3A Linear Regulator Can Be Easily Paralleled to Spread Power and Heat

3A Linear Regulator Can Be Easily Paralleled to
Spread Power and Heat
Todd Owen
One drawback to using a traditional linear
regulator is that the minimum output
voltage is limited to the reference voltage of the regulator. Another is that it is
not easy to increase the available output
current or spread power dissipation by
paralleling devices. To distribute the load
between multiple regulators, one must
either add large ballast resistors, which
incur load regulation errors, or balance
LT3083
IN
VCONTROL
50µA
+
–
the load with complicated schemes of
input sense resistors and op amp loops,
which inevitably cancels out the promise
of simplicity originally offered by using
the ostensibly simple linear regulator.
But what if the voltage reference is
thrown out and replaced with a precision current source? The resulting device
is deceptively simple, as shown in the
block diagram of Figure 1; a precision
current source connects to the noninverting input of an amplifier and the output
drives a large NPN pass element and connects to the inverting input to give unity
gain. This small change to the venerable
linear regulator device yields enormous
gains in versatility and performance.
Now, in this new architecture, connecting each of the SET pins together when
paralleling regulators provides a common
reference point for all the error amplifiers,
making it possible to balance any deviceto-device offset variations with mere
milliohms of ballast. Suddenly it is easy to
spread power dissipation between as many
devices are needed, and likewise scale the
output current as necessary. The beauty
of this architecture is that a single resistor generates the reference point for all
of the regulators, whether one, ten or one
hundred regulators are used. Additionally,
the architecture allows zero resistance to
equal zero output—there is no longer a
fixed reference voltage to limit the bottom
end of the usable output voltage range.
BENEFITS OF A NEW ARCHITECTURE
The LT®3080 1.1A linear regulator was
the first linear regulator to use a precision current source architecture, making it
possible to produce high current, surface
mount power supplies by paralleling any
number of LT3080s. The LT3083 follows in
the footsteps of the LT3080 with similar
high performance specifications, but with
an increased 3A output current capability. The performance advantages offered
by this new architecture are numerous.
Frequency Response and Load
Regulation are Fixed
With traditional linear regulators, gain
and bandwidth change as the output
voltage is changed via resistor divider.
Bypassing the feedback pin of the regulator affects loop response. Load regulation is not a fixed value, but a fixed
percentage of the output as the resistor
divider gains up any voltage deviation.
Furthermore, reference voltage noise is
gained up by the same resistor divider.
50.5
50.4
50.3
SET PIN CURRENT (µA)
The basic 3-terminal
regulator has been a building
block in designer tool kits
for over thirty years without
any significant change to
its basic architecture. Using
a fixed voltage reference,
a resistor divider boosts
the output voltage to the
desired level. These are easy
to use devices, hence their
popularity, but there are
some inherent downsides
to this simple architecture.
50.2
50.1
50.0
49.9
49.8
49.7
49.6
49.5
–50 –25
SET
Figure 1. LT3083 block diagram
24 | October 2011 : LT Journal of Analog Innovation
0
25 50 75 100 125 150
TEMPERATURE (°C)
OUT
Figure 2. Reference current temperature
characteristics
design features
Suddenly it is easy to spread power dissipation between as
many devices are needed, and likewise scale the output current
as necessary. The beauty of this architecture is that a single
resistor generates the reference point for all of the regulators,
whether one, ten or one hundred regulators are used.
the device from damage during shortcircuit conditions and thermal limiting
keeps the part safe during conditions
of excessive power dissipation.
LT3083
IN
VCONTROL
+
–
OUT 10mΩ
Top Notch AC Characteristics
SET
LT3083
IN
VIN
4.8V TO 28V
VCONTROL
+
–
OUT
10µF
10mΩ
VOUT
3.3V
6A
SET
Using a current source and unity-gain
buffer eliminates these downsides. Since
the error amplifier is always in unity
gain, frequency response does not change
as a function of output voltage or with
the use of bypassing across the reference
point. Load regulation is now a fixed
value, regardless of output voltage. Since
bypassing does not affect loop response,
two noise sources can be eliminated: the
reference current noise and resistor shot
noise are quieted using a single capacitor.
This leaves only the error amplifier noise
at the output, and again, that stays at a
fixed level, no matter the output voltage.
Top Notch DC Characteristics
DC characteristics of the LT3083 are the
same as the original LT3080. The LT3083
separates out the collector of the NPN pass
device to minimize power dissipation.
Load regulation is typically below 1mV for
the error amplifier, and nearly immeasurable on the 50µ A reference current. Line
22µF
33.2k
Figure 3. Paralleling regulators for
higher current and heat spreading
regulation for the reference current is less
than 0.0002%/V, and is typically 2µV/V for
the error amplifier offset. Temperature
characteristics of the reference current
are excellent, typically staying within
0.2% across the full operating junction
temperature range, as shown in Figure 2.
