630

IEEE TRASSACTIONS

os

ELECTROS

DEVICES, VOL.

ED-13, xos. 8/9,

AUGUST/SEPTEMBER,

1966

Some New Aspects of Thermal Instability o the f Current Distribution in Power Transistors
F. BERGMANN
AND

D. GERSTNER

Abstract-An

importantcharacteristic

of secondbreakdown

in

p-n junctions is the current constriction to a small region. This may
a s discussed by becaused by a thermalfeedbackmechanism, Scarlett and Shockley, and by Bergmann and Gerstner. A brief review of this theory is given, illustrated by experimental results of a simple model arrangement consisting of three thermally coupled transistors. essential The parameters influencing the thermal stability of the current distribution are device geometry, power density, and temperature dependence of current. I t is widely known that second breakdown occurs at high voltages at a much lower power level than a t low voltages. To allow a more detailed discussion of this effect in view of thermal stability, we determined experimentally the temperature coefficient of transistor current for various Si planar transistors as a function of current, voltage, and junction temperature. The experimental procedure is described and the results are discussed. Theexperimentalvalues of thetemperature coefficient range from 0.08 to 0.01 1 / " C . Thevalues forhigh currentsaremuch lower than predicted by the theory of Ebers and Moll. It thus can easily be understood why, in the case of high current, and low voltage, the thermaI stability of the current distribution is much better than in the case of low current and high voltage.

bility of the current distribution. These parameters are device geometry, power density, temperature and dependence of current. Someexperimentalresults on the temperature coefficient of current are presented for typical Si planar transistor configurations. These results allow an interpretation of the fact that the thermal stability of the current distribution is much better in the case of high current and low voltage than itis in the case of low current and high voltage.

MODEL DEMONSTRATION OF THERMAL INSTABILITY

A large area HF power transistor can be regarded as a parallel connection of many small area transistors. Actually power transistors are constructed in this way, e.g., when an interdigitated structure (comb structure) is used. The question is: how will thecurrentdistribute itself amongst the single transistors? Figure 1 shows asimple model arrangement [lo] to measure the current distributionthree in transistors working in parallel. The three transistors within the INTRODUCTION dashedlinerepresentherealarge areatransistor.The HE PHENOMENOK of second breakdown in single collector currents J,,, J o , J,, of the transistor transistors and diodes is associated with a current parts are measured. The sum of these currents and the constriction to a small area [1]-/7]. In many cases common collector voltage V C E determine the power loadthis may becausedbya thermal feedbackmechanism ing of the whole transist,or configuration. This power according to a theory proposed by Shockley and Scarlett loading is stabilized to a nearly constant value by means 181, [9], and independently by Bergmann and Gerstner[lo] of the emither resistor R, which is common to the tranin 1963. If the thermalfeedback is overcritical,the current sistors of the model. distribution becomes unst'able,and small parts of the Figure 2 shows the measured currents J,,,J,,, Jcs transistor bear almost all of the current. This instability as a function of t,ime after application of power. At the can occur independently of possible diffusion defects of beginning the currents J c , , J c 2 , Jo areapproximately thetransistor.Althoughthetransistor is loaded below equalto 10 mA. Thecurrentint'ransistor 1 increases the theoreticalmaximum power dissipation,calculated steadily,whereas thecurrentintransistor 2 decreases. from the thermal resistance, local overheating (hot spots) The current transistor in 3 a t first increases a small may occur. When a critical temperature is reached at a amount, and then also decreases. Finally after 5 minutes, hot spot, an intrinsic zone is formed which short circuits transistor 1 carries 96 percent of the total current, which the space charge region of the p-n junction [lI], 1121. This implies also almost all of the supplied power,while the results in a typical voltage reduction over the transistor. remaining t'ransistors carry less than 3 percent each. I n some cases evenmolten zones have been observed Throughout,thesum of thecurrents remainsapproxi[13], [14]. With reverse-bias conditions, in addiOion to t'he mately J , w 30 mA. Thus, from only exconstant thermal effects, electrical fields haveto be takeninto ternalvoltage V C R current J , observations of our and account, but nevertheless the thermal instability seems power transistor model, the transistor seems to operate to be an important feature of second breakdown. well. The purposeof this paper is to point out the importance Under the special conditions of this model, transistor of the essential parameters influencing the thermal sta1 mas not dest'royed because the whole system was driven far below its maximum allowable power dissipation. But under real, operational conditions of a power tranManuscript received December 7 , 1965. sistor when loaded near the theoretical maximum power The authors are with Telefunken Aktiengesellschaft, Heilbronn, dissipation, calculated from the thermal resistance, i t Germany.

