Big Ugly SMPS

Usually my designs strive to create tiny boards, and I often obsess for days fine-tuning, shaving a fractions of an inch at a time. However, this design goal was get it done, get it working, then make it pretty.

I’ve been trying to build a switcher to provide a portable power source for PDA’s, cell-phones, etc. Not just enough to trickle charge said gizmo for hours, but to charge it as fast as possible, like the cradle or wall plug would do. This requires quite a bit of power. Packaging portable power is proving very tricky. There’s two main design goals I’m trying to meet. My primary goal the past week has been recharging the power-source, and the easiest way to do this is parallel cells. There’s oodles of charge management chips out there designed to handle charging of single lithium-ion cells (or parallel cells). The complexity knob gets turned WAY up once you start talking series cells. So rather than spin my wheels on this problem, I chose to move forward with goal number two. My secondary design goal is to get the power out. Putting the cells in series opens a wide door for easy to use switchmode converters and controllers. I’ve got a bin full of samples from all the big names, and I’m close to settling on a chip. First to prototype is the TPS5430 from Texas Instruments. This chip claims to have a three-amp switch on board, and it’s pretty easy to use. The switcher is internally compensated, eliminating an RC network often needed to compensate high frequency switchers. The 5430 comes in fixed voltage models, but I went with adjustable this time.

tps5430 schematic

Using TI’s SwiftDesigner to generate a reference design, I drew that up in Eagle. Their reference design specified solid tantalum capacitors, which have properties that lend themselves well to switchmode applications. However, having priced 100+ uF tantalum caps, I’ve decided to use aluminum electrolytic instead. To offset some of the short-comings of aluminum caps, I have connected several in parallel. The main disadvantage is ESR, and wiring caps in parallel cuts the ESR dramatically.

tps5430 printed circuit board

Loosely following TI’s reference layout, I came up with this design. I drew the design using the top layer, and ended up flipping it over when I assembled it. It doesn’t really make a big difference, just as long I remember to solder everything in a mirror image of what’s shown on the screen. For example, the screen shows the input stage on the right, but on the prototype, the input stage is on the left. The reference design called for a single 100uF solid tantalum capacitor rated at 25 volts (I spec’d 14v as VinMax). It also called for a 47uF tant as a bypass cap for the IC. So instead, I went with two 100uF 25v electrolytic caps and one 47uF 16v cap. I realize 16v is cutting it a bit close, but it’s all I could come up with, and this is only a first pass. The output stage called for a single 220uF 10v tant, instead, I drew room for three 100uF caps but only installed two for now. The chip needs a bootstrap cap to help it start-up with low input voltages. The datasheet called for 10nF, so thats what I used. The voltage divider is a 10k resistor coupled with a 10k pot. A resistor and LED were added to show “power on”. The three pin terminal at the bottom is tied to the enable line. Enable should float for normal operation and be pulled low for shutdown. I used a big ‘ol coil I had laying in the parts bin, it was labeled 22uH but the actual inductor is not marked. Looking at the size of the bobbin and heft of the wire, I’d say this inductor can handle some serious current. A three amp schottky diode completes this bit of kit.

With one set of fingers crossed, I hooked the switcher up to a wimpy 200mA 12v wall-wart, used for charging a screwdriver. To my relief the LED came on, nothing started smoking, and the ammeter read 10mA on the 10a scale (later I re-read 13.59mA on the 20mA scale). The datasheet claims 3-4mA of quiescent current, so the switcher is taking 10mA at 12v to supply 20mA at 5v. Although I haven’t done the algebra in the datasheet, comparing watts in to watts out puts the efficiency in the not-bad to pretty good range. (100mw / 120mw = 83%). Better still, when I connected my Dell PDA to the switcher, it was able to supply as much current as the Dell could ask for, without raising above ambient temperature. With a low internal battery, cpu set to 400mhz, external wifi card inserted, backlight full-on, the Dell peaked at 1.1 amps. I left it laying on the bench and watched a movie for a few hours. Coming back, the dell was completely charged, and the output had dropped to about 170mA.

My next goal will be to miniaturize this circuit as best I can, hopefully to fit it into an altoids tin which holds my lithium cells so very nicely.

Switchmode LED Driver

This is the second incarnation of my tps61040 based LED driver (here and here). As I wrote just a few posts ago, I’m trying out a new layout strategy to make my gizmos more breadboard friendly.

