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Analysis, operation, and modi�cation of a


switchmode power supply (SMPS) for variable
output voltage (28/10/15)

End result: 33A maximum output current, adjustable from 4.8V to 15V

7.5V supply availability


After this page was posted on Hackaday, a commenter pointed out that
7.5V is actually a standard power supply voltage! I never knew this, so I
was only searching for 5V, 12V, 24V supplies. Sure enough, there are lots
of 7.5V supplies around - for example TRC Electronics. In addition, most
of these will have ±5% adjustment so, for the original application which
required 7.4V, I could just have used an o�-the-shelf supply instead.

Important note
Nearly all Chinese-made power supplies of this type I've come across have had very poor heatsinking
of the various power semiconductors - transistors, diodes etc. Little care is taken to ensure good
thermal contact with the metal casing, so I always strip the supply down, check the mounting of the
heatsinks, and apply some extra thermal grease.

Also, some of the tracks on this supply have insu�cient creepage/clearance - see red section further
down the page for details.

Introduction
I'm currently working on a product which uses a size 2430 "hobby" brushless motor and 25A
electronic speed controller (ESC). In its "intended" use, the controller runs from two lithium-ion
batteries with a total voltage of around 7.4V, but I want to run it from a mains-derived power supply
instead. However, there are no o�-the-shelf supplies available with that output voltage.

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Fortunately, there is no shortage of inexpensive Chinese switchmode supplies with standard outputs
of 5,12,24V etc. Most (all?) of these have the ability to adjust the output voltage slightly, by around
±10%. I reckoned that it should be possible to modify such a supply to provide a fully-adjustable
output voltage which could be set to the desired 7.4V. This is by no means a novel idea - many people
have modi�ed supplies (a common mod is to increase the output to 13.8V, for ham radio use) - but I
haven't seen a good operational analysis of these supplies, so it's a good excuse to do some detective
work and �gure out what makes them tick.

The supply
The model numbering scheme for these supplies appears to be S-AAA-BB, where AAA is the power
rating in watts and BB is the output voltage. For this application, I've used an S-400-12 supply (400W,
12V, 33A). Here it is:

Here is a copy of the original EBay listing. It was very cheap - actually less than some of the 360W
supplies which are available! Because of the relatively high power rating, it has a cooling fan which
turns on when the power supply's temperature (measured with a thermal switch placed inside the
output �lter inductor) rises above a certain point.

Reverse-engineering the PCB


First task - get the main PCB out, scanned/photographed, traced, and a circuit drawn. My procedure
was roughly the following (all processing done in Photoshop):

1. Scan the bottom side (tracks) and stick it into Photoshop.


2. In a new layer, make white dots over every one of the pads/vias/holes. This will help both for
aligning things later, and for producing a nice image.
3. Photograph the top side (components). I photographed the board in four quarters and
reassembled these in Photoshop to try and get a "�at" view of the board. The white dots made
in step 2 are a huge help for aligning the four images.

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4. Using the path tools, draw around every one of the bottom tracks.
5. Use the paths as selection areas to �ll in the tracks in a separate layer - use colors to identify
the main tracks like DC ground, DC output, HV positive and negative, etc.
6. Go through each component and track, see what they're connected to, and start �lling all this
out in a schematic. Once fully done with each component or track, erase it in photoshop (or just
draw over it in a separate layer with white) so you can focus on the stu� that hasn't been
traced yet.
7. Use a lot of guesswork and artistry to lay out a nice circuit diagram!

Here's high-res images of the PCB:

Important note on creepage/clearance: An eagle-eyed reader (RW) pointed out that there is
insu�cient creepage/clearance between several of the tracks on the PCB. The tracks in question are
[ZD2 cathode/Q3 collector/TR1] and [upper ends of R5/R6/R7]. The location, and a possible solution, is
highlighted in the image below (tracks viewed from above, looking "through" the PCB). It's just to the
right of the L-shaped slot underneath TR1.

The distance between the tracks is only about 1.5mm which is far less than a safe value (check out
these tables of creepage/clearance distances). As shown, a simple solution would be to remove part
of the track and re-wire it with a jumper. Ideally, the slot should be extended as well, but there might
not be space for that.

In conclusion, it's always worth checking for any creepage/clearance problems in a supply, and
making some attempt to correct them, if you value your safety!

And, what you've all been waiting for, the full schematic (click image to link to the PDF). An Eagle
schematic is also available here.

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I also removed the two transformers and measured their properties (inductance, phasing, ratios,
resistance) - click below for a PDF:

It's a pretty standard sort of supply - half-bridge topology, with a single TL494 PWM controller chip
running everything. Isolation is provided by the base drive transformer, so there's no need for
optocoupler feedback.

I'll go through each main section of the circuit and try to describe its operation. Some sections
correspond to the dotted boxes on the circuit diagram, others don't!

