| Back in the early 1970s my dad, a notorious tightwad, coughed up several hundred dollars to buy his first portable color television. That was a small fortune back then. The TV was massive, standing at 24 inches wide, 18 inches high, and 24 inches deep, and weighing in at about 50 pounds. I think the only thing that made this behemoth “portable” was the fact that it had a carrying handle on top.
A major reason for our old TV being so big and clunky was of course due to limitations in technology of the time. Many large, heavy, and expensive electronic components were needed to make it work, requiring a lot of space for the circuitry. By comparison, modern flat screen televisions and other electronic devices are small and compact because advances in technology enable them to work with far fewer electronic components. These components are also smaller, lighter, and cheaper.
Last time we looked at the components of a simple unregulated power supply to see how it converts 120 volts alternating current (VAC) to 12 volts direct current (VDC). We discovered that the output voltage of the supply is totally dependent on the design of the transformer, because the transformer in our example can only produce one voltage, 12 VDC. This of course limits the supply’s usefulness in that it is unable to power multiple electronic devices requiring two or more voltages, such as we’ll be discussing a bit further down.
Now let’s illustrate this power supply limitation by revisiting our microprocessor control circuit example which we introduced in a previous article in this series on transistors.
In Figure 1 we have to decide what kind of power to supply to the circuit, but we have a problem. Sure, the unregulated power supply that we just discussed is up to the task of providing the 12 VDC needed to supply power for the buzzer, light, and electric relay. But let’s not forget about powering the microprocessor chip. It needs only 5 VDC to operate and will get damaged and malfunction on the higher 12 VDC the current power supply provides. Our power supply just isn’t equipped to provide the two voltages required by the circuit.
We could try and get around this problem by adding a second unregulated power supply with a transformer designed to convert 120 VAC to 5 VAC. But, reminiscent of the circuitry in my dad’s clunky old portable color TV, the second power supply would require substantially more space in order to accommodate an additional transformer, diode bridge, and capacitor. Another thing to consider is that transformers aren’t cheap, and they tend to have some heft to them due to their iron cores, so more cost and weight would be added to the circuit as well. For these reasons the use of a second power supply is a poor option.
Next time we’ll look at how adding a transistor voltage regulator circuit to the supply results in cost, size, and weight savings. It also results in a more flexible and dependable output voltage.
Posts Tagged ‘electric relay’
| I’m sure you’ve seen the television commercials warning about harmful interactions between prescription medications. By the same token electronic circuitry can also be adversely affected by certain combinations of electrical components, as we’ll discuss in today’s blog.
Last time we looked at a circuit schematic containing an unregulated power supply. This power supply was connected to an external supply circuit containing a number of components such as electric relays, buzzers, and lights. Each of these components has a resistance factor, and combined they have a total resistance of RTotal. We saw that when RTotal increases, the electrical current, I, decreases, and when RTotal decreases, I increases.
In contrast to this increasing/decreasing activity of the total resistance RTotal, the fixed internal resistance of the unregulated power supply, RInternal, doesn’t fluctuate. Let’s explore Ohm’s Law further to see how the static effect of RInternal combines with the changing resistance present in RTotal to adversely affect the unregulated power supply output voltage, VOutput, causing it to fluctuate.
In Figure 1 RTotal and RInternal are operating in series, meaning they are connected together like sausage links. In this configuration their two resistances add together as if they were one larger resistor.