The 300 mil (thanks Dave) DIP16 package proves to be very small, so small I had trouble trimming it completely while depanelizing.

tps61040 dip16 boost switchmode led driver

Another problem I ran into is a high voltage output cap. Seeing that this circuit generates upwards of 28 volts, the typical inexpensive ceramic or tantalum capacitors just don’t have the dielectric strength to work well. So, that leaves few options. Option one involves parallel smaller value high voltage caps. I ordered a bunch of 50v 1uF 0603 caps, so we’ll see how that goes. Second option is electrolytic. Sure I’ll incur some losses in the capacitor, dipping the efficiency a bit, but hey, it’s not a perfect world. I found some 10uf 4.3mm x 4mm caps that should do nicely. Third option is expensive ceramic … weighing in at $1 to $5 ea, these caps must be made of lunar rock. I have not ordered any of these, but I will look into harvesting some from dead / old electronics.

Notice the cute little inductor. That baby is 10uH, 1 amp, shielded and only 6mm square. Designed for high power applications, it has a generous saturation current, and rather low resistance. Even better, it’s only like 2mm tall, and to top it off is the cost; 59 cents each at quantity 10. In case you’re looking for an easy to use and flexible inductor, the digi-key catalog number is 587-1707-1-ND.

This time, in order to have a simple board layout, I chose to permanently enable the chip, so they’re be no dimming on this version. I’m not sure if the chip supports a hot load disconnect, I did manage to kill my earlier prototype somehow, one of the output leads broke off the pcb while I was holding it, in a dark room. After repairing the damage, I only get a very low output. Perhaps my capacitor or diode was fried.

tps61040 dip16 boost switchmode led driver

Here are the breadboard compatible pins. The three pins are the output area, with the one inboard pin being the led sink, where the current sensing resistor is attached. This layout required two ground pins, and an external jumper to connect them. I’ll remedy that in the next iteration.

This is the little critter doing it’s thing. Do you like that battery brand? SHAZZAM – it just screams power. I bought a BUNCH of these at a traveling tool sale show, 99 cents for 16. They’re not half bad for light loads, this little switcher sucks ’em dry in a mater of hours however!

New Theme

Seeing as how my project log is more than a year old now, it is overdue for a new coat of paint.

Presenting “I feel dirty 1.0 by The studio ST team”. I’m not sure about the name, but I do like the little bit of color, but still mostly plain white. Hey, I like plain, but a friend thought my original choices of all white (like Water 1.1) were just too plain, so here we are.

I think I’ve copied all my mods from the old theme, if anyone happened to be viewing the instance I was making changes, well, it probably looked a little funky.

Site Update

I’ve upgraded to WP 2.05, luckily, nothing went wrong!

Also, comments are enabled again, testing some new spam countermeasures … lets see how it goes!

Fun new pcb layouts.

Testing SMD devices on a breadboard requires some sort of carrier. You can use the dead-bug method, affixing the smd to something, and using bits of wire to solder its tiny pins to larger ones that fit into a breadboard. Another method is using SMD converters, which is fine, but really limits what you can do with the chip, it’s not very portable, and it takes up a LOT of room for very little gain. So, I decided to try re-drawing some of my designs to fit in the footprint of a DIP style package, but be more or less self contained. These self contained modules will work on a breadboard, protoboard or where-ever.

Today’s theme is switchmode power supplies. To start, here is a ‘single cell’ to +5v boost regulator, based on National LM2698. This circuit should accept as little as 2.2 volts and provide a solid five volt output. With 3.6 volts in, it should provide over one amp of current. Thanks to the large capacitors, this module resembles a 28 pin ‘wide’ dip, approximately 600 mil across.

This module is also a ‘single cell’ to +5v boost regulator, based on the petite TPS61040 from Texas Instruments. The chip claims to support voltages as low as 0.9v, but I plan to use it with a single 1.5v AA. The amount of current it will provide is somewhere around 100mA. It can provide up to 500mA using a higher input voltage. This module resembles a 20 pin ‘narrow’ dip, or approximately 300 mil across.

Lastly, this is the smallest design yet. This module resembles a 16 pin ‘narrow’ dip. Also based on TI’s tps61040, this switcher is configured in constant current mode. My prototype design sources 50mA at 23 volts into a string of white LEDs, powered by two AA batteries.