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Hidden Start-up Events

Whenever an electronic circuit is first energized, transients occur in current and voltage waveforms. These start-up transients can affect the electrical and thermal behavior of components and circuits with serious reliability, EMI, and random effects. Try to characterize how your circuits start and stop.

Have you detected anomalous behavior in your design, especially during the start-up of the system? Unintended resets? Failure in some components? Random events?

If you find those situations try to measure how your circuit wake-up during the start-up of the power supply. Perhaps you will discover hidden events. Let me show you one example with a small 19V power supply part of a more complex design in a consumer product.

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The start-up of the product will be analyzed using a 1GHz scope (Agilent DSO7104B). A current probe (TCP202) is used to measure input current in channel CH1. A voltage probe is used to measure output voltage in channel CH2. The complete setup is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Nominal input current and output voltage for the circuit under test.
Figure 1: Nominal input current and output voltage for the circuit under test.

 

The screen in Figure 1 is a typical view when triggering with channel CH1 (current) in AUTO MODE with 57mA approximately in trigger level. Input current is a quasi-sinusoidal 50Hz signal with 313mA peak to peak in amplitude. Output voltage is 18.4V DC with some ripple.

How is the start-up for this product?

To characterize the start-up for this system, the probes are fixed in place but TRIGGER is configured for SINGLE mode: only one acquisition when triggering conditions are satisfied and then screen is stopped.

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With the power supply in OFF condition, the scope screen is empty and the trigger circuit is waiting for some event crossing the desired level (approximately 360mA in our example).

When the power supply is energized, input current has a transient and the captured data during that time is shown in the scope screen (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Transients during the start-up time.
Figure 2: Transients during the start-up time.

 

Note the fast transient in current at the moment of start-up in region (A). It looks like a near vertical line similar to one of the vertical gridlines.

This is a very short transient with high di/dt with great conditions to create radiated EMI, crosstalk, immunity problems, and perhaps failure in some components
(e.g. semiconductors).

If the transient is really fast, you will need a high bandwidth scope to be able to see it.

The measured peak current is out of the screen, more than 4A in our scope, and far from the nominal values in our design. Sometimes the peak of current will be really big, for example, if your input circuit includes a big capacitor (i.e. electrolytic).

In regions (B) and (C) we identify the start-up of the system (approximately 100ms in duration). Then, in region (D) the nominal current and voltages are measured as in Figure 1.

Some interesting information is found with a zoom in region A as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Transients during the start-up time (zoom for the first transient).
Figure 3: Transients during the start-up time (zoom for the first transient).

 

The short transient close to an ideal vertical line in Figure 2 top trace (region (A), offers a strong HF activity associated to parasitic in layout, cabling, components, and the topology of your circuit.

You can try to correlate failures in your system with these kinds of transients. If you are able to see them, you will be able to try fixes. There are a number of techniques to significantly reduce the amplitude and duration of start-up transients: dimension of components, filters, inrush current limiters, intelligent switching strategies, etc. Learn about those methods and your products will be more reliable and successful.

My final advice: do not forget to characterize the start-up operation of your designs to identify sources of problems.

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author mediano-arturoArturo Mediano received his M.Sc. (1990) and his Ph. D. (1997) in Electrical Engineering from University of Zaragoza (Spain), where he has held a teaching professorship in EMI/EMC/RF/SI from 1992. From 1990, he has been involved in R&D projects in EMI/EMC/SI/RF fields for communications, industry and scientific/medical applications with a solid experience in training, consultancy and troubleshooting for companies in Spain, USA, Switzerland, France, UK, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Canada, The Netherlands, Portugal, and Singapore. He is the founder of The HF-Magic Lab®, a specialized laboratory for design, diagnostic, troubleshooting, and training in the EMI/EMC/SI and RF fields at I3A (University of Zaragoza), and from 2011, he is instructor for Besser Associates (CA, USA) offering public and on site courses in EMI/EMC/SI/RF subjects through the USA, especially in Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bay Area. He is Senior Member of the IEEE, active member from 1999 (Chair 2013-2016) of the MTT-17 (HF/VHF/UHF) Technical Committee of the Microwave Theory and Techniques Society and member of the Electromagnetic Compatibility Society. Arturo can be reached at a.mediano@ieee.org. Web:  www.cartoontronics.com.

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