The LT3083 also provides all of the protection features that Linear Technology
parts are known for: current limit with
safe operating area protection protects
Figure 4. High current reference buffer
LT3083
IN
VIN
VCONTROL
+
–
INPUT
LT1019
GND
OUTPUT
SET
C1
1µF
OUT
VOUT*
C2
10µF
Don’t think that the AC characteristics
of the LTC3083 were sacrificed in an
effort to achieve high DC performance.
Transient response is excellent with as
little as 10µF of output capacitance. Small
ceramic capacitors can be used without
the addition of ESR. Using a bypass capacitor across the reference resistor provides
a slow-start function; the output voltage follows the RC time constant created
by the SET resistor and bypass capacitor.
Paralleling devices also provides advantages in noise performance. Paralleling
multiple LT3083 regulators lowers the output noise in the same way that paralleling
n op amps lowers noise by a factor of √n.
APPLICATIONS
The LT3083’s deceptively simple architecture and high performance parameters make it powerful building block
for applications beyond the basic linear
regulator. It can be easily paralleled to
increase output current and spread heat.
Actively driving the SET pin is perfectly
acceptable; the low offset and high output
current allow for highly accurate reference
supplies at high power levels. Digitally
programmable supplies are achieved by
driving the SET pin with a DAC. Accurate
current sources are realized without
tremendous difficulty. The possibilities are
only limited by the creativity of the user.
*MIN LOAD 0.5mA
October 2011 : LT Journal of Analog Innovation | 25
The LT3083 is easily configured as a 2-terminal
current source, simply by adjusting the ratio of the
external resistors and adding compensation.
Figure 5. Digitally programmable power supply
Easy 2-Terminal Current Source
LT3083
IN
VIN
VCONTROL
GAIN = 4
150k
SPI
LTC2641
150k
+
–
450k
–
+
OUT
SET
VOUT
10µF
LT1991
Parallel Regulators Increase Current
and Spread Heat
Figure 3 shows how to parallel multiple
LT3083s to increase output current and
spread heat. Note the minimal ballast
needed to balance the load amongst
the regulators. It’s possible to produce
quiet and accurate high current surface
mount supplies simply by adding more
LT3083s. Power dissipation is spread
evenly across the paralleled regulators,
but thermal management is still necessary. With as little as 0.5V drop across the
regulator, a 3A load translates to 1.5W of
power dissipation, pushing the thermal
capabilities for surface mount designs.
High Current Reference Buffer
Creating a high current reference buffer takes very little effort, as shown in
Figure 4. In this circuit, an LT1019-5
output connects to sink the 50µ A reference current of the regulator. This reference provides 0.2% accuracy across
temperature, or 10mV. With a maximum
offset voltage of 4mV in the LT3083,
output accuracy stays within 0.3%. The
accuracy of the reference current in
the LT3083 is not a factor in the output
tolerance, and there are no resistors to
present potential tolerance variations.
26 | October 2011 : LT Journal of Analog Innovation
Digitally Programmed Output
Programming the output voltage
digitally simply takes the addition of a
DAC to drive the SET pin. Figure 4 highlights how a DAC programs the LT3083
output to anywhere from zero to over
16V within 1.5LSB. In this circuit, an
LTC2641-12 using a 4.096V reference drives
the SET pin of the LT3083 through the
LT1991 (configured for a gain of four).
Again, the tight specifications of the
LT3083 allow for such excellent performance. Keep in mind that the minimum
load current requirement must be met
when operating at minimum output
voltages—less than 500µ A loading is
required when operating at low input
voltages, much less than traditional linear
regulators that require 5 to 10m A.
Current sources can be very difficult to
implement in certain applications. Some
must be ground referenced, others must
be referenced to a positive rail, while the
most difficult designs require floating,
2-terminal devices. The LT3083 is easily
configured as a 2-terminal current source,
simply by adjusting the ratio of the external resistors and adding compensation as
shown in Figure 5. The current source can
be ground referenced, referenced to a positive rail or fully floating without concern.
CONCLUSION
Hiding behind the simple architecture
shown in the block diagram of the LT3083
is a high performance, highly versatile,
groundbreaking building block device.
The LT3083 combines the architectural
leap forward of the LT3080, excellent
AC and DC characteristics and increased
current to easily solve problems that a
traditional 3-terminal or low dropout
regulator cannot touch. It can be used for
supplies that operate all the way down
to zero volts, paralleled for high current
and heat spreading, or driven dynamically.
High current linear power supplies are
now available for surface mount boards
without sacrificing performance. n
CCOMP*
IN
LT3083
*CCOMP
R1 ≤ 10Ω 10µF
R1 ≥ 10Ω 2.2µF
VCONTROL
Figure 6. 2-terminal current source
+
–
SET
R1
20k
IOUT =
1V
R1
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