As we’ve come to know through this series of blogs, all electronic components pose some degree of internal resistance to the electric current flowing through them. This resistance results in electrical energy being converted into heat energy, heat which poses potential problems to sensitive components like electronic circuit boards. If things get hot enough, components fail and fires may ignite.
To address these issues engineers design circuits with resistors whose job it is to limit the current flowing to electrical components. In this article we’ll see how a limiting resistor protects a Zener diode from this fate, allowing it to continue doing its job of regulating voltage.
Ohm’s Law gave us the following equation to determine the amount of current, IPS, flowing from the unregulated power supply portion, through the current limiting resistor RLimiting, and making its way into the rest of the circuit:
IPS = (VUnregulated – VZener) ÷ RLimiting
We learned last week that for the circuit to work, the voltage of the unregulated power supply portion of the circuit, VUnregulated, must be greater than the Zener voltage, VZener.
Looking at the equation above, we see that the voltage difference is divided by RLimiting, the value of the limiting resistor in the circuit. This limiting resistor is there to constrain the current flowing to the Zener diode, allowing the diode to keep things under control within the circuit.
Basic mathematical principles hold that if a smaller number is divided by a bigger number, the resulting answer is an even smaller number. Applying this principle to the equation above, if RLimiting is a big number, then IPS must be a smaller number. On the other hand the smaller RLimiting gets, the bigger IPS becomes.
So what does it take for our circuit to fail? Remove the limiting resistor as shown in Figure 2 and the value for RLimiting disappears. In other words, RLimiting becomes zero.
In this case our Ohm’s Law equation becomes:
IPS = (VUnregulated – VZener) ÷ 0 = ∞
The resulting answer is said to go to infinity, or ∞, as it is represented mathematically. In other words, without a limiting resistor being employed within our circuit, IPS will become so large it will overwhelm the diode’s current handling capacity and lead to circuit failure.
Next time we’ll go over some advantages and disadvantages of this Zener diode voltage regulating circuit, and why the disadvantages outweigh the advantages for many applications.
Posts Tagged ‘internal resistance’
Let’s continue our discussion with regard to the example circuit discussed last time and see how the Zener diode works in tandem with the limiting resistor to control current flow and hold the output voltage at a constant level.
To recap our discussion from last week, the unregulated power supply portion of the circuit in Figure 1 generates an unregulated voltage, VUnregulated. Then the Zener diode, which acts as a voltage regulator, takes in VUnregulated and converts it into a steady output voltage, VOutput. Because these output terminals are connected to the ends of the Zener diode, VOutput is equal to the voltage put out by it, denoted as VZener.
The Zener diode, an excellent negotiator of current, is essentially involved in a constant trade off, substituting electric current that originates in the unregulated power supply portion of the circuit for voltage, VOutput, that will serve to power the external supply circuit. In other words, the Zener diode draws as much current, IZ, through it as it needs, its objective being to keep VOutput at a constant level, and it will continue to provide this constant output, despite the fact that VUnregulated varies considerably.
So, where does the current IZ come from? From IPS, that is, the current flowing from the unregulated power supply area, as shown in Figure 1.
IPS flows through the limiting resistor to a junction within the circuit. At this junction, IZ splits off from IPS and continues on to the Zener diode, while current I splits off from IPS on its way to the total internal resistance, RTotal, in the external supply circuit.
What this means is that when you add IZ and I together, you get IPS. Mathematically speaking this is represented as:
IPS = IZ + I
Why solve for IPS? We’ll see why this is important when we revisit Ohm’s Law next week and gain a fuller understanding of how IPS, VUnregulated, VZener, and RLimiting relate to each other with regard to the Zener diode.
Without limits on our roadways things would get quickly out of hand. Imagine speeding down an unfamiliar highway and suddenly coming upon a sharp curve. With no speed limit sign to warn you to reduce speed, you could lose control of your car. Limits are useful in many situations, including within electronic circuits to keep them from getting damaged, as we’ll see in a moment.
Last time we introduced the Zener diode and the fact that it performs as a voltage regulator, enabling devices connected to it to have smooth, uninterrupted operation at a constant voltage. Let’s see how it works.
In Figure 1 we have an unregulated power supply circuit introduced in a previous article in this series. We learned that this power supply’s major shortcoming is that its output voltage, VOutput, is unregulated, in other words, it’s not constant. It varies with changes in the direct current supply voltage, VDC.
It also varies with changes in, RTotal, which is the total internal resistance of components connected to it. RTotal changes when components are turned on and off by microprocessor and digital logic chips. When VOutput is not constant, those chips can malfunction, causing the device to operate erratically or not at all.
But we can easily address this problem by adding a Zener diode voltage regulator between the unregulated power supply and the external supply circuit. See the green portion of Figure 2.
Our power supply now consists of a Zener diode and a limiting resistor, RLimiting. The limiting resistor does as its name implies, it limits the amount of electric current, IZ, flowing through the Zener diode. Without this limiting resistor, IZ could get high enough to damage the diode, resulting in system failure.
Next time we’ll see how the Zener diode works in tandem with the limiting resistor to control current flow and hold the output voltage at a constant level.
| 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.