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AC (Alternating Current): The commonly available electric power supplied by an AC generator and
is distributed in single- or three-phase forms. AC current changes its direction of flow with respect to
time (cycles).

Ambient temperature: Temperature of the surroundings.

Ampere (Amp): The standard unit of electric current. The current produced by an electromotive
force of one volt in a circuit having a resistance of one ohm equals to one ampere.

Back-EMF: Electromotive force generated when a conductor passes through a magnetic field. In a
motor, it is generated any time the armature is moving in the field whether the motor is under power
or not. The term "back" or "counter" EMF is referring to the polarity of the voltage and the direction of
the current flow as being opposed to the supply voltage and current to the motor under power.

Back EMF constant (V/RPM): The constant corresponding to the relationship between the induced
voltage in the rotor and the speed of rotation. In brushless motors, the back-EMF constant is the
constant corresponding to the relationship between the induced voltage in the motor phases and the
rotational speed.

Bridge Rectifier (Diode): A diode bridge rectifier is a non-controlled full wave rectifier that produces
a DC voltage at the output when supplied by alternating voltage at the input.

Capacitance: As the measure of electrical storage potential of a capacitor, the unit of capacitance is
the farad, but typical values are expressed in microfarads.
Capacitor: A device that stores electrical energy.

Closed-loop: Describes a system where a measured output value is compared to a desired input
value and corrected accordingly (e.g. a servomotor system).

Controller: Used to describe collective group of electronics that control an electrical device (e.g.
motor, drive, indexer, etc.).

Converter: The process of changing AC to DC or DC to AC or DC to DC. The term “converter” may

also refer to the process of changing AC to DC to AC (e.g. adjustable frequency drive). A “frequency
converter,” such as that found in an adjustable frequency drive, consists of a Rectifier, a DC
Intermediate Circuit, and Inverter and a Control Unit.

Current: The flow of electrons through a conducting material. By convention, current is considered
to flow from positive to negative potential. The electrons, however, actually flow in the opposite
direction. The unit of measurement is the Ampere.

Direct Torque Control: A method of using current regulation circuitry to regulate torque instead of

Drive: (Also called a Variable Speed Drive) An electronic device that can control the speed, torque,
horsepower and direction of an AC or DC motor.

Eddy Current: Localized currents induced in a conductive material by a changing magnetic field.
These currents translate into losses (heat) and their minimization is an important factor in motor
Efficiency: Ratio of output power over input power expressed in percent. In motors, it is the ratio of
mechanical output to electrical input indicated by a percent i.e. the effectiveness with which a motor
converts electrical energy into mechanical energy.

EMF: A commonly used acronym in motor design for electromotive force which is another term for
voltage or potential difference.

Feedback: The element of a control system that provides an actual operation signal for comparison
with the set point to establish an error signal used by the regulator circuit.

Field Weakening: The action of weakening the strength of the magnetic field in a rotating machine
and thereby decreasing the back EMF that is produced. Consequently, the speed that the machine
can be operated at can be increased.

Filter: A device that passes signals within a desirable frequency range and attenuates all others.

Frequency: Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time. The typical
unit for frequency is Hertz (Hz). One Hz is defined as one cycle per second. The standard frequency
that is used by North American power utilities is 60 Hz. Most of the rest of the world uses 50 Hz

Inductance: Inductance is the ratio of the voltage over the rate of change of current. The unit for
inductance is the Henry (H).

Inductor: An inductor is a passive electrical component, which resists changes in electric current
passing through it by setting up a time-varying magnetic field within its core. The varying magnetic
field induces a voltage in the conductor which opposes the change in current that created it.
Inverter: Typically describes an electronic device that converts DC voltage into AC voltage.

Laminations: The steel portion of a transformer or stator core of a motor make up a series of thin
laminations (sheets) which are stacked and fastened together by cleats, rivets or welds. Laminations
are used instead of a solid piece in order to reduce eddy-current losses.

Open Loop: A control system that lacks feedback.

Power: Work done per unit of time. Measured in horsepower or watts usually.

Power Factor: Power factor is the ratio of real Power (W) over apparent power (VA). In undistorted
AC systems, it is also a measurement of the phase difference between the voltage and current. It is
represented by the cosine of the angle of this phase difference.

PWM: Pulse width modulation. An acronym which describes a switch-mode control technique used
in drives to control motor voltage and current. This control technique is used in contrast to linear or
step wave control and offers the advantages of greatly improved efficiency.

Rectifier: A device that transforms alternating-current to direct-current.

Reluctance: The characteristics of a magnetic field which resist the flow of magnetic lines of force
through it.

Resistance: It is the measure of opposition to current flow through a given medium [Ohm].
Substances with high resistances are called insulators and those with low resistances are called
conductors. Those in between are known as semiconductors. The unit is the Ohm.
Resistor: A device that resists the flow of electrical current for the purpose of operation, protection
or control. There are two types of resistors - fixed and variable. A fixed resistor has a fixed value of
ohms while a variable resistor is adjustable.

Resolution: The smallest distinguishable increment into which a quantity can be divided (e.g.
position or shaft speed). For encoders, it is the number of unique electrically identified positions
occurring in 360 degrees of input shaft rotation.

RMS Current: Root mean square current. Root-mean-square (RMS) refers to the most common
mathematical method of defining the effective voltage or current of an AC wave. In an intermittent
duty cycle application, the RMS current is equal to the value of steady state current which would
produce the equivalent resistive heating over a long period of time.

Speed constant: Inverse of Back EMF constant. See Back EMF constant.

Speed Range: The minimum and maximum at which an electric machine must operate safely under
constant or variable torque load conditions.

Speed Regulation: In adjustable speed drive systems, speed regulation measures the motor and
control's ability to maintain a constant preset speed despite changes in load from zero to 100%. It is
expressed as a percentage of the drive system's rated full load speed.

Transducer: A device that converts one energy form to another (e.g. mechanical to electrical). Also,
a device that when actuated by signals from one or more systems or media, can supply related
signals to one or more other systems or media.

Transistor: A solid-state three-terminal device that allows amplification of signals and can be used
for switching and control.
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): A measurement of the harmonic distortion present and is defined
as the ratio of the sum of the powers of all harmonic components to the power of the fundamental
frequency. For details on total harmonic distortion, click here.

Voltage: The force that causes a current to flow in an electrical circuit. The unit is the Volt. 1. Volt is
defined as the difference of electric potential between two points on a conductor that is carrying a
constant current of one ampere when the power dissipated between those points is one watt.

Watt: The amount of power required to maintain a current of one ampere at a pressure of one volt
when the two are in phase with each other.

Work: A force moving an object over a distance. Work = force x distance travelled.

AC Input Current

The flow of electricity pulled under the highest DC load (value must be listed on
product labels for compliance to safety agency standards).