Input �lter and HV supply


This is a pretty bog-standard circuit. Fuse, common-mode choke, �lter capacitors to block/absorb any
HF interference, the a full-wave bridge recti�er and two smoothing caps. Note that C2 and C3 are in
series - this is so the midpoint can be used as a voltage at half the full supply voltage. One end of the

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transformer's primary goes to here, the other end gets switched between 0V and the full supply
voltage, so the primary sees ± half the full supply voltage.

SW1 is the switch to select between 110V/230V operation. For 230V operation, the switch is open, and
the voltage across C2+C3 is the peak AC input voltage. For 110V operation, the switch is closed, and
the bridge + the two capacitors act as a voltage doubler so the total voltage across C2+C3 is now twice
the peak AC input voltage.

Bridge transistors + base drive + main transformer


(TR1 is the base drive transformer, I've also called it "gate" transformer sometimes. TR2 is the main
transformer.)

The two bridge transistors (Q4 & Q1) switch one end of the transformer's primary between 0V and the
full DC supply voltage. There is some very clever trickery going on here which I only barely
understand. First, the extra resistors such as R14, R13, R8, R4 bias the main transistors on slightly
during startup (keep in mind that the auxiliary supply isn't available during startup, so the TL494 isn't
running). One transistor will turn on slightly quicker than the other. If you look closely, note that the
bottom end of the main transformer's primary isn't connected directly to the midpoint of the two
transistors - rather, it goes through a winding on the base drive transformer. As current starts �owing
in the main transformer primary, it induces a current in the base transformer windings, one of which
will assist the already-on transistor, switching it fully on. Thanks to some resonant and saturation
trickery (probably involving C10, in series with the transformer primary), this whole process repeats
for the other transistor, and the whole bridge self-oscillates. This will provide enough power to get the
auxiliary supply up (it reaches about 10V, but that can vary), and start the TL494 running, at which
point it takes over and controls the switching of the bridge transistors.

Another extremely neat feature of this con�guration, in addition to the self-starting capability, is that
the TL494 doesn't have to provide the full base drive current to the bridge transistors - the base drive
current actually comes from the primary current, coupled through the base drive transformer. The
drive transistors on the primary of the base transformer simply manage to control which of the main
transistors is held on by the primary current.

All that is an extremely loose and incomplete explanation. Fortunately, there is a fantastic page which
describes exactly how it does work - Manfred Mornhinweg has a page on building a 13.8V 40A supply
and his design uses nearly exactly the same circuit (or rather, the Chinese supply uses the same
circuit as he, since his one probably came �rst!).

Fortunately (2), understanding the actual operation of this part isn't essential to understanding the
rest of the supply, so I wouldn't worry about it too much. It Just Works™.

Output recti�cation & smoothing


For the main DC output, there's a center-tapped secondary with a couple of power Schottky diodes
doing the recti�cation. Some smoothing caps, indicator LED, and a big �lter inductor (L1).

J1,J4,J7 are low-resistance wire jumpers which are used as a current sensing resistor. Since the PCB is
designed with di�erent con�gurations of power supply in mind (voltages and output currents), there
are positions for six jumpers - by changing the number of jumpers, the current limit level can be
changed to suit di�erent supplies.

There could probably be a bit more in the way of smoothing capacitors on the output, but the ripple
isn't too bad. Note that the caps are only 16V, which is pretty close to the maximum adjusted voltage
of this supply of nearly 15V. Choosing 25V rated capacitors would probably be better.

Auxiliary & fan supplies


Both of these are derived from the center-tapped auxiliary winding on the main transformer. The fan

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supply is switched with a thermal cutout to power the fan when the supply overheats. The auxiliary
supply provides power (Vcc) to the TL494.

Feedback/regulation/current limiting
The voltage sense divider (dotted box on far left of schematic) results in an adjustment range of about
10-15V with the default component values. The output of the divider (top of C28) is connected to the
noninverting input (pin 1) of the #1 opamp in the TL494. The inverting input (pin 2) goes to a �xed
2.5V reference (half of Vref). The TL494 adjusts its output duty cycle to make the output from the
divider equal to 2.5V. The components marked "voltage loop compensation" are voodoo and have the
e�ect of reducing feedback gain at higher frequencies. I only vaguely understand loop compensation,
but the idea is to try and prevent oscillation or instability in the supply (e.g. when you have a step
transient in the load, you want the supply to respond smoothly and not oscillate around for a while).
Capacitors C31 and C28 in the voltage divider also perform loop compensation.

