J01) that adds the ability to do OVP sensing with the sense leads. See Figure 1. With the J01 option added to his N6752A, the customer’s DUT is protected against excessive voltage.

You may be wondering why the standard OVP would sense at the output terminals instead of at the sense terminals. For decades, we have been making power supplies that sense OVP at the output terminals. Probably the biggest reason for sensing at the output terminals is because that approach provides more reliable protection than sensing at the sense leads even though it is less accurate. The output terminals are the power-producing terminals. If the sense leads become inadvertently shorted, the voltage at the output terminals would rise uncontrolled beyond the maximum rated output of the power supply. This uncontrolled high voltage could easily damage any device connected to the power supply’s output leads! So sensing for an overvoltage condition at the output terminals actually makes sense. It may not be the most accurate way to protect the DUT, but it is the most reliable given all of the things that can go wrong, such as a wiring error or an internal fault in the power supply.

The J01 option is available for only certain N67xx power modules. It adds the ability to sense for an overvoltage condition on the sense leads. This option does not remove the existing output terminal overvoltage sensing feature; it is in addition to it. Additionally, the J01 option is a tracking OVP option. You set a voltage value that is an offset from the programmed output voltage value. The J01 tracking overvoltage threshold tracks the real-time programming changes to the voltage setting and uses the remote sense leads to monitor the voltage.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Addressing the challenge of sequencing multiple bias supplies on and off

A challenge test engineers are perennially faced with is how to best sequence the bias voltages powering their DUT, when their DUT requires several bias voltages. Many DUTs are sensitive to sequencing and an improper sequence may lead to the DUT hanging up, or worse, suffer damage as a consequence. Not only is sequencing an issue when powering the DUT on, but it can also be an issue when powering the DUT down as well. In addition to sequencing, the slew rates of the various bias voltages can likewise be important to the DUT correctly powering on.

Simply relying on the timing of output-on and output-off commands sent from the test system controller to all the system DC power supplies individually tends to be far too imprecise, especially for critical sequencing timing requirements. The actual turn-on time of a typical system DC power supply can be many tens of milliseconds, and will vary considerably between different models of power supplies. The turn-on and turn-off times of each will need to be carefully characterized in order to know when a command for a specific bias voltage needs to be sent in relation to the other bias voltages. It is very likely the sequence of commands sent for outputs to turn on or off may be in a different sequence to the outputs actually changing, due to delay differences between different DC power supplies! An even bigger problem however is most system controllers are PCs which may randomly experience a large delay in sending out a command, if a higher level service request interrupts and pre-empts execution of the test program.

An alternative approach often taken is adding some custom hardware to control output sequencing. This can assure correct sequencing, but adds a lot of complexity, is usually inflexible, and may introduce other issues and compromises.

At Agilent we added system features to our N6700 series multiple output modular DC power system that support correct power-on and power-off sequencing. The output-on and output-off controls for the individual outputs get grouped together. The N6700 platform knows and compensates for the actual delays of all the various DC power output modules so that the desired delay value entered will be what is accurately achieved. Figure 1 shows setting up an N6705A to achieve a desired turn-on sequence of DC outputs for powering up a PC mother board. Figure 2 shows the actual result. A more detailed description of this PC motherboard example is given in our application note: “Biasing Multiple Input Voltage Devices in R&D”. While the N6705B DC Power Analyzer mainframe is regarded as being primarily for R&D, which this app note is referencing, the low profile rack-mountable N6700 series mainframes have these very same features and suit automated test systems in manufacturing and other environments.

Figure 1: Setting Output Delays

Figure 2: Output Turn-on Sequence Results

Just like setting up the power-on sequence, separate delays for power-off can also be entered, as seen in the set up screen shown in Figure 1, for the expected shut down of the DUT. However, what if there is an emergency shut down due to an abnormal condition and you still want to assure a certain power-off sequence? A colleague worked out the procedure for setting up the N6700 series DC power system to provide an orderly shutdown of the outputs, in the event of a problem on one of the outputs. In this example it happens to be an overvoltage condition on one of the outputs, but any of a number of fault conditions can be acted on to initiate an orderly shutdown. Details of this procedure are provided in another application note; “Avoid DUT Damage by Sequencing Multiple Power Inputs Off Upon a Fault Event”.