AC Input Frequency

Most AC power is generated at either 50 or 60 Hz (cycles per second). Switching

Power Supplies typically accept any frequency between 47-63Hz (nominal).

AC Input Voltage

The nominal AC Input Voltage that a power supply will accept during normal
operation. Safety agencies require a power supply to operate an extended 10%
of the stated input range on the product label. For example, a switching power
supply labeled with a nominal 100 to 240VAC input range will actually operate
over 90–264VAC input range.

AC Inrush Current
The instantaneous current drawn when the power supply is turned on. Larger
power supplies generally incorporate a thermistor to limit this amount. It is most
important in considering an AC switch rating.

Active Current Share

See Single Wire Parallel and sharing power.

Active Power Factor Correction

Traditional switched mode power supplies draw current from the AC line in short
pulses, and as a result, the input current of such basic switched mode power
supplies has high harmonic content. This creates extra load on utility lines and
increased heat of utility transformers and may cause stability problems to the
entire AC Line. Active Power Factor Correction controls the input current of a
power supply so that the current wave form is proportional to the AC waveform (a
sine wave).


The maximum altitude at which a power supply can be operated without derating.
Supplies must often be de-rated due to the thinner air which is required to cool
the power supply.

Ambient Temperature

The temperature of still air surrounding a power supply.


(A) The base unit of current.

Base Plate

A metal surface to which circuit components are mounted in such a way as to

draw heat away from components.

Basic Insulation

A single layer of required insulation to prevent electrical shock.

A multi cell device that produces DC electricity via an Electro chemical action.
Battery cells are connected in parallel (to produce a required current) and/or
series (to produce a required voltage).

Battery Backup

An electronic equipment subsystem that provides temporary power in the event

of input power loss. Battery backed systems range from short term options for
AC/ DC power supplies to high Uninterruptible Power Systems. See
Uninterruptible Power Supplies (DC-UPS).

Battery Charger

A power supply or power supply output that is used to charge a storage battery
or battery system.

Bleeder Resistor

A resistor that provides a path for current drain. Often used in filter circuits
provide a discharge path for capacitors.

Blind Mate

The mechanical design of a power supply to slide into position and make
connection with it’s mating connector when properly seated. This is particularly
common in Hot-Swap/Warm-Swap power supplies or modules in
parallel/redundant applications. It is common with this type of connection for
there to be a short pin called last-mate which enables the supply to be on, in
order to prevent arcing or powering of the supply until it is firmly seated into its
mating connector.

Boost Converter

A boost converter (step-up converter) is a power converter with an output DC

voltage greater than its input DC voltage.

Breakdown Voltage

The breakdown voltage of an insulator is the minimum voltage that causes a

portion of an insulator to fail and become conductive.

Bridge Converter
A switching supply topology that employs four switching elements (full bridge) or
two switching elements (half bridge). Bridge a supply provide high output power
and low ripple, but are significantly more complex than other types of supply


When AC Line Voltage drops below nominal levels.

Buck Regulator

A basic switching converter topology that uses a series switch to chop the input
voltage. The resulting pulses are applied to an averaging LC filter. Buck
regulators will only produce an output voltage lower than the input voltage level.


Operating newly manufactured supplies under defined load conditions for a

specified period to eliminate faulty power supplies from shipping. Most power
supplies will typically fail in the first few hours of operation (referred to as infant
mortality). The time period and conditions (input power cycling, load switch ing,
temperature, etc.) will vary from product to product.

Case Operating

Range This is the temperature range at which a supply will meet its specifications
as measured at the center of the top surface of the power supply.


Cubic Feet per Minute is a common measure of the volume of air flowing in a
system. The conversion of cubic feet per minute to linear feet per minute is
dependent upon the cross-sectional area through which the air flows.

Chassis Ground

A chassis ground is a connection to the main chassis of a piece of electronic or

electrical equipment. It is sometimes called common ground. It provides a
reference that can be considered to have zero voltage. All other circuit voltages
(positive or negative) are measured or defined with respect to it. Ideally, all
chassis grounds should lead to earth grounds. Chassis Mounting The power
supply offers one ore more surfaces for mounting a power supply directly to a
system chassis or other metal .

The shortest unimpeded distance between two conductors or circuit components.


Timing pulses (see Figure 5) used in electronic systems to synchronize circuit

operation. In a power supply, clock pulses synchronize operation of the pulse
width modulator (PWM).


A conductive path used as a return for two or more circuits. The term
Common is often used interchangeably with ground, which is not technically
correct unless it is connected to earth.

Common Mode Noise

The noise at an electrically fixed point (usually chassis ground) common to both
DC output and return lines.

Common Mode Filter

An input line filter that includes a differential wound transformer often used within
power supplies. They show a high impedance to common mode signals and a
low impedance to differential mode signals

Conduction Cooling

The process of cooling or removing heat via a baseplate or heatsink.

Constant Current

A power supply that regulates its output current to within a specified current
range regardless of changes of output load. These type of supplies are
commonly used in battery charging application and LED Driver Circuits.

Constant Current Limiting

Current limiting circuit that holds output current at some maximum value
whenever an overload of any magnitude is experienced.

Control Circuit
Circuit that controls certain operating parameters of the power supply. Used to
maintain output regulation.

Control Loop

A feedback loop used to control a power supply output.

Convection Cooling The dissipation of heat via still air.

Converter (AC/DC)

A device that accepts an ac line input voltage and produces a dc output(s). Often
referred to as a “switcher” (although linear converters are available), switching
regulated power supplies are used in the majority of applications. AC/DC
supplies are available in a variety of form factors, power levels and
feature/performance envelopes. Converter (DC/DC) A device that accepts a
regulated or unregulated dc input voltage and produces a dc output that is
typically at another voltage level. At times DC-DC Converters are used to provide
noise isolation power bus regulation, etc., at which converters will have the same
input and output level.


The process of removing heat generated by normal operation of a power supply.

Typical methods are convection, forced air and conduction.

Creepage Distance

The shortest distance between two conductors (typically one conductor primary
and one conductor secondary).

Crest Factor

For an ac waveform, the ratio of peak value to RMS value. If the waveform is
pure sinusoidal, this value is 2. Crest factor was used to approximate the current
stress in an AC mains circuit

Cross Regulation

On many multiple output power supplies, the secondary outputs may be affected
by the loading conditions of the primary output(s). Multiple output power supplies
often require minimum loads in order for the supply to achieve stated regulation
specifications. Preload resistors may be employed at the system level to
overcome these issues.


An overvoltage protection circuit which places a low resistance shunt across the
power supply output terminals, if a predetermined voltage is exceeded.

Current Adjustment

The range over which output current can be adjusted and the means of making
that adjustment.

