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Power supply overload protection

Because of their high voltage and high current levels, power supply
circuits and the loads that they drive can be damaged easily unless some
type of guard circuitry is designed into the supply. In this section we
discuss three different types of power supply protection schemes:

1. Current limiting: to protect the pass transistor from excessive current

2. Thermal limiting: to turn off the power supply when its temperature
exceeds a predetermined level
3. Overvoltage shutdown: to protect the load from damage should the power
supply fail and cause the output voltage to rise to an unsafe level

Each of these three protection methods is important in its own right in

power supply design, and whereas their goals are similarto protect the
supply and its surrounding circuitry from destructionthe techniques by
which these goals are achieved are somewhat different in each case. Power
supply current limiters are very similar to the current-limiting circuits
used in power amplifiers, and basically. their job is to prevent the load
current from exceeding some predetermined level. Because the power
dissipated in the pass transistor depends not only on the current flow
through it. But also on the voltage drop across it, more elaborate current-
limiting schemes. known as current foldback circuits, have also been
developed that automatically reduce the limit current as the voltage across
the pass transistor increases. For a given-size pass transistor, power
supplies having foldback-current limiting can handle load currents much
greater than those employing conventional constant-current short-circuit

A power supply that is working fine at room temperature may fail completely
when the ambient temperature surrounding the circuit rises, even though the
maximum load current from the supply was never exceeded. Typically, This
occurs when the junction temperature of the power control transistor goes
beyond its safe limit, and is due to the fact that this temperature depends
not only on the power dissipated in the transistor but also on the ambient
temperature surrounding it (see Section 9.9), To prevent the thermal
destruction of a power supply, we can design sensing circuits that will
shut the supply down when the temperature of the power control transistor
exceeds a predetermined level. For IC designs. because all the components
are located on the same substrate, the measurement of the power
transistorS temperature by the sensing circuit is a relatively easy meter
However, for larger designs where the power control transistor is a
separate device, the thermal sensing circuits need to be mounted on the
same heat sink as the power transistor in order to be intimate thermal

Often, the electronic circuitry connected to a power supply can be severely

damaged if the output voltage from the supply rises above its nominal value
by more than a few percent. A voltage increase of this type can occur for
any one of several possible reasons. The power supply itself can fail, so
that the output voltage rises, for example, to the level of the unregulated
input voltage. This type of failure is common and can occur if the pass
transistor shorts. Fast line transients can also cause the output voltage
to increase when the input voltage changes so rapidly that the feedback
control circuits do not have time to respond. Finally, and not all that
uncommonly, if the supply is adjustable, someone may accidentally set the
output voltage too high.

unfortunately. even if the power supplys output voltage remains nominal

level for only a few milliseconds, significant irreversible damage can
still be done to the electronic hardware connected to the supply. To
protect sensitive loads from this sorts of damage, over voltage protection
circuit are used. This circuit monitor the load voltage, and when an
overvoltage condition is detected, they shut the supply down, typically
within a few microseconds. This protection is really accomplished by
placing a virtual short circuit across the power supplys input or output
terminals, reducing the voltage to zero until the circuits fuses have time
to blow.