So when faced with the challenge of having to properly sequence multiple DC bias voltages powering your DUT, reconsider trying to engineer a solution to accomplish this. Instead, look for features that provide this kind of capability in the system DC power supplies you are looking to use, already built-in. It makes a lot of sense having sequencing built into the power supplies and it will make your life a lot easier!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Protecting your DUT using a power supply’s remote inhibit and fault indicator features

Paramount in most any good electronic test system is the need to adequately protect the device under test (DUT), as well as the test equipment, from inadvertent damage due to possible faults with the yet-untested DUT, accidental misconnections, misapplication of power, and a large number of other unanticipated events that can occur. It is no surprise that a lot of these unanticipated events by nature are related to the powering of the DUT. For this reason good system DC power supplies incorporate a number of features designed to protect both the DUT, as well as the power supply, in the event of an unanticipated fault occurring.  Two related protection features incorporated into our DC system power supplies are the remote inhibit and the discrete fault indicator (RI/DFI). These features provide real-time protection enabling immediate shutting down the power supply, as well as enabling the power supply to take immediate action, on the event of detecting the occurrence of an unanticipated event or fault.

The remote inhibit is a digital input control while the discrete fault indicator is a digital output control signal, incorporated into the digital I/O port on our system DC power supplies. An example of a digital I/O port is illustrated in Figure 1. When the digital I/O port is configured for fault/inhibit (also called RI/DFI) pins 1 and 2 are the open collector and emitter of an isolated transistor, to serve as a digital output control, and pin3 and 4 are the digital input and common for the inhibit control input. The remote inhibit and the fault indicator can be used independently as well as in combination, for protecting the DUT.

Figure 1: Multi-function digital I/O port on Agilent 6600A series system DC power supplies

As the name implies, the remote inhibit is a digital control input, when activated, immediately disables the DC power supply’s output. One way this is commonly used is to connect an emergency shutdown switch that can be conveniently activated in the event of a problem. This may be a large pushbutton, or it may be a switch incorporated into a fixture safety cover. This arrangement is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Remote inhibit using external switch

The fault indicator (i.e. FLT, FI, or DFI) digital output signal originates from the system DC power supply’s status system. The status system is a configurable logic system within the power supply having a number of registers that keep track of its status for operational, questionable, and standard events. Many of these events can be logically OR’ed together as needed to provide a fault output signal when particular, typically unanticipated, events occurs with the power supply. Items tracked by questionable status group register, like over voltage and over current, for example, are commonly selected and used for generating a fault output signal. An overview of the power supply status register system was discussed by a colleague in a previous posting. If you are interested in learning more; click here.
The fault indicator output can in turn be used to control an external activity for protecting the DUT, such as opening a disconnect relay to isolate the DUT, as one example, as depicted in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Fault output controlling an external disconnect relay

For DUTs that require multiple bias voltage inputs it is usually desirable that if a fault is detected on one bias input, that the other bias inputs are immediately shut down in conjunction with the one detecting a fault. The fault outputs and remote inhibit inputs on several DC power supplies can be used in combination by chaining them together, as depicted in Figure 4, to accomplish this task, to safeguard the DUT.

Figure 4: Chaining fault indicators and remote inhibits on multiple DC power supplies

The remote inhibit and fault indicator digital control signals on system DC power supplies provide a number of ways to disable power and take other actions for safeguarding the DUT. Their action is immediate, not requiring communication to, and intervention from, the test system controller. At the same time the system DC power supply generates status signals and can issue a service request (SRQ) to the test system controller so that it is notified of a problem condition and take appropriate correction action as well. The remote inhibit and fault indicator digital control signals are just two of many features found in many good system DC power supplies to assure the DUT is always adequately protected during test!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tips to prevent voltage droop from tripping low voltage detection circuits

There are many battery operated devices such as cell phones, hand-held two-way radios, and portable GPS’s that have low voltage detection circuits. These circuits are designed to prevent the device from trying to operate at battery voltages that are below a safe value for reliable operation of the internal circuitry. Voltage supplied by a battery located very close to the circuitry drawing current from it remains fairly rigid even when the device draws pulses of current which is often the case. However, during testing of the device, a power supply is frequently used to power the device instead of the battery. Voltage supplied by a power supply, typically located quite a distance from the circuitry drawing current, will often momentarily droop each time a positive edge of current is drawn. This momentary voltage droop can cause an undesired trip of the low voltage detection circuit in the device interrupting the test.

Here are some tips to reduce voltage droop caused by fast current changes on the output voltage of a power supply.