Current Limit Knee

The point at which current is limited (foldback) on the plot of output voltage vs
output current. (See Foldback Current)

Current Share

Multiple power supplies or DC/DC supplies are often connected redundantly (to
increase system reliability) or in parallel (to increase system power). Outputs are
connected together and each supply “shares” the load current.

DC Output Voltage

The nominal output voltage setting of a power supply.

DC/DC Converter

A supply / converter that accepts a DC input voltage and produces a DC output



In power supplies and DC/DC converters, derating is the specified reduction of

the output current when operating under defined conditions, typically eleveated
operating temperatures.

Design Topology

The conversion principle employed (eg. linear, switched mode flyback, half
bridge etc).
Designed to Meet

A supply may not bear any safety agency approvals, but when installed and used
properly, should meet the official safety requirements of an electronic system.

Dielectric Withstand Voltage

The maximum voltage an insulating material can withstand before suffering

punch through or arcing across.

Direct Current

A current that flows in one direction.

Duty Cycle

For power supplies, the ratio of “on” time to “off” time of the semiconductor switch
(in PWM systems) or clock signal.

Differential Mode Noise

That component of noise measured with respect to output or input to its returns; it
does not include common mode noise. See Ripple and Noise.


The variation of output voltage of a supply over a specified period of time,

following a warm up period, with all other operating parameters such as line, load
and ambient temperature held constant.

Droop Share Method

The function of paralleling two power supplies to share a load without any active
circuit to control how the load is shared. The current-sharing accuracy is directly
related to the output-voltage set-point accuracy of the paralleled supplies.
Considering that output voltage will vary based upon varying line, load,
temperature and other conditions, it is strongly advised that droop sharing only
be utilized for redundant operation, not for increased power.

Dynamic Load

A load condition that changes rapidly. During this load change, the output voltage
may fall out of regulation (overshoot and / or undershoot) temporarily.

A measurement of Output power divided by Input Power. The values will vary
depending on the load and AC input voltage. Typical Values shown are usually
measurements of a supply at nominal input and output conditions.


Electronic interferences that impair the performance of electronic device is

referred to as Electromagnetic Interference.

EMI Conducted

Conducted EMI is unwanted high frequency energy caused by the switching

transistors, rectifiers, and transformers in power supplies and DC/DC. The noise
that is generated on the input and output lines of a power supply is known as
Conducted EMI. Most Conducted EMI measurements are done between 150.kHz
and 30.MHz.

EMI Filter

Switch mode power supplies and DC/DC converters may be filtered by using an
EMI filter on their input or primary side to meet applicable EMC standards. While
supplies may be designed to meet an EMC standard, the final equipment may
have a dramatic effect upon a power supply’s EMC performance. It is the final
equipment that must conform to EMC regulations. So, specifying a supply which
meets the EMI classes is not a guarantee that final equipment will be compliant
and does not remove the need for testing and possible additional filtration
required for final equipment.

EMI Radiated

Radiated EMI is unwanted high frequency energy caused by the switching

transistor, output rectifiers, and zener diodes in switching power supplies and
DC/DC converters and emitted into the area surrounding the supply.


Electromagnetic radiation emitted into the atmosphere from the power supply.
Conducted is that energy sent down the AC line cord; radiated is sent into the air.
Final equipment must meet both standards while many supplies may be rated
only for conducted emissions.

Hermetically sealed and contained in a thermally conductive epoxy resin or

similar plastic


Power supply is covered in a metal or perforated metal cover assembly.

Typically, an enclosed power supply is covered on all 6 surfaces for finger safe


A current produced by the static charge of two objects when they are close
enough to produce a discharge or arc.

Expected Lifetime

The expected average lifetime of a power supply, which may be calculated upon
the reliability data of a supply’s individual components or demonstrated through
Highly Accelerated Life Test (HALT) and Highly Accelerated Stress Screening

External Synchronization

Synchronizing the supply’s switching frequency to an external oscillator either in

an external circuit or within a master supply.


An input or output circuit designed to attenuate ripple and noise generated by a


Floating Output

A power supply or DC/DC supply output that is ungrounded and not referenced
to another output. Typically, floating outputs are fully isolated and may be
referenced as either positive or negative by the user.

Flyback Converter

Sometimes called a “Buck Boost” supply, this topology uses a single transistor
switch and eliminates the need for an output inductor. Energy is stored in the
transformer primary during the first half of the switching period when the
transistor switches “ON”. During the second half of “Flyback period when the
transistor is OFF”, this energy is transferred to the transformer secondary and
load. This technique is cost effective because a minimum number of components
is required.

Foldback Current Limiting

An output protection circuit where the output current decreases with increasing
overload, reaching a minimum at short circuit. This minimizes the internal power
dissipation under overload conditions.

Forced Air Cooling

The use of a fan (or other air moving equipment) within a system to reduce the
ambient temperature and cool the electronic equipment.

Forward Converter

Also called a “Buck Derived” supply, this topology, like the flyback supply,
typically used a single transistor switch. Unlike the flyback supply, energy is trans
ferred to the transformer secondary while the transistor is “ON”, and stored in an
output inductor.

Free Air Convection

An operating environment in which the natural movement of air (unassist ed by

fans or blowers) is sufficient to maintain a power supply’s temperature within its
operating limits.

Full Bridge Converter

A topology that typically operates as a forward supply but uses a bridge circuit,
consisting of four switching transistors, to drive the transformer primary, used to
handle high power levels.

Full Load

The maximum continuous output current a power supply is rated for under
nominal operating conditions.

Full Wave Rectifier

A circuit (bridge or centre tapped) that rectifies both halves of an AC waveform.


A circuit protection device, consisting primarily of a low melting point wire. If

current passing through the wire exceeds a set level (as in the case of a fault
condition), the wire melts and the circuit opens.

Galvanic Isolation

Two circuits which have no ohmic connection are considered to be “galvanically

isolated” from each other. Galvanic isolation (separation) is achieved by using a
transformer, opto coupler, etc.


An electrical connection that is made to earth (or to some conductor that is

connected to earth). A power supply or DC/DC supply “common” is not actually
ground unless it is connected to earth.

Ground Loop

When two or more system components share a common ground line, a feedback
(ground) loop is induced. This can cause unwanted voltage levels within the

Half Bridge Converter

A power switching circuit similar to the full bridge supply except that only two
transistors are used, with the other two replaced by capacitors (see bridge

Half Wave Rectifier

Single diode rectifier circuit that rectifies one half the AC input wave.

Harmonic Distortion

The distortion characterized by the presence of multiple harmonics of the

fundamental frequencies in sinusoidal AC current waveforms and caused by the
switching action of the power supply typically stated as a percentage of the
sinusoidal wave form, eg: 0.95 Power Factor.
Heat Sink

A metal plate, extrusion, or case that is provided to increase surface area to

dissipate heat away from sensitive components and circuits.