Opamp #2 of the TL494 is used for current limiting. The noninverting input (pin 16) is grounded via
R24. The inverting input (pin 15) is tied to Vref (5V) by R21, and to the current sense shunt (parallel
combination of J1, J4, J7) by R35. The way this works - if no current is �owing in the output, the current
sense shunt has no voltage across it, so the voltage appearing at pin 15 of the TL494 will be
(750/(750+68k))*5 = 55mV. As current �ow increases, the current sense shunt will pull the end of R35
more and more negative until, when the voltage from the shunt reaches -55mV, pin 15 reaches 0V
and the #2 opamp output will trip, reducing the PWM duty at the output. This happens with an output
current of 55mV/(3.9mR/3)=42A - a little bit higher than the advertised limit of 33A, but I am probably
o� in my measurement of the current shunt resistances. Several compoments (C29 + R36) are also
used to compensate the current limit loop.

Soft start
Pin 4 of the TL494 is called the dead-time control input and can be used to implement a soft-start
feature. C24 is initially discharged, so when power is applied, the DTC pin is held high. This inhibits the
output. As C24 gradually charges up (via R19), pin 4 drops in voltage, which slowly decreases the dead
time, bringing the output up to its operating level. Pin 4 settles at about 0.4V.

Short-circuit protection
This part of the circuit had me stumped at �rst - I couldn't see what it was supposed to do! It's a very
clever short-circuit protection.

Suppose that the supply is operating normally, with a 12V output. The base of Q5 is fed by a divider
from the DC output voltage. Since the divided voltage produced by R38+R31 (which would be about
2.2V) is well above the base-emitter drop of Q5 (0.7V), the transistor is held on, pulling the voltage on
C30 low. Given the forward drop of D13, this will have no e�ect on the voltage at the DTC input. So, in
normal operation, this circuit does nothing.

Suppose that the output is suddenly shorted. V+ drops to zero (or very close) which results in Q5
turning o�. C30 will now charge up via R33 and ZD3 from the auxiliary supply. (I'm not sure about the
purpose of ZD3). Once it reaches a voltage su�cient for D13 to conduct, it will pull up the DTC input
and cause the TL494 to shut down.

If the output short is now removed, the output will remain shut down - Q5 remains o�, so C30 is
charged, holding the DTC pin high. You might wonder how there is still an auxiliary supply available,
when the TL494 is shut down - remember the start-up behaviour, with the bridge transistors self-
oscillating? The supply goes into this mode again, which is enough to provide an auxiliary supply of
about 10V.

The only way to restore power is to switch the entire supply o�, wait, and power on again. Which now
begs the question, why doesn't the short-circuit protection trigger at power-up? The short answer -
thanks to the soft-start circuit, the DTC pin takes su�ciently long to go low that the output voltage has

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built up enough to keep Q5 conducting (stay tuned for some graphs of this happening).

Here's some waveforms when the output is shorted during normal operation. Before shorting, Vcc is
about 20V, the output (V+) is 12V, DTC is about 0.4V, and Q5's collector is near 0V - it's being held on
by the high output voltage. When the output is shorted, V+ falls to zero. Q5 turns o�, and C30 starts
to charge up so Q5's collector voltage starts to rise, which in turn causes the DTC voltage to rise. As it
rises, the TL494 begins to shut down (dead time increases), until �nally the chip is completely
disabled, with DTC reaching just under 3V. VCC drops to about 10V since the bridge is now operating
in the self-excited mode, as it isn't receiving any drive signals from the TL494.

Next, here's the waveforms during startup with a normal load on the output (i.e. not shorted). On
startup, the inverter goes into self-excited operation and VCC immediately goes up to 10-15V or so.
DTC immediately jumps high because C24 is initially discharged, and then starts slowly dropping as it
charges through R19. Since the output voltage is initially zero, C30 (at Q5's collector) starts charging
up via R33. However, as soon as the output voltage builds up to around 3 or 4V (again, thanks to self-
excited operation), Q5 is switched on, discharging C30. After this, once DTC falls to a suitable level,
normal operation commences. Note that, at all times during normal startup, Q5's collector voltage
never reaches DTC plus one diode drop (D13) so the short-circuit protection circuit can never a�ect
the DTC level during normal startup operation.

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Lastly, here's the behaviour when the supply is started with the output shorted. The output voltage
tries to increase, but can't (since it's shorted). Q5 is held permanently o�, so C30 can charge up. Once
it reaches a su�cient voltage (DTC + one diode drop), it then holds the DTC pin high, preventing
further operation until power is cycled.

When we're here, an important note regarding the short-circuit protection. Although I've given
examples of it tripping in when there's a direct short across the output, it will actually operate
whenever the output voltage is insu�cient to keep Q5 on - this occurs below about 4V. This means
that, when the supply is modi�ed to give a variable output voltage, it isn't possible to reduce the
output to below 4V, because the short-circuit protection would kick in. To enable output below 4V,

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you'd have to disable the short-circuit protection - simplest is to remove D13. However, you then run
into another problem - the voltage at pin 2 of the TL494 is held at 2.5V by the R30+R34 divider and it
therefore isn't possible to adjust the output below 2.5V. Unless, of course, you changed the values of
the divider resistors to produce a di�erent (lower) reference voltage at pin 2, but that's getting more
and more involved.