1966 1.correspond to aweakpoint in the diffusion of the power transistor. while transistors 1 and 2 retainthe remaining current. 20 mW. Here we had preheatedtransistor 3 a short whilebefore application of the power. A current instability of the described type is only possible when there is an increase of transistor current with a rising temperature. 3. means transistor This the will dissipate more power. may be that one part of the transistor would have burned out. and so on. Again.and current crowding will occur.%.. the ratio of length to thickness of the transistor crystal. Device geometry determines whether or not temperature differences between the various active parts of the thermal power transistor will be leveled out. At a power level of. A. Suppose. For geometrically simple transistor structures and simple boundary conditions. it will increase its temperature more thantheothers. current the instability is a fundamental one. Arrangement for demonstration of currentdistributionin three thermally coupled transistors. When the feedback mechanism is overcritical. Thus. have been assumed. 2. STABILITY PARAMETERS From a qualitative discussion of our 3-transistor model. this means additional power of only 1 mW. So a transistor that has a temperature slightly higher than the others will bear more c. which would. the result of thestability analysis is shown inFig. here are the three parameters that we already know from the qualitative discussion.g. Power Level. For a certain transistor system. In our 3-transistor model the three transistors receive the same voltage V. Now transistor 3 increases its current steadily and finally carries approximately 97 percent of thetotalcurrent. This behaviorcanbeexplainedbya thermal feedbackmechanism. thermal coupling with its neighbors. it is possible to point out the relative importance of theseparameters.Thisinturn will cause a further increase of the current.0 min Time t Fig. thickness h. If the coupling between the transistors three and/or their thermal coupling totheheat sinkisverystrong. This indi- . say. (Fig. the currentdistribution will beunstable. the whole transistor is concentrated at one mathematical point.. This is demonstratedattheright-handside of Fig. as a limiting case. (approximately equal to the emitter current J.a distributed heat source (e. Device Geometry. and if the temperature unbalance is not leveled out either by thermal coupling to the heat sink. which ismade possible bythevery rapid increase of the collector current J . It is important to note that this overloading of transistor 1 in our model arrangement is not predetermined by adifferentelectricalcharacteristic of the transistor.urrent than the others. Temperature Coe$icient of the Transistor Current. transistor 3 had been preheated. IJC. the temperature differences will be small even when the transistorsdonotdissipatethesame power. Suppose in our 3-transistor model. the conditions for stable or unstable current distribution can be calculated by solving the differential equation of heat conduction [lo]. Instability will be more serious when the temperature coefficient of the transistor current is high. there is a temperature unbalance that results in a 5 percent increase of current for one transistor. Atthe right-hand side. At the top surface. 3.) with a rise in temperature. It is notimportant how large the temperature difference or the other differences between the various transistors are at the beginning. 3).whereas a t 200 mW this means 10 mW additional power. B.5 5.and at the undersurface.forexample. Fig. or by C. a flatand perfect heat drain. [ls]. Using the stability chart. A 0 2. Unstable currentdistribution among threetransistorsin parallelfor two different initial conditions.For abroadtemperature range. because theyare connected in parallel. then no temperature differences within this point would be possible. three parameters can be predicted that will influence the thermalstability of currentdistributionin our model or in a real large-area transistor. For a power transistor with a simple rectangular shape withlength a. 1. 2. Device geometry for this transistor structure is described by a. BERGMANN AND GERSTNER: INSTABILITY THERMAL 631 2. thistemperature dependence may be approximated by an exponential relation. and can not be prevented by carefully avoidingweakpointsin thetransistor electricalstructure only. thermal stability will be better a t a low rather than a t ahigh power level. a very fine interdigitated transistor structure).