Hipot (Dielectric Withstand)

The test voltage between the input and output, and output to ground.

Hold-Up Time

When there is a loss of input power to a supply, this is the time during which the
output voltage remains within regulation. To protect against momentary power
outages in switching power supplies, energy is typically stored in bulk capacitors
referred to as hold-up capacitors.


The function of replacing a power supply without shutting down the system. A
supply is designed to be inserted or extracted and fit within a mechanically
designed slot with blind-mate connectors. These types of supplies typically have
a soft-start function and utilize a short pin to enable the supply which is last to
mate avoid arcing and ensure the supply is firmly seated prior to powering up.


Within a specified temperature range, the maximum moisture content permissible

in the surrounding air of a supply. Two values are typically provided, operating
humidity and storage humidity.


Indicates that the supply has been tested and is “immune” from electromagnetic
or electro static discharge (ESD).


The apparent impedance presented by the supply to its output terminals.


An electrical property that opposes the flow of current in a circuit when a voltage
is applied (or a change in an established current). Measured in henries Input Line
Filter A low-pass or band-reject filter on the power supply input (internal or
external) that attenuates noise from the system power bus.

Input Current

The current drawn by a supply, which can be measured under a range of input
voltage range and output load conditions. Typically listed as the maximum
continuous input current under lowest input voltage and maximum output load so
that proper fusing may be determined.

Input Current vs. Line Input

A performance curve illustrating how the input current varies with line input
voltage. See Efficiency versus Input.

Input Ripple Rejection

A modulating signal injected into a supply operating at nominal line and full load.
The signal is attenuated by the supply’s feedback loop (loop gain) and
propagates to the output. The ratio (in absolute terms) of the input to the output
signal is expressed in dB and listed as the input ripple rejection. This is specified
for a DC to 120 Hz input so that the effects of a full wave rectifier circuit can be
evaluated. For example, if the Ripple Rejection of a supply is 60 dB (1000:1) and
a 1volt, 120 Hz signal is superimposed on the supply’s input then the output will
have a 1mV, 120Hz signal superimposed on it. This specification is sometimes
referred to as “Audio Susceptibility.”

Input to Output Capacitance

The isolation capacitance from the input pins to the output pins. This
measurement is done with a 1 kHz, 1 VRMS capacitance bridge.

Input Transient

A spike or rapid voltage change of the input line to a supply. Input transient
protection circuits are used to shield sensitive components (such as semi
conductors) from possible damage.

Input Voltage

Nominal Input value(s) of either AC or DC Input voltage for which the supply is
Input Voltage Range

The highest and lowest input voltages from which a supply may operate. Inrush
Current When supplies are first turned on, a high surge input current is
experienced caused by the charging of the bulk input capacitors. Also called
Input Surge Current most commonly referenced in AC/DC Power Supplies.

Inrush Current Limiting

A circuit which limits the inrush current during initial turn on of a supply.


See Basic Insulation and Reinforced Insulation.

Insulation Resistance

The resistance offered by an insulating material to current flow.

Internal Power Dissipation

The power dissipated (as heat) within a supply during normal operation. Primarily
a function of the efficiency a supply.


A device that generates AC power from a DC power source.


The parameter measured by applying a maximum rated isolation voltage

between two points (typically input-to-output, input-to-ground or output-to-

Isolation Test Voltage

The voltage test to determine the breakdown voltage of a transformer or supply.

It is performed by applying a high voltage between two isolated test points. The
isolation of a supply is typically tested to not cause stress to the insulation

Isolation Voltage (Rated)

Rated Isolation voltage is defined as the maximum voltage across the isolation
barrier a device can withstand for a fixed time period. The actual breakdown
voltage is typically in excess of 1000V higher than the rated isolation voltage.
The reason for rating a conservative isolation voltage is to ensure that the
isolation testing of supply does not degrade the isolation barrier in any way .

Leakage Current

The current flowing from input to output or input to ground/chassis or output to

ground/chassis of an isolated power supply or DC/DC supply at a specified
voltage level.

Line and Load Regulation

The combined effect of varying the DC load and AC input voltage

Line Regulation

The change in DC output voltage of a supply over the entire input range while the
output load is held constant.

Linear Power Supply

A power supply that uses linear regulation. Linears provide excellent regulation,
low output noise and fast transient response. However, they are typically much
heavier, larger and less efficient then “switching power supplies.

Linear Regulator

A common voltage-stabilization technique in which the control device (usually a

transist or) is placed in series or parallel with the power source to regulate the
voltage across the load. The term ‘linear’ is used because the voltage drop
across the control device is varied continuously to dissipate unused power.


The components or circuitry drawing current from the output of a supply. The
characteristic (resistance, reactance, etc.) of the load determines the amount of
power drawn from the supply typically referred to as output current.

Load Regulation
The change in DC output voltage when the output current / load is varied from its
minimum to maximum range. Input voltage is held constant at nominal input
during this test.

Load Sharing

See Current Share.

Logic Shutdown

A supply may offer remote on/off functions to inhibit or enable a supply’s output.
This is function is typically achieved by pulling the associate logic pin hi or low
(depending upon the remote on/off circuit in use). Specifically, most power
supplies have a natural state of on when input is applied and may be inhibited by
the remote on/off circuit.

Long Term Stability

The change, over time, in the output voltage of a power supply with all other
factors (line, load, temp, etc.) remaining constant, expressed as a percentage.
This output change is primarily due to component aging.

Master / Slave Operation

The connection of two or more power supplies (see Figure 19) in which one
(master) controls the operation of the others (slaves). Master/slave configurations
provide higher output power, wider input voltage ranges, synchronized operation,

Maximum Rating

Limit of specifications that, if exceeded, could cause the shutdown or damage to

a supply.

Minimum Load

The minimum amount of output current required for a supply to operate within its
specified regulation.

Term used to describe the physical construction of power systems that consists
of separate subassemblies. Modular construction tends to lower the design
turnaround for custom products, but increases cost and lowers MTBF


Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistor. The device of choice for the
main switch in switched mode power supplies having much better switching
characteristics than Bipolar Transistors.


Mean time between failures is the predicted length of time before failure of a
supply, exclusive of infant mortality failures.


The predicted average length of time to repair a faulty unit with the specified
spares kit.


The use of multiple supplies to achieve higher reliability levels through system
redundancy. The system consists of a number (N) of power supplies to satisfy
the load plus one (+1) to provide redundancy and allow continued operation
through the fault of one of the supplies. These supplies are typically isolated via
an isolation device such as an OR’ing diode to ensure that a short within one
supply will not cause the entire system to fail.