·         Shorten wires from power supply to DUT (device under test)
Wires have resistance (R) and inductance (L), both of which develop voltage across them when a current pulse flows through the wire. Shortening the length of wire will reduce the voltage drop developed across the R and L, reducing the droop at the DUT.
·         Use larger diameter wire from the power supply to the DUT
Larger diameter wire will have lower R, reducing the voltage developed across it when current flows
·         Install multiple runs of the same wire in parallel
Parallel wires will have lower R and lower L, again reducing the voltage developed across them when current flows
·         Lower the inductance of the wire
o   Tightly twist the plus and minus power supply output wires together
Never allow the power supply plus and minus output wires to become separated. This will substantially increase the inductance, increasing voltage drop with current, especially if the current changes quickly (V = L * dI/dt). Simply placing the wires next to each other is much better than letting them fall freely, but twisting them together is highly recommended over tightly coupling them without twisting. See example results shown below.
o   Add multiple wires in parallel
As mentioned earlier, adding multiple wires in parallel reduces inductance. The best method to use here is to twist pairs of plus and minus wires together, and then run each twisted set separately to the DUT (bundling the twisted sets together is not as effective as keeping the sets separated).
o   Use a low inductance cable
Some cables are designed specifically to have low inductance. Goertz wire is one example. Also, Temp-Flex makes low inductance cable. These types of wire can drastically lower the inductance in the path between your power supply and your DUT, greatly reducing voltage droop that occurs with current transients. However, these cables tend to be expensive.
·         Eliminate connectors
Remove as many connectors as possible between the power supply output and DUT. When current flows through a connector, voltage is dropped across the connection points.
·         Use a power supply with a low output impedance
Some power supply vendors publish output impedance graphs. Try to use one with the lowest output impedance possible. Current pulses drawn from a power supply with lower output impedance will drop less voltage than a power supply with higher output impedance.
·         Add low ESR capacitors at the power supply output
You can reduce the effective output impedance of your power supply by adding a low ESR (equivalent series resistance) cap right at the output of your power supply. Many power supplies already have output caps and fairly low output impedance, so this will help only if the caps you choose actually help to lower the overall output impedance.
·         Add low ESR capacitors right at the DUT
When current is demanded by the DUT, having a local cap right at the DUT to provide the current will greatly reduce the voltage drop on the wire running to the DUT. This is because the required current comes from the cap and does not have to flow through the wire where it would drop voltage. It is important to choose caps with low ESR. Otherwise, when the current flows out of the cap, the voltage will again droop due to the current dropping voltage across the ESR.

If you are having trouble with voltage droop due to fast current changes, each of the above tips will help to contribute to reducing the droop. If the droop is large, it is unlikely you will be able to use just one technique from above to fix it. Most likely, you will have to implement many if not all of the methods above to get the best performance possible from your test setup.

Below is a simple example showing measured droop differences when using three different wiring techniques: free falling wire, loosely coupled wire, and twisted wire. An Agilent N6751A power supply with 10 feet of 10AWG wire running between it and an Agilent 6063B electronic load was used. The N6751A was set for 5 V with a current limit of 5 A, and the load was set to switch between 1 A and 3 A with a rise time of about 10 us. Remote sense was used on the power supply, sensing at the load input. A current probe captured the current (lower waveforms) and the voltage droop was measured (upper waveforms) at the load input which was at the end of the 10 feet of wire.

You can see the voltage droop was reduced as the wires became better coupled, lowering their inductance. The droop measured 1.7 V with the wires free falling. This droop was reduced significantly to 0.84 V with loosely coupled wire. Further reduction in droop was observed when the wires were twisted: the droop measured 0.69 V.

Many of the concepts presented here are explored further in a paper co-authored several years ago by one of our other Watt’s Up? blog authors, Ed Brorein. Here is a link to that paper:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Joys of Owning a DC Power Supply

Back in 2000, when I was a young man and had just begun working for Agilent., Gary came up to me and told me that there was a brand new power supply that was going to be scrapped and that I should take it.  The power supply was a 6024A 200 W autoranger that was a very old design, even at that time.  I took a look and it had analog meters and no keypad!  I questioned Gary on why I would want it and he said, “Trust me it will come in handy”.

Here it is:

Gary, being older and wiser than I was at the time, was right.  I had just started working at Agilent and I was still living with my parents so I put it in the basement.  When I moved, I took it with me to my apartment.  Since then there have been several occasions where it came in very handy. 

The first is that there is always an occasional battery that needs charging so I can hook up the 6024A and charge my batteries (we highly recommend putting a blocking diode in series with the output of the supply to protect your battery). It is controlled so there is no danger to the batteries and it totally works like a champ.

The biggest use I have had for it has been troubleshooting the various electronic gadgets that I own.  The first time I used it for this purpose was to troubleshoot my wireless router.  One day it just stopped working.  Instead of throwing it out (wireless G routers were pretty expensive at that point) I figured that I would use my power supply to determine whether it was a problem with the wall adaptor for the router or the router itself.  I bought some cables from an electronics store, grabbed my soldering iron, and hooked my router up to my DC Power Supply.  I set the voltage and the current limit and the router came to life.  All I need to do was to get a new adapter and I was good to go. 

A similar thing happened with an internet streaming box that I had connected to my TV.  All of a sudden it stopped working.  I called their tech support (a terrible experience) they told me that I had to purchase a new box.  Since I had nothing to lose, I chopped up the DC adaptor and hooked it up to my 6024A.  I wish that I took a picture.  I had the box connected to my TV being powered by my 6024A.  The box came to life and I did not need to spend 100 bucks on a new one

Not everyone is as lucky as I am to work for Agilent and get a free HP supply but if you can get your hands on any kind of programmable DC power supply I recommend taking it.  I am glad that I have my power supply and I keep it on my bench, always ready to use.


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, January 8, 2013

The difference between constant current and current limit in DC power supplies

Constant Voltage/Constant Current (CC/CV) Power Supplies
In most of our discussions in “Watt’s Up?” on current limiting we have primarily talked about power supplies as having a constant current (CC) output characteristic. This is what is found in many lab and industrial system power supplies, including most of the power supplies provided by us. Even though the terms often get used interchangeably, there is actually a distinction between constant current and current limit. To help explain this distinction, Figure 1 illustrates the output characteristics of a constant voltage/constant current (CV/CC) power supply.

Figure 1: Operating locus of a CC/CV power supply

Five operating points are depicted in Figure 1:
  1. With no load (i.e. infinite load resistance): Iout = 0 and Vout = Vset
  2. With a load resistance of RL > Vset/Iset: Iout = Vset/RL and Vout = Vset
  3. With a load resistance of RL = Vset/Iset: Iout = Iset and Vout = Vset
  4. With a load resistance of RL < Vset/Iset: Iout = Iset and Vout = Iset*RL
  5. With a short circuit (i.e. zero load resistance): Iout = Iset and Vout = 0

The advantage of a CV/CC power supply is it can be used as either a voltage source or a current source, providing reasonable performance in either mode. The point at which RL = Vset/Iset is the mode crossover point where the power supply transitions between CV and CC operation. For a CV/CC power supply there is a sharp transition between CV and CC operation. Note that for an ideal CV/CC power supply the CV slope is zero (horizontal), indicating zero output resistance for CV operation while the CC slope is infinite (vertical), indicating infinite output resistance for CC operation. Note that this is at DC. How close the slope of each mode is to ideal is what determines quality of load regulation for each.  To achieve good performance for both CV and CC modes requires carefully designed and more complex control loops for each mode. More details about using a power supply as a current source is provided in an earlier posting here, entitled: “Can a standard DC power supply be used as a current source?”

Constant Voltage/Current Limiting Power Supplies
In comparison a constant voltage/current limiting (CV/CL) power supplies are intended to be used only as a voltage source while providing over-current protection for the DUT, as well as protection for the power supply itself. Figure 2 depicts typical output characteristics of a CV/CL power supply.

Figure 2: Operating locus of a CV/CL power supply

In CV/CL power supplies the current limit may be a fixed maximum value or it may be settable. In comparison to Figure 1 CV operation is still the same. However, what is found at the current limit cross-over point there is loss of voltage regulation where the voltage starts falling off. Unlike true CC operation in a CV/CC power supply, CL operation does not typically have as sharply a defined cross-over point and once in CL it may not be tightly regulated between the cross-over and short circuit points. The reason for this is CL control circuits are usually more basic in nature in comparison to a true CC control loop. CL is meant for over-current protection only, not CC operation.  For this reason the correct use of CL is to set its value a bit higher than the maximum current required by the DUT. This assures good voltage regulation for the full range of normal loading. You may find many of the more basic bench power supplies have CV/CL operation and may not be useful as current sources as a result.

Reference: Agilent Technologies DC Power Supply Handbook, application note AN-90B, part number 5952-4020