only for transistors of sufficiently small area.lO/OC.C O a S t . parameter This has Whencomparingthe concept of thermalinstability with experimental results on the phenomenon on second already been mentioned when we were discussing the for example. that is. But it is hoped that by proper refinement of the existingtheories. further peculiarities distribution. which means that the transistor current is increased by conductance with temperature. that is. also breakdown. 4).Remember. How canthisbe explained? We believe that it is a consequence of thecurrentdependence of temperature coefficient on transistor current.ature coefficient can be predicted by t'he simple theory of of pendence of triggering energy or of the delay time [5]. we JC .. stableoperation of transistors is possible. Stability chart for a power transistor of rectangular shape. In the stability chart find three regions. I I 100 V. [16]. for example.. . AT is the temperature difference between the transistor junctions and the heat sink.toincreaseby thesamefactor down. Unstable region. By this theory. I n this region. dT V B E . therefore. Obviously of the temperature of thetransistortobedishrbedby unstable current thistheoreticalcurrentdependence coefficient B is too weak and would not explain the large distribution ismuchhigher at highvoltages and low currents than it is at low voltages and high currents.in the 10 voltrange. andthethermal resistancebetween the transistorjunctions and the heat sink. this theory havior on operating point (Fig.dence of forward-bias second breakdown be. say. which is defined by distributed heat source 55 . Conditionally stable region.allow the the power dissipation. 3. 3. . which is for the dc case. . For differences of current stability which are observed experimentally. Safe operating range of a power transistor.AT can be achieved only for suitably low values of a/h. In this region. by an emitter resistor. in silicon. which is quite important.. thistransistormaybe 1. A complete understanding of second break. This type of instability cannot be avoided by limiting the total dissipation to a constant value. . whereas at 100 volts the power allowable is only 20 watts. Another well-known feature is 10 percent when the junction temperature is increased by of the depen. The temperaturedependence of t'hetransistorcurrent at the certain operating point is characterized by the temperature coefficient B. the tendency for a ten times increase in current density [8]. regardless of their geometry (large or small area). .. for example. b<a This temperature coefficient depends on the semicon. . . and the junction temperature. 2. AT is a measure for the power density at which the transistor is operated. one finds that the thermal concept fits very stabilitychart. including reverse-bias second breakdown.As can be seen from predicts that B decreases by 2..007/"C the lowest curve.AT ductormaterial(bandgap). 4. AT may be calculated as the product of the heat produced in the collectorjunction.as. . thermal coupling between the active parts of the transistor is too weak. a reduction of breakdown. Inthis region.B. well the main features observed in forward-bias second the temperature coefficient by. As canbe seen from the stabilitychart. a value of B = O.3/T. example. one would expect It seems possible that this temperature dependence can be explained by taking into account thevariation of heat for reasonable current densities. Concerning the current dependence B.stabilization against thermal runaway a t a certain value of B . --b 50 Collector voltage 2 0 Fig. a factor of two will temperature difference. if the transistor is stabilizedagainst thermal runaway. An example is the temperature de. the junctiontransistor. Indeed a current dependence of this temperwill be understood. has not withoutchangingthestabilitybehavior of the current yet been achieved 1161. and.forexamplebythetheory Ebers and Moll 1171. stable operation is possible if the total power is limited. the lowpower region. about 0. Thus the current distribution the transistor is unstable in and current crowding will occur.632 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON ELECTRON DEVICES 10 AUGUST/SEPTEMBER cates that in a large areatransistor. that is.the operatingpoint of the Fig. . Stable mgion.1°C. transistor (especially current density).thermal coupling depends on the greatest distance between the active parts of thetransistorandthe thickness of the chip. B=L%l : - loaded to approximately 100 watts.