The output noise is specified at nominal line and full load. This specification is
very difficult to measure correctly due to the measurement bandwidth (0-20
MHz). Short leads and proper grounding techniques must be used. The output
noise is specified in mV peak-to -peak. The majority of the noise reading is due
to the switching action of the supply and is at very high frequencies, whereas the
peak-to-peak amplitude at the fundamental switching frequency is usually much

Open Frame
Power supplies which are constructed only of a PCB. Operating Temperature
The operating temperature range of a supply measured as either Ambient
(surrounding Air) or base plate.

OR’ing Diodes

Also called decoupling diodes. These diodes ensure current can flow in only one
direction – out of a power supply. Without the diodes, one problem supply could
cause all supplies to go into over current
protection in a current sharing scenario and generate a catastrophic failure within
a system.


Over Temperature Protection. A protection system for supplies where the supply
shuts down if temperature exceeds specified ratings. OTP is intended to save the
supply in the event of a failure of the cooling system. OTP usually measures the
hottest spot in the supply. Most supplies will automatically recover when
temperatures return to normal.

Output Impedance

The variation of output voltage to change in load current.

Output Regulation

See load regulation.

Output Trim

The adjustment of the nominal output voltage via an external fixed resistor or an
internal trimpot on the supply.

Output Voltage Accuracy

The allowable tolerance of the output voltage of a supply when it is set at the

Over Current Protection

See short circuit protection.

Over Voltage Protection

A circuit that will typically shutdown the power supply when the output voltage
exceeds a specified range.

Overload Protection

A protective feature that limits output power or current demands to prevent

damage to the supply.


This is the momentary rise in output voltage a supply experiences during a

decreased load condition.


Over Voltage Protection.

Parallel Operation

The connection of the outputs of two or more power supplies or DC/DC supplies
of the same output voltage to obtain a higher output current. Only supplies
specifically designed to share the load should be utilized to gain higher power
(see active current sharing).
PARD Periodic and Random Deviation. A term used for the sum of all ripple and
noise components measured over a specified band width and stated in either
peak-to-peak or RMS values.

Passive Power Factor Correction

Traditional switched mode power supplies draw current from the AC line in short
pulses, and, as a result, the input current of such basic switched mode power
supplies has high harmonic content. This creates extra load on utility lines and
increased heat of utility transformers and may cause stability problems to the
entire AC Line (Especially in Europe). Passive Power Factor Correction is a
network of capacitors and inductors to minimize the pulse so that the current
waveform is more proportional to the AC waveform (a sine wave).

PCB Mounting Peak Load/Current

A supply that is designed for direct mounting on to a printed circuit board. The
ability of a supply to provide higher output currents for short periods of time. A
power supply with high peak loads is desirable in many applications, such as
motors that draw high currents at start-up and then draw substantially reduced
loads during normal operation.

Post Regulation

A linear regulator used on the output of a supply to improve line and load
regulation and reduce output ripple voltage.

Power Density

The ratio of a power supply or DC/DC converter output power to its volume -
typically displayed as Watts per square inch or Amps per square inch.

Power Derating

The ability of a power supply to operate at outside normal parameters, (such as

eleveated temperature, reduced cooling or low input voltage) reduced or derated
output currents.

Power Factor

Switching power supplies draw input current in pulses around the peaks of the
AC line voltage frequency. Power factor is a measure of the input current draw
and how closely it matches the sinusoidal phase of the AC input frequency .

Power Factor Correction (PFC)

PFC circuits improve how a supply draws input current to more closely match the
sinusoidal line voltage. This reduces harmonics disturbance on the AC line.
Reduced harmonic disturbance is a common requirement throughout Europe,
and Power Factor Correction is the method to achieve reduced disturbances.

Power Fail

A logic (hi/low) compatible signal warning that input power has been lost and that
DC outputs will soon fall out of regulation.

Power Good Signal

A logic (hi/low) compatible signal that indicates that DC Outputs are present and
within specified regulation.

Power Supply
A system that converts AC current into the DC current or currents required by
electronic circuits.


The regulation at the primary side of a power supply, generally by a type of

switching regulator; followed by output regulation, usually by a linear type


The adjustment control of supply’s output voltage and/or current via an external
parameter such as a control voltage or resistor value.


The internal fuse method for a supply, such as single or dual fused, typically
rated for a maximum voltage, current and fuse type trip time (fast or slow acting).
This fuse is usually rated to allow the use of an external fuse which can be
mounted on an accessible panel, because replacing the fuse inside supply may
prove difficult.

Pulse Width Modulation

A circuit used in switching power supplies or DC/DC supplies where the

switching frequency is held constant and the width of the power pulses is varied,
controlling both line and load changes with minimal dissipation.

Push-Pull Converter

A supply topology that typically is configured as a forward supply but uses two
transistor switches and a centre-tapped transformer. The transistor switches turn
on and off alternately.

Radiational Coooling

The transfer of heat between two materials at different temperature levels.

Radiant heat does not play a significant role in the cooling of distributed power

Rated Current
This is the maximum rated output current/load capability of a supply from
minimum through maximum values under normal operating temperatures and
cooling conditions. Operation below minimum load should not harm a supply in
any way, but load regulation may suffer. Operation above the maximum rated
load is not recommended and may degrade specifications, trip an overload
protection circuit, and/ or reduce a supply’s life.

Redundant Operation

The ability to connect power supplies or DC/DC converters in parallel so that if

one fails the other(s) will provide continuous power to the load. This mode is
used in systems where a single failure cannot be tolerated. See also N+1

Remote Adjust/Margin

The ability to vary output voltage and/or current over a specified range by an
external signal, typically a control voltage. Often referred to as margining.

Remote Control (Enable/Inhibit)

A logic (hi or low) signal to turn on/turn off a supply.

Remote Sense

A circuit within the supply to compensate for the reduction of output voltage
through connections and wires (voltage drop) which can vary under temperature,
connection strength, and wire stresses. Typically, a twisted pair of wires is
attached to the load to “sense” the voltage at the load, enabling the supply to
automatically compensate for varying voltage drop.

Resonant Converters

A class of power topologies which reduces switching losses by forcing either zero
voltage across, or zero current through the switching device when it is turned on
or off .


The name for the return current of output voltage(s) and/or logic signals.

Reverse Voltage Protection

A built in circuit (or element) that protects the supply from a reverse polarity,
applied across the input or output terminals of a supply.


This is the AC component superimposed over the DC output voltage and is the
traditional “hum” at 60 or 120 hertz. In swit ching power supplies, it is a complex
waveform and can increase at maximum loading and minimum input voltage.

Safety Isolation

The electrical separation between the primary and secondary circuits and the
safety standards to which the supply conforms in this respect.

Safety Standards

Standards laid down by various national and international regulatory agencies.

Sense Lines

A twisted pair of wires connected to the load in order to route output voltage back
to the remote sense control circuit of the power supply. See Remote Sensing.

