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ISSUE: August 2013

A Guide To The Operation And Use Of Input EMI Filters For Switching Power Supplies
by Anastasios Simopolous, Beta Dyne, Bridgewater, Mass. Switching power supplies, both dc-dc and ac-dc types, are among the worst sources of EMI and RFI. This is due to the shapes of the switching current and voltage waveforms as well as the very fast switching speeds of these waveforms. Switching transistors (BJTs and MOSFETs), diodes, transformers and inductors are the main sources of RFI generation. The noise generated by switching is a problem in electrical and electronic systems. But at least in terms of conducted EMI, the switching noise can be controlled with an input filter placed between the power lines, neutral and chassis. Despite the widespread use of switching power supplies, many engineers are not clear on how input filters operate, their capabilities and their limitations, how to specify them, and how to apply them. This article aims to address all of these issues, primarily with the non-power supply designer in mind, but in a way that will also inform new power supply designers about key aspects of filter design and application. Understanding input filters is not only about knowing when and how to specify them, but also when not to use them. For example, some power supply have built-in input filters, making it unnecessary to add input filtering to the customers board. But to begin the filter discussion, we must first look at regulatory requirements for emissions, which will dictate the minimum required filter performance.

FCC, VDE, And Military Limits On Emissions

There are multiple standards that set limits on EMI. In the U.S., the regulating agency is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), while in Europe, the main regulatory agency is VDE. The U.S. military also regulates EMI for equipment it purchases. Limits on the radiated and conducted interference levels allowed in the U.S. and internationally are spelled out in the FCCs DOC 20780 and VDEs 0806 standards. Both of these agencies exclude subassemblies from compliance to the rules. This is due to the variability of power supply radiation and conduction characteristics, which depend upon system loading conditions. Therefore, the EMI and RFI standards apply only to the final product where a switching power supply is to be used. Equipment intended for use by the U.S. military must meet MIL STD 461. All regulatory agencies require manufacturers to minimize the radiated and conducted interference of their equipment, which is connected to the power lines and may interfere with the use of high-frequency digital circuitry. The FCC requirements apply to all electronic devices that switch at frequencies greater than 10 kHz, while MIL STD 461 (CEO 3) applies to devices switching at frequencies greater than 15 kHz. The FCC and VDE regulations closely follow one another. The FCC Class A covers equipment intended for use in commercial and industrial environments, while FCC B covers equipment intended for use in residential environments only. Comparing FCC and VDE specifications, the main difference between them is the frequency span covered by these agencies, as shown in Fig. 1. The VDE limits on EMI and RFI emissions cover a spectrum from 10 kHz to 30 MHz, while the FCCs limits on emissions cover a narrower range of 450 kHz to 30 MHz.

The Role Of The Input Filter

The input filter prevents electromagnetic interference or noise, which is generated in all switching power sources, from reaching the power bus and affecting other equipment. The filter attenuates the ac portion of the power supply input current so that only a small amount of it reaches the power bus. In this case, the filter functions as a reverse current filter. As a voltage filter, the input filter prevents high-frequency ac voltage on the power bus from passing through to the output of the power supply and then on to the connected equipment. The feedback loop of a regulated power supply allows for rejection of low-frequency ac voltage on its input. But above the loop crossover frequency the loop cannot reject any low-frequency noise. The filter functions as a forward voltage and reverse current filter.
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Unregulated switching supplies rely on their power source to reject any input noise and to provide voltage regulation for their output. Most unregulated power supplies consist of a power transformer that provides isolation and the step-up or step-down function of the converter. The transformer is followed by a rectifier and a low-pass filter for the output. Any noise on either the input or output of the power supply will appear on the other side of the power supply, either amplified or attenuated by the transformer turns ratio. As mentioned previously, a filter performs two functions. One is to prevent noise generated by the switching source from reaching the ac power lines and affecting other equipment. The second is to prevent highfrequency voltage on the input lines from passing through to the output of the power supply. A passive filter can perform both of these functions.

Fig. 1. FCC and VDE compliance curves show the limits these agencies impose on conducted emissions. (Source: Fairchild Semiconductor[4])

As it is shown in Fig. 2 below, an ideal second-order filter provides 40 dB per decade (12 dB per octave) of attenuation after the cutoff frequency f0, has no gain before f0 and presents a peaking at the resonant frequency f0.


1 2 LC

Cutoff or resonance frequency in Hz

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Fig. 2. An undamped LC filter. (Source: National Semiconductor[3])

As it is shown in Fig. 3, after resonance (at 1 x 10 Hz) the attenuation is 40 dB per decade (at 1 x 10 to 1 x 104 Hz) and the peaking is shown for three different damping factors. At peaking, the gain of the filter, depending on the damping factor can be much greater than one, which implies that, at resonance, the undamped filter will amplify the signal at these frequencies.

Fig. 3. Transfer function of L-C filter for different damping factors. (Source: National Semiconductor[3])

If the crossover frequency of the power supply is higher than the resonant frequency of the filter, the power supply will reject the frequencies below the crossover frequency and the noise occurring at these frequencies will not reach the output of the power supply. A poor damping factor on the input filter can influence the transfer function of the feedback control loop and can cause some oscillation at the output of the power supply.
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Reference 1 explains that the input filter does not significantly modify the converter loop gain if the output impedance curve of the input filter is far below the input impedance curve of the converter. In other words, it is important to keep output impedance of the filter below the input impedance of the converter (Fig. 4.)