Generally speaking, Ohm’s Law sets out that the current, I, flowing through a resistor in an electrical circuit equals the voltage, V, applied to the resistor divided by the resistance R, or:
I = V ÷ R
In the case of the circuit represented in Figure 1, the resistors RInternal and RTotal are connected in series within the circuit, so their resistances must be added together to arrive at a total power demand. Voltage is applied to these two resistors by the same voltage source, VDC. So, for the circuit as a whole Ohm’s Law would be written as:
I = VDC ÷ (RInternal + RTotal)
But, Ohm’s Law can also be applied to individual parts within the circuit, just as it can be applied to a single kitchen appliance being operated on a circuit shared with other appliances. Let’s see how this applies to our example circuit’s RTotal next week.
| We’ve all popped a circuit breaker sometime in our lives, often the result of making too heavy of an electrical demand in a single area of the house to which that circuit is dedicated. Like when you’re making dinner and operating the microwave, toaster, mixer, blender, food processor, and television simultaneously. The demand for current on a single circuit can be taxed to the max, causing it to pop the circuit breaker and requiring that trip to the electrical box to flip the switch back on.
Last time we began our discussion on unregulated power supplies and how they’re affected by power demands within their circuits. Our schematic shows there are two basic aspects to the circuit, namely, its direct current source, or VDC, and its internal resistance, RInternal. Now let’s connect the power supply output terminals to an external supply circuit through which electrical current will be provided to peripheral devices, much like all the kitchen gadgets mentioned above.
The external supply circuit shown in Figure 1 contains various electronic components, including electric relays, lights, and buzzers, and each of these has its own internal resistance. Combined, their total resistance is RTotal, as shown in our schematic.
Current, notated as I, circulates through the power supply, through the external supply circuit, and then returns back to the power supply. The current circulates because the voltage, VDC, pushes it through the circuit like pressure from a pump causes water to flow through a pipe.
RTotal and I can change, that is, increase or decrease, depending on how many components the microprocessor has turned on or off within the external supply circuit at any given time. When RTotal increases, electrical current, I, decreases. When RTotal decreases, electrical current I increases.
Next time we’ll continue our discussion on Ohm’s Law, introduced last week, to show how the static effect of RInternal interacts with the changing resistance present in RTotal to adversely affect an unregulated power supply’s output voltage.
| I joined the Boy Scouts of America as a high schooler, mainly so I could participate in their Explorer Scout program and learn about electronics. I will forever be grateful to the Western Electric engineers who volunteered their personal time to stay after work and help me and my fellow Scouts build electronic projects. The neatest part of the whole experience was when I built my first regulated power supply with their assistance inside their lab. But in order to appreciate the beauty of a regulated power supply we must first understand the shortcomings of an unregulated one, which we’ll begin to do here.
Last time we began to discuss how the output voltage of an unregulated power supply can vary in response to power demand, just as when sprinklers don’t have sufficient water flow to cover a section of lawn. Let’s explore this concept further.
Figure 1 shows a very basic representation of a microprocessor control system that operates three components, an electric relay (shown in the blue box), buzzer, and light. These three components have a certain degree of internal electrical resistance, annotated as RR, RB, and RL respectively. This is because they are made of materials with inherent imperfections which tend to resist the flow of electric current. Imperfections such as these are unavoidable in any electronic device made by humans, due to impurities within metals and irregularities in molecular structure. When the three components are activated by the microprocessor chip via field effect transistors, denoted as FET 1, 2 and 3 in the diagram, their resistances are connected to the supply circuit.
In other words, RR, RB, and RL create a combined level of resistance in the supply circuit by their connectivity to it. If a single component were to be removed from the circuit, its internal resistance would also be removed, resulting in a commensurate decrease in total resistance. The greater the total resistance, the more restriction there is to current flow, denoted as I. The greater the resistance, the more I is caused to decrease. In contrast, if there is less total resistance, I increases.
The result of changing current flow resistance is that it causes the unregulated power supply output voltage to change. This is all due to an interesting phenomenon known as Ohm’s Law, represented as this within engineering circles:
V = I × R
where, V is the voltage supplied to a circuit, I is the electrical current flowing through the circuit, and R is the total electrical resistance of the circuit. So, according to Ohm’s Law, when I and R change, then V changes.