So - on to the modi�cations!

Designing a new feedback divider


Here is the new feedback divider I've cooked up - this replaces the contents of the dotted box marked
"Voltage sense" in the schematic further up the page.

[Note: there is no earthly reason for the two 1kΩ resistors in series - I simply didn't have any 2kΩ
resistors in stock!]

There's one important di�erence between this and the original divider. The original had a very
nonlinear adjustment, because VR1 was simply used as a variable resistor between the feedback pin
and ground. The new divider has a linear adjustment, thanks to the grounded-wiper con�guration.
With the values shown, the adjustment is around 4.8-15V; note that I deliberately avoided going too
low, to prevent the short-circuit protection kicking in (see earlier). For more details on the advantages
of a grounded-wiper feedback con�guration, please see this page.

What's with the capacitors? Remember that the original divider had a couple of capacitors in it to
provide loop compensation. Now, I really don't know what I'm doing regarding loop compensation,
but I reckoned that it would be best to try and get the gain/phase response of the new divider as close
as possible to that of the old one, to reduce the chance of any instabilities. I determined the correct
component values by trial-and-error in LTSpice. Here's the gain/phase vs. frequency plots for both old
and new feedback networks over the full adjustment range - note how, although the range of values
is wider for the new divider (thanks to the increased adjustment range), the various corner
frequencies are about the same. The boost around 100Hz-10kHz is from C1+R39 coupling more of the
output voltage through to the feedback pin, and the drop at high frequencies is from the decreasing
impedance of C26.

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Hardware modi�cations
First, remove some of the original components from the PCB. Remove C31, R32, R40, and VR1. Here's
a before and after view:

We'll use some of the existing tracks and pads to connect up the components for the new feedback
divider. Watch out for the correct orientation for the 10kΩ potentiometer. Here's the layout (viewed
from above, looking "through" the PCB):

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And that, as they say, is that! The new feedback divider is the only modi�cation needed to give the
wider adjustment range - I measured a range of 4.8V to 15V, but it might vary slightly depending on
component tolerances. Even at the lowest output voltage of 4.8V, there was no sign of the short-
circuit protection kicking in.

In addition to the voltage divider modi�cations, I also decided to add a little digital voltmeter module
to display the current output voltage. I had bought some meter modules a while back and hadn't
found a use for them yet.

Search either AliExpress for TK0600 voltmeter 0-30V or EBay for New 1pcs Digital Voltmeter DC 0-30V
Useful LED Panel Meter Red. That's the likeliest search terms to bring up results, but you might have
to use a bit of imagination to search for other terms. These particular modules use separate
connections for the power supply and the sense, so can measure right down to 0V. Other modules
actually run from the sensed voltage, so are limited in how low they can measure. They're neat little
modules - 3 digits, automatic decimal point, 0-30V range, and have an onboard STM800S3F3
microcontroller. There's even several I/O pins broken out to a header, so doubtless it could be
reprogrammed. Here's a couple of people who have analysed the circuit:

http://www.eevblog.com/forum/testgear/another-ebay-buy-0-30v-panel-voltmeter/
http://www.ba0sh1.com/hacking-a-cheap-led-voltmeter/

The power supply for the voltmeter module is derived from a couple of extra diodes + 100µF
capacitor + 220µH series �lter inductor, tacked on to the anodes of D11 & D12 (see photo below). This
provides about 20V to the module. According to the EEVBlog posting, the module uses a Holtek 7130
voltage regulator, which has a maximum input voltage of 24V, so this is well within limits. I didn't use
the existing auxiliary supply because I found it was a little bit unstable when the supply is operated in
a low-load/"self-excited" mode. The voltmeter module's sense connection goes to one of the various
big wire jumpers that are used on the output side to increase the current-handling capability of the
PCB.

I mounted both the adjustment potentiometer and voltmeter module on the casing of the supply, just
above the output terminals. Bit of a squeeze, but there was just enough space to �t them in. I also
added a piece of red �lter plastic in front of the module to make the display a bit clearer to see.

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Overall view of the supply's New feedback divider Power supply for voltmeter Potentiometer and voltmeter
insides connections module mounted to the case

Front view Turned on - the red �lter �lm


makes it much easier to see

Performance
The power supply is now adjustable from 4.8V to 15V and appears to work well over the full range. Set
to 7.4V, it happily runs the brushless motor; there's a slight drop in voltage at maximum speed, but
that's to be expected. I'm using a "servo tester" to provide the adjustable PWM signal to the ESC.

Set to 7.4V for use with Connected to 25A ESC and


brushless motor size 2430 brushless motor

Here's a video overview covering most aspects of the modi�cation:

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