App note: Linear power MOSFETS basic and applications

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Some examples of power MOSFETS application from this app note from IXYS Corporation. Link here (PDF)

Applications like electronic loads, linear regulators or Class A amplifiers operate in the linear region of the Power MOSFET, which requires high power dissipation capability and extended Forward Bias Safe Operating Area (FBSOA) characteristics. Such mode of operation differs from the usual way of using Power MOSFET, in which it functions like an “on-off switch” in switched-mode applications. In linear mode, the Power MOSFET is subjected to high thermal stress due to the simultaneous occurrence of high drain voltage and current resulting in high power dissipation. When the thermo-electrical stress exceeds some critical limit, thermal hot spots occur in the silicon causing the device to fail

App note: Operation evaluation of ultra low ON resistance MOSFET supporting quick charge for 1 cell Lithium ion battery protection

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ON semiconductor’s application note on faster charging of Lithium Ion batteries with consideration on heat suppression. Link here (PDF)

Currently, because LiB (Lithium Ion Battery) is superior in current density and electromotive force, it becomes mainstream of batteries for mobiles such as smart phone. However, because LiB is weak at over-charge and over-discharge, a control circuit is necessary to be used in combination with LiB. For the purpose of LiB current control, MOSFET is used.

This time, we would like to consider the operation and heat transfer of the CSP (Chip Scale Package) product, which is used for current control, with very small size and ultra-low ON resistance.

Ask Hackaday: Dude, Where’s My MOSFET?

Transistors versus MOSFETs: both have their obvious niches. FETs are great for relatively high power applications because they have such a low on-resistance, but transistors are often easier to drive from low voltage microcontrollers because all they require is a current. It’s uncanny, though, how often we find ourselves in the middle between these extremes. What we’d really love is a part that has the virtues of both.

The ask in today’s Ask Hackaday is for your favorite part that fills a particular gap: a MOSFET device that’s able to move a handful of amps of low-voltage current without losing too much to heat, that is still drivable from a 3.3 V microcontroller, with bonus points for PWM ability at a frequency above human hearing. Imagine driving a moderately robust small DC robot motor forwards with a microcontroller, all running on a LiPo — a simple application that doesn’t need a full motor driver IC, but requires a high-efficiency, moderate current, and low-voltage-logic compatible transistor. If you’ve been here and done that, what did you use?

Bipolars

Years ago, the obvious answer to this dilemma would be TIP120 or similar bipolar junction transistor (BJT) — and a lot more batteries. The beauty of old-school Darlington transistors in low-voltage circuits is that the microcontroller only needs to produce a small current to push relatively large currents on the business end. With BJTs, as long as you can get over the base-emitter junction voltage (typically under one or two volts) you just pick the right base resistor and you’re set. This is in contrast to FETs of the day which require a given voltage to pass a current through them. Gate voltages for the big FETs are optimized for the 4-5 V range which is lousy if you all you have is a LiPo battery.

TIP122/127 H-Bridge: Easy to Build, but a Battery Hog
TIP122/127 H-Bridge: Easy to Build, Battery Hog

While the power Darlington is easy to drive, it has a few drawbacks. First is the voltage drop through the device when it’s conducting. Drop one or two volts on the transistor and you’ve pretty quickly got a few watts of power going to waste and a hot chip. And that’s assuming that you’ve got the voltage drop to spare — a volt or two off of the 3.6 V on a LiPo battery pack is a serious loss.

With apologies to [Adam Fabio], the BJT is off the list here. It’s easy to drive at low voltages, so it would work, but it won’t work well because of stupid quantum mechanics.

FETs

MOSFETs should be great for driving small motors, on paper. They have incredibly low on-resistances, easily in the milliohms, and they can turn on and off fast enough that the PWM will be efficient and noiseless. The flaw is that garden-variety power MOSFETS, for driving big loads, tend to have similarly large gate threshold voltages, which is a showstopper for low-voltage circuits. What can we do?

If the motor were being driven by a higher-voltage source, and you were switching the MOSFET on the low side, then you can use the motor’s power supply to drive the MOSFET, switching it on and off with whatever is handy — a small-signal BJT is just about perfect here. That’s the classic solution, illustrated here. As long as the motor voltage is high enough to fully open the MOSFET, you can just use that for the switching voltage.

In the actual application that spurred this column, I wanted to use a LiPo cell for the motor and the logic, but I ended up doing something ridiculous. I started off with a go-to MOSFET from my 5 V logic days, the IRF530, but it barely turns on at 3.3 V. So I cobbled on a 9 V battery to provide the switching voltage — purely to drive the MOSFET into full conduction. This 9 V “high” voltage is switched by a 2N2222 small-signal BJT and seems to do the job just fine. It works, but it’s a horrible hack; I wanted to drive everything off the LiPo, and failed.

Other Options?