Series Operation

The ability of two or more supply outputs to be connected and provide a higher
output voltages (two 48V power supplies in series to generate 96V). The load
should not draw more current than the maximum rated output current of any
single supply .

Setpoint Accuracy

The allowed variance of the output voltage as set at the factory during the
manufacture of a supply.

Short Circuit Protection

A short circuit is an unlimited load potential far exceeding a supply’s output

current capability. Under a short circuit condition, most supplies are designed to
shut-down and typically recover to normal operation when the short is removed.

Short Term Stability

With the supply fully warmed up at room temperature with constant line, load and
temperature, the output will not vary by more than this amount.

Shutdown Idle Current

Current drawn by the supply from the supply when its outputs are disabled, Often
referred to as no load input current or standby current.

Single Wire Current Share

A circuit in which multiple power supplies share current when paralleled. The
supplies communicate through a single wire connection daisy chained to all the
supplies. This circuit allows a specified amount of like supplies to be connected
in parallel within a defined accuracy range.

Six Sided Shielding

Metal shielding fully encompassing a supply to minimize any noise radiation from
the supply components. Shielding can be solid or perforated.

Soft Start

A feature which limits the inrush current of a supply and causes the output
voltage to rise gradually to its specified value.

Standby Current

The input current drawn by a supply when it has been inhibited off or is under no
load conditions.

Still Air

An operating environment in which the air surrounding the power supply or

DC/DC converter is restricted in small enclosures (often sealed) where it cannot
move freely.

Storage Temperature

The safe storage temperature for the device. Long term exposure within these
temperature ranges should not degrade the supply’s performance.

Supplementary Insulation
See Reinforced Insulation.

Surface Mount

A technique whereby components are soldered onto the surface of a PCB

instead of pins or leads which must protrude through a PCB.

Surface Mount Devices

SMD Components including some power supplies designed to be assembled

using surface mount technology.

Switching Frequency

The rate at which the input voltage is switched or “chopped” in a power supply.
Sometimes referred to as frequency of operation.

Switching Power Supply

A power supply that uses switching regulation. Switchers are typically smaller,
more efficient and lighter than linear supply.

Switching Regulator

A non isolated DC/DC converter consisting of inductors and capacitors to store

energy and switching elements (typically transistors or SCR’s), which open and
close as necessary to regulate voltage across the load. The switching duty cycle
is generally controlled by a feedback loop to stabilize the output voltage,
generally by means of a Pulse Width Modulation.

Switching Spike

The peak to peak amplitude which occurs at the switching frequency on the
output of switched mode supplies.

Synchronous Rectifiers

A circuit arrangement where the output rectifier diodes of a supply are

replaced with active switches such as MOSFET’s. The switches are turned on
and off under control and act as rectifiers. This results in considerably lower
losses in the output stage of a supply and increases efficiency.

Temperature Coefficient
The average percent change in output voltage per degrees centigrade change in
ambient temperature over a specified temperature range, with load and input
voltage held constant.

Thermal Impedance

The temperature rise of the case for each watt dissipated in the supply. The
power dissipated is the difference between the input and output power.

Thermal Protection

A circuit within a supply that shuts down the supply if the internal temperature
exceeds a predetermined limit (see over temperature protection – OTP).

Thermal Runaway

A circuit condition in which an increase in the ambient temperature surrounding a

power supply causes an increase in the internal power dissipated. This increases
the case temperature, which in turn increases the ambient temperature of the
surrounding air. The spiraling effect of these temperature increases will
eventually lead to failure of the power system. This condition occurs when
inadequate measures (air flow, system venting, power derating, etc.) are taken to
get heat away from critical components.

Thermal Shutdown

The temperature specified at which the supply will shut down operation until the
temperature decreases – typically measured at the hottest spot within a supply .

Total Regulation

The combined voltage deviation a supply could experience due to any change
within the specified tolerances of input voltage, output current and temperature


A characteristic of multiple output power supplies where one or more outputs

ollow another and where there are changes in line, load and temperature, so that
each maintains the same proportional output voltage, within specified tracking
tolerance, with respect to a common return.

A spike or step change in a power supply parameter. Commonly used in
describing input line and output load characteristics.

Transient Recovery Time

The time required for the output voltage of a supply to recover within a specified
regulation following a transient load.

Transient Deviation

A percentage of the maximum output voltage deviation during a transient load.

Transient Response

Measurement of both transient deviation and transient recovery time after a

transient load step.

Turn On Time

The time it takes for the output voltage to reach the specified accuracy when the
outputs are fully loaded into resistive loads.


A supply constructed within a bracket with a “U” shaped profile. Typically, all
three planes of a U-Frame/U-Channel supply offer threaded holes for affixing the
supply to a chassis/plate.


The momentary dip of output voltage a supply experiences during an increased

load condition.

Universal Input

This indicates that a supply is able to operate with AC Power available in most
countries without any changes in settings to the supply itself. This input range is
typically 90–264 VAC.

Uninterruptible Power Supply. A system designed to supply power during the
loss of AC line power. This is accomplished by means of a back up battery and a
DC/AC inverter or DC/DC power supply.

Under Voltage Protection

A protection circuit that shuts a power supply off if the output voltage falls below
a preset level. Sometimes used as an input protection circuit in wide input range
power supplies (ac and dc) to prevent overheating if the input voltage sags below
a predetermined level. Sometimes called under voltage shutdown or under
voltage lockout.

Withstand Voltage

The maximum voltage level that can be applied between circuits or components
without causing a breakdown. See Breakdown Voltage and Isolation.

Voltage Adjustment

The range over which the output voltage can be adjusted.

Voltage Balance

Voltage balance is often specified on dual supplies as being the difference in

absolute terms between the positive and negative output and expressed as a
percentage. For example, if the positive output is at 12.00 Volts and the negative
output is at 12.12 volts then the balance would be 1.0%.

Voltage Range

The range(s) of input AC or DC voltage(s) over which the supply(s) operates

within specification.

Wall Mount

Referring to an AC/DC power supply that inserts and mounts directly to an AC

Socket on the wall. The supply is typically enclosed in a UL94V-0 Rated (fire
proof) plastic case with blades to plug directly into the AC socket and with a
dangling output cable to mate with the system it is powering.

This usually refers to an N+1 Redundant powered system. This defines the ability
to replace one of multiple supplies tied in parallel. The supply being replaced
must be powered with it’s AC Input Removed off while the others may remain on.
This type of supply is typically mechanically designed to fit into a slot with a blind
mate connector, most commonly with an AC Inlet on the front panel.

Warm Up Time

The time required, after initial turn on, for a power supply or DC/DC supply to
operate within its specifications. Most supplies do not require a warm-up time
when operating above 0°C. Some supplies will operate at less than 0°C t
emperature or below freezing, with a stipulation of a warm-up period.