Fig. 4. Output impedance of the input filter and input impedance of the switching power supply. The two curves should be well separated. (Source: National Semiconductor[3])

MIL STD 461 imposes limits on susceptibility to conducted interference as spelled out in the CS01 test requirement. In Fig. 5, the CS01 conducted susceptibility limits for airborne equipment are shown. CS01 defines the limits of ac voltage that are superimposed on the dc power bus for test purposes. The frequency limits of this curve are 30 Hz to 50 kHz and the voltage limits are given in Fig. 5. Below 30 Hz, the loop should be rejecting almost all of the ac input voltage. Above 50 kHz, the input filter should attenuate the input voltage to a negligible level.

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Fig. 5 . CS01 susceptibility limits for airborne equipment where E1 = 10% of supply voltage or 5 V rms, whichever is less, and E2 = 1% of supply voltage or 1 V rms, whichever is greater. (Source: MIL-STD-461 handbook)

At intermediate frequencies, typically between 100 Hz and 10 kHz, the interface between loop rejection and filter attenuation takes place. That is the frequency range where problems will occur unless the designer maximizes the loop crossover frequency and filter attenuation. Today, most power converters offer greater than 10-kHz crossover frequencies and filters have a greater attenuation than in the past. Fig. 6 below shows a parallel damped LC filter. Note that the damping is performed by the Rd-Cd network. This network can be a large electrolytic capacitor with its own ESR. The purpose of the ESR is to reduce the output impedance of the filter at the cutoff frequency.

Fig. 6. A parallel damped filter. (Source: National Semiconductor[3])

The capacitor Cd, blocks the dc component of the input voltage and avoids power dissipation in Rd. Another function of Rd is to compensate for the negative input resistance of the power supply. Switching power supplies
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exhibit this negative input resistance because they are designed to hold the output voltage constant under any input voltage variation within the input-voltage range. Given a constant load current, the power required for a constant output power is also constant. Any increase of the input voltage will produce a corresponding decrease in the input current to keep the output power constant under ideal conditions. That assumes the internal power dissipation is constant over the input voltage range. Therefore, the converters input impedance behaves as a negative resistance at low frequenc ies and at high frequencies it behaves like the resistance of a capacitor. To ensure stability (see Reference 1), the source impedance must be less than the converters input impedance (ZS < ZC.) Even though it is not obvious why stability problems are eliminated when a large capacitor is placed between the converter and the filter, this phenomenon is described in detail in the literature.

Common-Mode Filter Choke

Conduction-mode noise (as opposed to the radiated type) falls into one of two categories. The first type is differential mode, which is conducted on both the signal line and ground (GND), but in opposite directions. Differential-mode noise is suppressed by installing a filter on the power supply line, as mentioned in the preceding section. The second type is common-mode noise, which is conducted on all lines in the same direction (Fig. 7.)



Fig. 7. Arrows show the direction of current flow under differential-mode (a) and common-mode (b) conduction.

A good input filter must be able to reject both differential- and common-mode noise. In Fig. 8 below, a typical input filter is shown.

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Fig. 8. A typical input filter.

Referring to Fig. 9, L2 with C4, C6 and C8 perform differential-mode attenuation, while the R1-C5, and R2-C7 combinations perform the damping fuction in the differential mode. L2 with C2, C3, C9, and C10 perform the common-mode attenuation. The transfer function of the differential and common mode of the filter in Fig. 9 is shown in Fig. 10.

Fig. 9. Typical differential- and common-mode filter.

Fig. 10. Transfer function of the differential- and common-mode filter in Fig. 9.

In conclusion, a well-designed input filter is not a panacea (cure all) for all switching power supply noise issues, as all the electronic components have limitations due to the parasitic elements and component tolerances. For
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example, if you are looking for an input filter for a military power converter to pass CS01, keep in mind that military converters with magnetic coupling in the feedback loop have slow transient response and the selected filter must have a cutoff frequency lower than other power supplies with faster transient response. However, if the filter on hand has a 3-dB cutoff around 100 kHz and you want to filter the output of a switcher switching at 20 kHz, it will not work, even if you fill the PCB with large capacitors. A more comprehensive understanding of the basic functions of the filters as well as a good layout will reduce testing and troubleshooting time to design a reliable product one can bring to the market. References 1. Input Filter Considerations in Design and Application of Switching Regulators, by R.D. Middlebrook, IEEE Industry Applications Society Annual Meeting, 1976 Record, pages 366 382. 2. Second-stage LC Filter Design by Ray Ridley, Swirching Power Magazine, July 2000, pages 8-10. 3. Input Filter Design for Switching Power Supplies, by Michele Sclocchi, National Semiconductor application note, 2010. (A PDF is available online. Do a Google search on the title.) 4. Safety, EMI and RFI Considerations, by Daryl Sugasawara and Jens Paetau, Fairchild Semiconductor Application Note 42007, October 25, 2000.

About The Author

Anastasios Simopolous is the CEO and senior design engineer at Beta Dyne. Prior to launching this company, Simopolous cofounded Conversion Devices Inc. (CDI). He has 35 years of experience in analog circuit design and holds six patents on dcdc converters. He has a B.S. in electrical engineering (EE) from University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and an M.S EE from Northeastern University.

For further reading on filter design or application, see the How2Power Design Guide, select the Advanced Search option, go to Search by Design Guide Category and select Filters and Snubbers in the Power Supply Function category.

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