| What do wall warts, aka AC wall adapters, and microwave ovens have in common? Well, in previous blogs discussing microwaves, we saw how a microwave oven’s high voltage circuitry uses a transformer, diode, and capacitor to effectively convert AC voltage into DC voltage. Wall warts do much the same thing and in very much the same way.
If you will recall from our discussion of microwave ovens in the past few weeks, the transformer in a high voltage circuit transforms 120 volts into a much higher voltage, say 4000 volts, in order to make things work. The diode and capacitor within both the microwave and the wall wart are key to facilitating this magical act, but in the wall wart it happens at a much lower voltage, about 12 volts.
Last week we began exploring the inner workings of the wall wart. We discovered how its transformer converts the 120 volts emanating from your average wall outlet to the 12 volts required by most electronic devices. These voltages are shown at Points A and B in Figure 1 below. The fact that the voltage being put out results in waves of energy which alternate between a positive maximum value, zero, and a negative maximum value, makes it an unacceptable power source for most electronic devices. They require voltage that doesn’t alternate, and this is where the wall wart’s diode bridge and capacitor come into play.
Figure 1 – The Workings of the Wall Wart Transformer
The wall wart’s diode bridge consists of four electronic components, namely the diodes, which are connected together. This diode bridge goes a bit further than the single diode present in a microwave oven, because it doesn’t merely eliminate negative aspects of alternating voltage. It actually transforms negative voltage into positive voltage. The result is a series of 12 volt peaks as shown at Point C of Figure 1. In fact, we end up with twice as many voltage peaks, and this is important, as you’ll see below.
We still have the problem of zero voltage gaps to address. You see, over time the voltage at Point C of Figure 1 keeps changing between 0 volts and positive 12 volts. This can lead to problems, because many electronic devices require a consistent voltage of greater than zero to operate properly. For example, a light emitting diode (LED) might develop an annoying flicker, or you might end up hearing an irritating hum while listening to the radio. These annoyances are virtually eliminated by feeding voltage from the diode bridge into the capacitor, which gets rid of the zero voltage gaps between the voltage peaks.
Like a microwave’s capacitor, the one within a wall wart charges up with electrical energy as the voltage from the diode bridge nears the top of a peak. Then, as voltage begins its dive back to a zero value, the capacitor discharges its electrical energy to fill in the gaps between peaks. The result is the rippled voltage pattern at Point D of Figure 1. With the gaps filled in, the voltage is at, or close enough to, the 12 volts required to keep an electronic device operating properly when it is connected to the wall wart’s low voltage power cord.
Well, that’s it for our look at the wall warts that power our myriad of electronic devices. Next time we’ll switch to a totally topic and look at some of the basics of food manufacturing equipment design.
Tags: 120 volts AC, AC, AC adapter, bridge rectifier, capacitor, DC, diode, diode bridge, electronic devices, engineering expert witness, food manufacturing equipment, forensic engineer, high voltage, LED, light emitting diode, low voltage power cord, microwave oven, peak voltage, rectifier, transformer, wall wart, zero voltage gaps