Working Voltage (Rated)

Rated working voltage or electrical strength, is the maximum continuous voltage

that can be sustained continuously across the isolation barrier of a supply without
causing stress to the isolation barrier. The rated working voltage is typically much
lower than the rated isolation voltage.
AC/DC Converters
Circuits often require an integrated AC power source as the optimum strategy to reduce

Circuits often require an integrated AC power source as the optimum strategy

to reduce size, cost or due to application specific needs. Understanding the
key concepts associated with conversion and the practical alternatives
available is a good start towards a successful design.
Safety First!
When the AC source is a mains power socket, great care must be taken to
ensure an implementation is safe to use. Without exception, this subsystem
should be designed and implemented by a qualified expert. If possible, use a
preapproved off-the-shelf plug pack.
Compliance is Compulsory!
When you plug in anything to a mains plug socket, it must comply with legal
certification standards in the country it will be used in. More than this, it must
have been tested and certified to do so – an expensive process. This is to
ensure it is safe, does not interfere with other people or contribute noise to the
AC main power lines.
What is an AC/DC Converter?
Electric power is transported on wires either as a direct current (DC) flowing in
one direction at a non-oscillating constant voltage, or as an alternating current
(AC) flowing backwards and forwards due to an oscillating voltage. AC is the
dominant method of transporting power because it offers several advantages
over DC, including lower distribution costs and simple way of converting
between voltage levels thanks to the invention of the transformer. AC power
that is sent at high voltage over long distances and then converted down to a
lower voltage is a more efficient and safer source of power in homes.
Depending on the location, high voltage can range from 4kV (kilo-volts) up to
765kV. As a reminder, AC mains in homes range from 110V to 250V,
depending on which part of the world you live it. In the U.S., the typical AC
main line is 120V.
Converters steer an alternating current, as its voltage also alternates, into
reactive impedance elements, such as inductors (L) and capacitors (C), where
it is stored and integrated. This process separates the power associated with
the positive and negative potentials. Filters are used to smooth out the energy
stored, resulting in creation of a DC source for other circuits. This circuit can
take many forms but always comprises of the same essential elements, and
may have one or more stages of conversion. The converter depicted in figure
1 is called a ‘forward converter”, which is a higher efficiency than a slightly
simpler architecture; a ‘flyback converter’. Although not discuss in detail, a
flyback converter differs from a forward converter in that its operation depends
upon energy stored in the airgap of the transformer in the circuit. Apart from
this difference, they can utilize the same essential blocks.
Figure 1: Functional Block Diagram of a Forward Converter AC/DC Power Supply
Input Filtering Block
An input filter is important as it prevents noise produced in the power supply
switching elements from getting back onto the mains power supply. It also
prevents noise that may be on the mains power supply getting into
subsequent circuits. The filter passes through 50/60Hz mains frequency, and
attenuates higher frequency noise and harmonics that might be present. As
with other parts of an AC to DC converter, reactive elements like capacitors
and inductors perform the important role of frequency – selective suppression.
Capacitors do not pass DC, and can be used in series (as DC blocking ‘high
pass filter’ elements), or parallel (to shunt high frequencies to ground
preventing them from getting through to the converter).
The input filtering block will also typically include a voltage dependent resistor,
or varistor to prevent high voltage spikes on the electrical power grid from
damaging the power supply. This is the rectangular box with the diagonal line
through it on the input in Figure 1. The most common type of varistor is a
metal-oxide varistor (MOV). Any voltage over the devices ‘clamping voltage’
causes the MOV to become conductive, shunting the high voltage spike and
suppressing the surge.
The simplest AC/DC converters comprise of a transformer following the input
filtering, which then passes onto a rectifier to produce DC. In this case,
rectification occurs after the transformer because transformers do not pass
DC. However, many AC/DC converters use more sophisticated, multi-stage
conversion topologies as depicted in figure 1 due to advantages of smaller
transformer requirements and lower noise referred back to the mains power
Rectifiers are implemented using semiconductor devices that conditionally
conduct current in one direction only, like diodes. More sophisticated
semiconductor rectifiers include thyristors. Silicon controlled rectifiers (SCR)
and triode for alternating current (TRIAC) are analogous to a relay in that a
small amount of voltage can control the flow of a larger voltage and current.
The way these work is they only conduct when a controlling ‘gate’ is triggered
by an input signal. By switching the device on or off at the right time as the AC
waveform flows – current is steered to create a DC separation. There are
many circuits for doing this, with signals tapped off the AC waveform used as
control signals that set the phase quadrants thyristors are on or off. This
is commutation, and can be either natural (in the case of a simple diode)
or forced, as in the case of devices that are more sophisticated.
High efficiency power supplies can use active devices like MOSFETs as
switches in such circuits. The reason for using topologies that are more
complex is usually for efficiency improvement, to lower noise or to act as a
power control. Diodes have an intrinsic voltage drop across them when they
conduct. This causes power to be dissipated in them, but other active
elements may have much lower drop and therefore lower power loss. SCR
and TRIAC circuits are particularly common in low cost power control circuits
like the light dimmer example below – used to directly steer and control
current delivered to the load as the input mains alternates. Note that these
implementations are not galvanic when they do not have a transformer in the
circuit – only useful in circuits that are appropriate like direct mains connected
light control. They are also used in high power industrial and military power
supplies where simplicity and robustness is essential