Big power MOSFETs, in addition to having a higher gate voltage, also have some capacitance that needs to be overcome to turn them on and off. Between the fully-on and fully-off states, they get hot, so it’s important to push enough current into the gate fast enough that they transition quickly. Thus, big power MOSFET circuits use a gate driver circuit to drive them. A low-voltage gate driver, paired with my IRF530, would certainly be an option here. But all this just for a medium-sized DC motor? Seems like overkill.

7307Once we embrace complexity, there are small H-bridge and push-pull driver ICs that might fit the bill, and they’ve naturally got MOSFETs inside. Now that I think about it, I’ve built small-motor H-bridges from N/P complementary pair MOSFET chips in the past, and they work for low voltages. Somewhere in my pile I have some IRF7307s that will just barely do the job. I’d be ignoring one of the two paired FETs, but who cares?

Taking the next step in IC complexity, the various stepper-motor driver ICs can usually push and pull an amp or two, and operate on low voltages. You could conceivably drive a DC motor off of one phase of a stepper controller, but that just seems wasteful. But something like (half of) a TB6612 would work.

On the other hand, the fact that these various gate-driver, H-bridge, and stepper controller ICs can handle the currents I want with low logic voltage thresholds suggests that there should be at least a few monolithic, and cheaper, MOSFETs that can switch a few amps around on low voltages. Where are they hiding?

The Ask

So what would you do when you need to push up to two amps DC in one direction at LiPo battery voltages, with low loss, driven (potentially by PWM) from a 3.3 V microcontroller? Feel free to take this as a guideline, and deviate wherever you’d like from the spec if it brings up an interesting solution.

Whatever you do, don’t give me current figures out of a datasheet headline that are based on microsecond pulses, only to find out that it’s outside of the part’s DC safe operating area. I’ve been down that road before! It never ceases to amaze me how they design parts that are rated for 100 A at 10 microseconds that can only handle 300 mA steady state.

This has to be a common hacker use case. Does anyone have the MOSFET I’m looking for? Or do you all just use motor driver ICs or tack random 9 V batteries into your projects? (Ugh!)

[MOSFET tattoo image from Google image search; Make Yr Mom Sad on Tumblr (dead link)]


Filed under: Ask Hackaday, Engineering, hardware

Faux-AI Clapper Almost Seems to be Listening

When a job can be handled with a microcontroller, [devttys0] likes to buck the trend and build a circuit that requires no coding. Such was the case with this “Clapper”-inspired faux-AI light controller, which ends up being a great lesson in analog design.

The goal was to create a poor man’s JARVIS – something to turn the workshop lights on with a free-form vocal command. Or, at least to make it look that way. This is an all-analog circuit with a couple of op amps and a pair of comparators, so it can’t actually process what’s being said. “Aziz! Light!” will work just as well as any other phrase since the circuit triggers on the amplitude and duration of the spoken command. The AI-lite effect comes from the clever use of the comparators, RC networks to control delays, and what amounts to an AND gate built of discrete MOSFETs. The end result is a circuit that waits until you finish talking to trigger the lights, making it seems like it’s actually analyzing what you say.

We always enjoy [devttys0]’s videos because they’re great lessons in circuit design. From block diagram to finished prototype, everything is presented in logical steps, and there’s always something to learn. His analog circuits that demonstrate math concepts was a real eye-opener for us. And if you want some background on the height of 1980s AI tech that inspired this build, check out the guts of the original “Clapper”.


Filed under: home hacks, misc hacks

App note: Power MOSFET in high-side operating modes, possible failure modes, and failure signatures

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App note from Vishay on high-side MOSFET failures investigation leads to one of the following modes of operation:
(a) High-impedance gate drive
(b) Electro-static discharge (ESD) exposure
(c) Electrical over-stressed (EOS) operation

More on it here (PDF)

Power MOSFET failures in high-side applications can often be attributed to a high-impedance gate drive creating a virtual floating gate, which in turn increases the susceptibility of the MOSFET to failure during system-generated ESD and EOS scenarios.

App note: Power MOSFET Basics: Understanding the Turn-On Process

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More to know about MOSFET gate threshold voltages, an application note from Vishay. Link here (PDF)

The question of how to turn on a MOSFET might sound trivial, since ease of switching is a major advantage of field-effect transistors. Unlike bipolar junction transistors, these are majority carrier devices. One does not have to worry about current gain, tailoring the base current to match the extremes of hfe and variable collector currents, or providing negative drives. Since MOSFETs are voltage driven, many users assume that they will turn on when a voltage, equal to or greater than the threshold, is applied to the gate. However, the question of how to turn on a MOSFET or, at a more basic level, what is the minimum voltage that should be applied to the gate, needs reappraisal with more and more converters being controlled digitally. While digital control offers the next level of flexibility and functionality, the DSPs, FPGAs, and other programmable devices with which it is implemented are designed to operate with low supply voltages. It is necessary to boost the final PWM signal to the level required by the MOSFET gate. This is where things begin to go wrong, because of the misconceptions about what really turns on a MOSFET. Many digital designers look at the gate threshold voltage and jump to the conclusion that, just as with their digital logic, the MOSFET will change state as soon as the threshold is crossed.