Next time we’ll apply Ohm’s Law to a simplified unregulated power supply circuit schematic. In so doing we’ll discover the mathematical explanation to the change in current flow and accompanying change in power supply output voltage we’ve been discussing.
| Electrical voltage flow and water flow have a lot in common. They’re both affected by fluctuations in supply, fluctuations which can adversely impact both performance and equipment integrity. Take for example a sprinkler that fails to cover a designated section of lawn due to heavy neighborhood demand. Everybody wants to water on the weekend when it’s been 90 degrees all week, and low water pressure is the result. There are times when it’s hard to get a glass of water. By contrast in the winter months, when water demands tend to be lower, water supplies are plentiful. This scenario of varying water pressure is analogous to what sometimes occurs within electric circuits.
In my previous blog article on wall warts, I described the operation of a simple power supply consisting of a transformer, diode bridge, and capacitor. Together, these components converted 120 volts alternating current (VAC) to 12 volts direct current (VDC). The wall wart power supply is fine for many applications, however it is unregulated, meaning if there are any sudden surges in power, such as spikes or dips caused by lightning strikes or other disturbances on the electric utility system, there could be problems.
Take for example a power supply that is used in conjunction with sensitive digital logic chips, like the one used in my x-ray film processor design shown in my last blog article. These chips are designed to run optimally on a constant voltage, like 5 VDC, and when that doesn’t happen input signals can fail to register with the computer program and cause a variety of problems, such as output signals turning on and off at will. In the film processor the drive motor may start at the wrong time or get stuck in an on modality. If power surges are high enough, microprocessor chips can get damaged, compromising the entire working unit.
The output voltage of an unregulated power supply can also vary in response to power demand, just as when sprinklers don’t have sufficient water flow to cover a section of lawn. Demand for power can change within a circuit when electrical components like relays, lights, and buzzers are turned on and off by digital logic chips.
Next time we’ll take a look at a basic concept of electrical engineering known as “Ohm’s Law” and how it governs the variable output voltage response of unregulated power supplies.
| In the navy, the captain is the brains behind a ship’s operations. He gathers information, makes important decisions, then issues orders. He’s not there to roll up his sleeves and swab the decks. The captain relies on the ship’s officers to act as an interface between himself and the sailors that perform the physical labor required on deck.
In this article we’ll see how the FET, that is, the field effect transistor, performs much the same role as the ship’s officers when it is used within electronic controls. There it acts as an interface between electronic components that issue commands and the electrical devices that carry them out.
Last week we became familiar with field effect transistors and how their control of electrical current flow is analogous to how a faucet controls the flow of water. Although FETs can be used to vary the flow of current, they’re usually employed to perform a much simpler task, that of simply turning flow on or off, with no in-between modality.
Like the captain of a ship, microprocessor and logic chips are the brains behind the operation in all sorts of industrial and consumer electronics. Figure 1 shows a few of them.
The chips, which operate on low voltage, contain entire computer programs within them that gather information, make decisions, then instruct the higher voltage devices like motors, electrical relays, light bulbs, and audible alarms to follow. By “information,” I mean data signals received by the chip from its input connections to sensors, buttons, and other electrical components. This data informs the chip’s computer program of important operational information, like whether buttons have been pressed, switches are activated, and temperatures are normal. Based on this data, “decisions” are made by the chip using the logic contained within its program, then, depending on the decisions made, “commands” are issued by the chip. The commands, in the form of electrical output signals, are put into action by the work horses, the higher voltage devices. They, like a ship’s sailors, perform the actual physical work.
There is one problem presented by this scenario, however. The electric output signals from the lower voltage chips are not suited to directly control the higher voltage devices because the signal voltage put out by the chips is too low. Even if the chip was designed to work at a higher voltage, the high level of current drawn by the motors, relays, and bulbs would lead to damage of the delicate circuitry within the chip. The chips must therefore rely on the FET to act as a digital control interface between them and the higher voltage devices, much as the ship’s captain depends on his subordinates to carry out his orders.
Next week we’ll look at a real life example of how a digital interface is put into operation within an industrial product.