Figure 2: SCR Based Conversion

Power Factor Correction (PFC)
This is the most complicated aspect of a converter to understand. PFC is an
essential element in improving the efficiency of a converter by correcting the
relative phase of current being drawn to voltage waveform to maintain the
optimum power factor. This reduces the ‘reactive load’ characteristics that the
converter may otherwise present to the mains power supply. This is essential
for maintaining high quality, efficient electrical networks and electrical supply
companies can even impose special reactive current tariffs on customers that
have poor power factors. Passive or active PFC refers to whether active
elements or passive elements being used to correct the phase relationships.
Semiconductor PFC can refer to special purpose ICs with integrated
controllers tailored to actively monitor and adjust the PFC circuit, reducing the
component count and simplifying the overall design while obtaining higher
performance. They can incorporate other functions like over/under voltage
protection, over current protection, soft start, and fault detection/response.
The converter depicted in figure 1 is a single stage PFC converter. The
capacitor in this section is used to store the unbalanced energy between the
pulsating input power and relatively constant output power of the stage. See
the “Reactive Energy Storage” section for more details on this. Two stage
PFC converters are commonly used as they don’t have to handle as wide a
voltage range across the storage capacitor you get in universal power
supplies, which has a detrimental effect on conversion efficiency. They can
also offer better trade-offs in the capacitor size, and this can help reduce cost.
Power Stage
The power stage controls the power delivered from the primary to the
secondary side through the transformer. It comprises of an active switching
device that switches at a high frequency that can be in the hundreds of kHz.
The switch ON/OFF state is controlled by a pulse width modulation (PWM)
input that changes depending upon the amount of power that needs to be
dynamically delivered to the load. This information is obtained by a feedback
path from the secondary side that may be communicated by a number of
techniques that accommodate for the converter’s isolation requirements. The
higher frequency switching results in a smaller transformer requirement,
reducing size and cost.
A transformer is comprised of wires wound on a common core that couple into
each other by electromagnetic induction. This is important when connecting to
high voltage (mains) sources – referred to as ‘off-line’ conversion as the
inductive coupling disconnects the mains from the subsequent circuit, a much
safer scenario than direct connection. This coupling by an electromagnetic
field, rather than a direct copper circuit, called ‘galvanic isolation’ restricts the
maximum energy that can cause electric shock or dangerous sparking
discharge to the stored energy in the transformers magnetic field flux lines.
The ability (related to size and materials) of the transformer to store energy is
an important consideration in converter design as it dictates how well the
transformer can provide the energy to maintain the desired voltage potential
under changing load conditions.
Details of transformer theory and operation can be found here.
Figure 1 has a block called ‘Mag Amp Reset’ associated with demagnetizing
the transformer due to a magnetization current inherent in the architecture.
Without this, the remanence of the core material would saturate it in a few
cycles of the power stage PWM. Although too complex to cover in this tutorial,
this additional circuit can be very confusing when reviewing converter circuit
diagrams, and it is useful to know why it is required. There are a number of
techniques to perform demagnetization, the simplest being when the power
stage switch is off a demagnetizing current is fed back diode through a
separate auxiliary winding. This circuit restricts the maximum PWM duty cycle
to 50%, but more complex methods can be used to enable higher duty cycles.
Transformers or other galvanic isolation methods (like optocouplers) are
frequently used to communicate information signals between primary and
secondary sides. This is needed to facilitate more intricate control of the
conversion process – enabling a primary side situated control circuit to
respond to the state of the secondary side load and dynamically change how
it steers current to get lower noise and higher efficiency.
Output Circuits
As mentioned in the filtering section, electric fields in passive reactive
(storage) elements like capacitors and inductors store energy. When used
after the charge steering rectification, they act as a reservoir of energy during
the alternating input power cycle. This is a vital element in a convertor as this
energy storage acts as a source – enabling a constant output voltage under
varying load conditions. Active elements sense the voltage presented to the
load and/or the current flowing into the load, and in a negative feedback
control loop, use this information to adjust the energy pumped into these
storage elements to maintain a constant output voltage level. This pumping
process uses active elements to switch on and off the current flowing into the
storage elements, referred to under the broad concept of regulation.
We need a constant voltage presented to a load circuit, irrespective of the
dynamic impedance of the load. Without this, over or under voltage conditions
may occur, leading to spurious circuit behavior or even circuit damage. This is
particular true with low voltage digital electronics where supply voltages must
be tightly constrained within a window of a few percent of a nominal value.
Reactive elements do not have any in-built control of this. The way an AC/DC
converter achieves a tightly controlled window of output voltage is by
conditionally controlling the energy stored in the low impedance reactive
store source.
The voltage output will change over time as power drains from these elements
and may also have variance caused by the non-ideal characteristics of the
devices – like series resistance or parasitic capacitance. Some kind of
dynamic control to recharge this source is required. This is called regulation.
Loads like microprocessors change the power they demand as they perform
different operations, and this exacerbates the need to have an active dynamic
Regulation control is a feedback circuit that controls the switching elements. In
this case the switching element is on the primary side of the converter. For a
switch to be efficient it has to be either hard ON (lowest impedance possible)
or hard OFF (highest impedance possible) – as in between states lead to
power traveling through the switch being dissipated and wasted.
Semiconductor switches like MOSFETS are non-ideal and exhibit some
impedance, they dissipate energy and this lowers conversion efficiency. There
are only really two ways to control a switch , by varying the duty cycle a switch
is on or off, called Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) or controlling the frequency
of being ON or OFF. Non-Resonant Mode converters employ hard switching
techniques, but Resonant Modeconvertors employs a more intelligent soft-
switching technique. Soft switching means switching on or off the alternating
current waveforms at zero voltage or zero current points, eliminating switching
losses and leading to very high efficiency architectures. Techniques like
synchronous rectification replace the rectification diodes with active switching
elements like MOSFETS. Controlling the switching synchronized to the input
AC waveform enables the MOSFET to conduct with a very low ON resistance
and less voltage drop at the right time – leading to higher efficiency when
compared to diode rectification.
How does the regulation circuit know when to switch? There are two principle
methods of control mode: voltage control and current control. Regulators
utilize one or a combination of both methods to regulate the voltage presented
to the load circuit.
Voltage Control Mode
The regulation circuit senses output voltage, compares it to a reference voltage to create
an error function. The error signal modifies the switching ratio to bring the output closer
to the desired level. This is the simplest method of control.

Current Control Mode

Both output voltage and inductor current sensed and the combination used to control the
duty cycle. This inner ‘current sensing loop’ enables faster response time to load
change, but is more complex than voltage control mode.

Further complicating the regulation element, over and above the method of
control, the way a converter acts as a commutation cycle is called
a continuous or discontinuous mode of operation. A continuous mode of
operation is one where the inductor current never falls to zero (if the converter
topology has one). This is a lower output ripple and therefore lower noise
mode of operation, but as the inductor is always conducting, it is always
dissipating some energy in its non-ideal series conduction losses. In
discontinuous mode, the inductor current is allowed to go to zero, causing the
load to obtain energy from the storage capacitors. This is a higher efficiency
mode of operation but does potentially have more ripple and poorer regulation
Converter Types
As touched on briefly, there are several converter types relating to their
topology, including flyback and buck- flyback architectures. These are
common topologies as they incorporate transformers, have low component
count and can be low cost relative to other options. Flyback converters are a
buck-boost converter (step-up/step down) with the inductor replaced with a
transformer. The stored energy inside the transformer is used to commutate
the secondary through an active or passive rectification circuit. The most
common type of flyback converter utilizes discontinuous mode (DCM) – with
current flowing in the transformer getting to zero – as this typically has the
simplest control loop and lowest cost. Continuous current mode (CCM)
flyback convertors are required for higher power levels but result in higher
transformer winding losses due to continuous conducting. Many power
supplies switch between modes depending upon the load level. Quasi
resonant (QR) and valley switching/variable frequency variations on the
flyback topology are more complex circuits that optimize when and how
switching occurs to improve efficiency. QR flyback achieve this by recycling
energy of non-ideal leakage inductances, and valley switching reduces spikes
caused by overshoot. They are typically used in low power applications.