I 0 . was measured with a high precision digital voltmeter as a function of junction temperature Ti. Fig. we have measured thetemperature coefficients for silicon planar transistors and their dependence on current level and junction temperature.1 1 10 100 mA obtained. Tcz . which has been derived in 1 VC -E l - [lS]. By graphical differentiation of these curves. I n order to avoid instability of current distribution a t too low power levels.he junction temperature from case temperature and power dissipaion. collector current JC for a is at low currents. the lower values when the current density is increased. This type of instability which may initiate second breakdownhas been demonstratedexperimentallyina . 5. we used small area transistors. I n order t o determine the temperature coefficient B.00 0.T c + ~-. junction temperature Ti for various collector currents J c for a silicon planar transistor 2 N 1613. especially a t high power levels.. I n contrasttothe theopredicted by theory. when J . Base emitter voltage VBEvs. Thus can be easily understood why. by about a factor of three. are considered. For stabilityagainst second breakdown is much better for an example. This measurement procedure is actually a simple static method 'or the determination of the thermal resistance between the transis. These show the weak current and temperature the temperaturedependence of current is much lower than dependencementionedabove.theoretlca experimental values of the temperature coefficient B are ! 0. 5 for a 2 N 1613 transistor. a sketch of our measuring circuit is given. twotheoretical curves-the dotted onesOur experiments show that at high current densities.. this set of curves can be replotted in the manner shown in Fig. an instability of current distribution can occur due to a thermal feedback mechanism. 7. 6. But these transistors were similar to typical large area transistors when junction depth. We noticed that the thermal resisjances given by the data sheets were not accurateenough to calculate . Parameter 1s base emitter voltage VBE. has been subtracted from the measured values of V B E Thus .045 t o 0. 1 CONCLUSIONS In large-area transistors. it retical curves. - 50 - 100 Tj 150 200 "C T i= T. the following considerations are also valid for open base conditions. The transistors were putin a thermostat. and for fixed collector currents J . This measurement gave aset of parallelcurves which could be extrapolated t o zero dissipated power using the relation' Tj - Fig. Throughout the whole curve set. the base emitter voltage V B .015 according to the 100°C curve. is increased from 10 to 100 mA. (50 and 100°C) as a function of transistor current.1966 BERGMANN AND GERSTNER: THERMAL INSTABILITY 633 MEASUREMENT TEMPERATURECOEFFICIENT OF B Since the transistor theory is based on many simplifyingassumptions which are generally not fulfilled. diffusion layer sheet resistance. and so on. Temperature coefficient B vs. base width. against junction temperature T ifor constant base emitter voltage V B E . On the right-hand side of Fig. the . the experimental values of B tend t o much in a large-area transistor a t acertain power level. . Thisis a log plot of collector current J . it can be seen Jc that the slope is much less steep a t high currents than it Fig. are given. B has been plotted for twotemperatures decreases from 0. To obtain the right value of Ti. B high current than for low current operation. junction temperature T i for a silicon planartransistor 2 N 1613. which are very important in practice. 6. 5. 7. I n Fig. firstmeasured V B Ea t we several collector voltages for fixed collector current as a function of case temperature T. ture dependent. Collector current J c vs..or junctions and the case [18]. For that is. should be mentioned that the voltage drop over It the base resistance. mA t lo 7 u 1 ". vCE2 In this way we obtained the set of curves shown on the left-hand side of Fig. which has a stabilizing influence. comparison. and that theslope is not very temperasilicon planar transistor 2 N 1613.

” in Physics of Failure in Electronics. and R. 10. Weitzsch. IEEE (Correspondence). 191 R. simple model arrangement. C. French. each having a stabilizing emitter resktor. 8. Strutt. Power. and power level.It is merely a withdrawal from the dangerous high power region and must be paid for by inconveniently high capacitance in thetransistorandbyadditional yield problems when producing such overdimensioned devices. G. The resistors in this example are evaporated KiCr resistors. Abraham. C. die im Durchbruchsgebietbetriebenwerden. pp. 6-10. REFERENCES [I] C. 21-25.” Arch. “Statische Bestimmung des thermlschen Widerstandes R i t h und der Sperrschichttemperatur T i von Transistoren. Figure 8 shows. 6. 1. 129-136.” Proc. Enghsh.’ Semiconductor Products. