Electromagnetic interference can emanate from high di/dt loops found in some switch-mode supply topologies. New controllers overcome these difficulties by integrating key components inside the chip package.
Tony Armstrong | Power by Linear, Analog Devices Inc.
It goes without saying that PCB layout sets functional, electromagnetic interference (EMI) and thermal behavior of every power supply design. Switching power supply layout is not black magic, but it is often overlooked until late in the design process. Many switch-mode power supply designers are familiar with the design complexities and nuances of switch mode operation. But a lot of these old hands are literally retiring and leaving the industry!
Consequently, more and more digital designers are being asked to take on switch-mode supply designs for no other reason than too few analog power supply designers to get the job done. Most digital designers know how to design with a simple linear regulator; it is less clear they are equipped to handle more complex designs such as step-up mode (boost) or even a buck-boost topology (buck and boost modes combined). This leaves many electronic systems manufacturers wondering how their switch-mode supply circuits will get done.
Companies that make ICs for switch-mode supplies are aware of this brain drain. So they are devising chips that help remove some of the complexity involved in the design of switch-mode circuitry. To understand these developments, consider the example of the basic buck regulator as diagramed in the nearby schematic. High di/dt and parasitic inductance in the switcher “hot” loop causes electromagnetic noise and switch ringing. EMI emanates from the high di/dt loops. The supply wire as well as the load wire should not have high ac current content. Accordingly, the input capacitor C2 should source all the relevant ac currents to the output capacitor where any ac currents end.
During the on cycle with M1 closed and M2 open, the ac current follows the solid blue loop. During the off cycle, with M1 open and M2 closed, the ac current follows the green dotted loop. Most people have difficulty grasping that the loop producing the highest EMI is not the solid blue nor the dotted green. Only in the dotted red loop flows a fully switched ac current, switched from the zero to I peak and back to zero. The dotted red loop is commonly referred to as a hot loop because it has the highest ac and EMI energy.
It is the high di/dt and parasitic inductance in the switcher hot loop that causes electromagnetic noise and switch ringing. To reduce EMI and improve performance, one must minimize the radiating effect of the dotted red loop. If we could reduce the PCB area of the dotted red loop to zero and buy an ideal capacitor with zero impedance, the problem would be solved. However, in the real world, it is the design engineer who must find an optimal compromise.
The source of the high-frequency noise is the energy from switching transitions that is coupled though parasitic resistors, inductors and capacitors and creates high-frequency harmonics. So, knowing where the noise is generated gives clues about how to reduce it. The traditional way to reduce noise is to slow the MOSFET switching edges. Designers can mitigate these edges by slowing the internal switch driver or by adding snubbers externally.
However, these measures will reduce the efficiency of the converter because they increase switching loss – especially if the switcher runs at a high switching frequency, say 2 MHz. There are several reasons for running at 2 MHz, which is relatively high for a switching supply:
This switching rate enables the use of physically smaller external components such as capacitors and inductors. For example, every doubling of switching frequency leads to a halving of inductance value and output capacitance value.
In automotive applications, switching at 2 MHz keeps noise out of the AM radio band.
Filters and shielding can also be employed, but at the price of more external components and circuit board area. Spread-spectrum frequency modulation (SSFM) could also be implemented – this technique dithers the system clock within a specified range. SSFM reduces EMI in switching regulators. Although the switching frequency is most often chosen to be outside the AM band (530 kHz to 1.8 MHz), unmitigated switching harmonics can still violate stringent automotive EMI requirements within the AM band. Adding SSFM significantly reduces EMI both within the AM band as well as other regions.
Or, one could simply use ADI Silent Switcher technology. It delivers high efficiency, low EMI, and sustains high switching frequencies with no tradeoffs.
Silent Switcher technology
A Silent Switcher breaks the trade-off between EMI and efficiency without the need for slowing the switch edge rates. Consider the LT8610. It is a 42-V input-capable, monolithic (FETs inside) synchronous buck converter that can deliver up to 2.5 A of output current. It has a single input pin (VIN) at its top left corner. Compare this device with the LT8614, another 42-V input capable, monolithic synchronous buck converter that can deliver up to 4 A of output current. The LT8614 has two VIN pins and two ground pins on the opposite side of the package. This is significant, because it is part of what allows “silent” switching.
Placing two input capacitors on opposite sides of the chip between the VIN and ground pins will cancel the magnetic fields. Additionally, there are opposing VIN, ground and input caps to enable magnetic field cancellation (right-hand rule applies) to lower EMI emissions. With the Silent Switcher capability of the LT8614, we can reduce the parasitic inductance by using copper-pillar flip-chip packaging.
Reductions in package parasitic inductance come from eliminating the long bond wires of a wire-bonded assembly technique; the bond wires induce parasitic resistance and inductance. The opposing magnetic fields from the hot loops cancel each other out and the electric loop sees no net magnetic field.
The LT8614 Silent Switcher technology has been tested against a current state-of-the-art switching regulator, the LT8610. Testing took place in a GTEM cell using the same load, input voltage, and the same inductor on the standard demo boards for both parts. We found that using the LT8614 Silent Switcher technology brings a 20-dB improvement compared to the already good EMI performance of the LT8610, especially at more-difficult-to-manage higher frequencies. Switching supplies based on the LT8614 need less filtering compared to other sensitive systems. Furthermore, the LT8614 exhibits benign time-domain behavior on its switch node edges.
The LT8614 exhibits impressive performance, but it is not the end of the road. The LT8640 step-down regulator also features Silent Switcher architecture and delivers high efficiency at frequencies up to 3 MHz. Assembled in a 3×4-mm QFN, the monolithic construction with integrated power switches and inclusion of all necessary circuitry yields a minimal PCB footprint. Transient response remains excellent and output voltage ripple is below 10 mVP-P at any load, from zero to full current. The LT8640 allows high-VIN-to-low-VOUT conversion at high frequency with a fast-minimum top switch on-time of 30 nsec.
To improve EMI/EMC, the LT8640 can operate in spread-spectrum mode. This feature varies the clock with a triangular frequency modulation of +20%. Here, a triangular frequency modulation varies the switching frequency between the value programmed by an external resistor (RT) to approximately 20% higher than that value. The modulation frequency is approximately 3 kHz. For example, when the LT8640 is programmed to switch at 2 MHz, the frequency will vary from 2 MHz to 2.4 MHz at a 3-kHz rate. When spread-spectrum operation is selected, Burst Mode operation is disabled, and the part will run in either pulse-skipping mode or forced-continuous mode.
One possible difficulty with Silent Switcher control is that placing the filter capacitors too far from the LT8614 on the PCB can still lead to operational problems. Silent Switcher 2 eliminates this possibility by integrating the filter capacitors — VIN caps, IntVCC and Boost caps – inside a new LQFN package. This integration puts all the hot loops and ground planes within the packaging. The result is lower EMI and a smaller footprint thanks to fewer external components. And the PCB layout is much less sensitive to component location.
Silent Switcher 2 also enables better thermal performance. The large multiple ground exposed pads on the LQFN Flip-Chip package facilitate the extraction of heat from the package and into the PCB. The elimination of high-resistance bond wires also boosts conversion efficiency. The EMI performance of the LT8640S easily passes the Radiated EMI Performance CISPR25 Class 5 peak limits with a wide margin.
Silent Switcher technology can also be found in the LTM8053 and LTM8073 micromodule regulators where everything is virtually integrated with just a few external caps and resistors. Finally, it is worth pointing out that the reduction in PCB space made possible by Silent Switcher devices can also reduce the number of PCB layers needed.
Analog Devices Inc., Power by Linear, www.analog.com/en/products/landing-pages/001/power-by-linear.html