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How to Select Power Inductors for Switched Mode Power Supplies

Andy Chow, Chief Design Engineer, J.W. Miller Magnetics, Gardena, California

Selection of appropriate power inductors is a vital step in the successful design of a switched mode power supply (SMPS). The selection process can be confusing if physical inductors are not well understood. Todays SMPS must meet the demands for high power, small size, high switching frequency, and high efficiency. In addition, regulatory requirements often call for reduced levels of electromagnetic interference (EMI). This article includes basic circuit equations to provide a starting point for the selection process. Selecting an appropriate inductor depends on understanding perfect inductors in addition to the (imperfect) characteristics of physical inductors.

Inductor Applications
There are about 14 basic topologies (basic block diagrams) commonly used to implement a switching power supply. [Pressman, A.I.] Most SMPS configurations rely upon some form of magnetic energy storage and EMI suppression (filtering). Energy Storage Considerations An inductor stores energy in its magnetic field. SMPS control-circuitry regulates the amount of energy stored. Energy is added to the magnetic field during the time an inductor is connected to a source of power. The amount of energy stored in an inductors magnetic field is determined by the value of inductance and the current in the inductor. In Le Systme International d'Units (SI), energy is expressed in joules. J = L I2 where J = energy in joules L = inductance in henrys (1)

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I = current in amperes L = 2 J / I2 Substituting in expression (2) L = m (r) / I where m = magnetic flux density in teslas r = relative permeability (dimensionless) Let k = a parameter (in henrys). K is related to the physical configuration of an inductor. K accounts for the size and number of turns about a physical core. K includes the specific volume of core material. Then, L = r k Expression (4) indicates that inductance is directly proportional to the relative permeability of core material. Note that r is a multiplier of magnetic flux supported by the core. A core is said to be saturated when it is unable to support additional flux. Around saturation, r decreases to a very small value, thereby significantly reducing the effective inductance. Saturation is a critical issue for small high-permeability cores. Inductor Selection for Energy Storage The goal is to specify an appropriate inductor. An appropriate inductor will have parameters that support a set of specific design requirements. In addition to performance requirements, there will usually be conflicting requirements of size, weight, shielding, and cost. It is essential to have a thorough understanding of all SMTS requirements. The following methodology is particularly appropriate for SMPS buck, boost, and flyback power converters. (4) (3) (2)

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Use expression (1) to determine the amount of energy storage required. Use expression (2) to calculate the required inductance. Refer to a manufacturers datasheet to determine which inductors (if any) are available within your size and volume range. (For example, see [J.W.Miller].) Look for parts that are characterized within the required switching frequency range. Be aware that some published data may be based on sinewave measurements. Switching waveforms are typically square waves. Therefore, select the core material with performance data based on at least three times the fundamental switching frequency. Determine the relative permeability and its value as a function of current. Effective inductance decreases with current as the core approaches saturation. Use an air gap to control saturation. Shielded inductors will usually saturate faster than unshielded. Selection of core material will depend on overall requirements. Ferrites and powered iron are available in a range of permeabilities. These materials can provide large air gaps and thereby limit saturation effects. However, core size is the tradeoff. Toroids offer the best overall performance. Toroids almost fully constrain the magnetic flux. However, toroids are usually the most expensive configuration. Expected temperature rise is an important factor. A ferrite core has lower core loss than powdered iron. For powdered materials with similar initial permeability, molybdenum permalloy powder has lower loss and better current handling capability than sendust, or iron powder. However, iron powder is the most cost-effective core material. EMI Suppression Considerations

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EMI suppression applications exploit the inductors ability to attenuate signals as a function of frequency. Ignoring the effects of distributed capacitance, the inductor is an impedance with the relationship ZL = Rdc + j L where Rdc = DC resistance in ohms = 2 f (f is in hertz) but and L = r k (from expression (4)) Rdc is approximately zero R becomes R() and reflects skin effect We can rewrite expression (5). Expression (6) shows the complex impedance of the inductor is both a function of frequency and the relative permeability of the core material Z() = R( ) + j r k Inductor Selection for EMI Suppression The goal is to select an inductor that will provide adequate suppression of EMI. One must know the general requirements. There may be formal regulatory requirements. Note, special instrumentation (and facilities) may be required to make comprehensive EMI measurements. In addition, filter inductors are not the entire answer to problems of EMI reduction. Printed wiring board design rules should be followed. Common sense placement of components is essential. Filter inductors will not solve the effects of poor layout. (6) (5)

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Filter inductors are used in series with power leads. Power filters reduce noise coming into the SMPS and attenuate noise that could be fed back into the source. Filters can be mutually coupled to cancel common mode noise. Expression (6) illustrates the complex nature of the filters impedance. Note, if the permeability goes low due to saturation, EMI attenuation will be reduced. However, the skin effect of large-wire windings will help to reduce EMI at high frequencies. Select a core material and core volume that will not saturate during conditions of peak current and over-voltage. Toroids provide the optimum magnetic configuration. Use wire for windings that takes advantage of skin effect. SMPS filters should be configured for easy mounting. They must be located away from lower energy components.

Mechanical and Mounting Styles

Axial- and radial- leaded styles offer simple mechanical mounting. Often, leads are strong enough to secure inductors directly to the board. RTV silicone compound is commonly used when a board is subjected to low levels of shock and vibration. It is possible to add stability by applying epoxy to a fixed-pin inductor base. Some inductors can be readily converted to surface mount technology (SMT) devices. A ferrite bobbin with two metallized pads on the bottom is an especially efficient SMT inductor for high current applications. Examples of typical inductors are shown in Figure 1.

[ Figure 1. Modern Inductors (photo courtesy of J. W. Miller Magnetics) ]

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Energy storage and EMI suppression are two important SMPS applications of power inductors. Energy storage applications require non-saturated high-permeability inductors. EMI filter applications require frequency-dependent attenuation at all current levels.

[1] Pressman, Abraham I., Switching Power Supply Design (2nd Ed.) , p. 3, McGrawHill, 1998. [2] J. W. Miller 2300 Series, High Current Toroid Indictor.

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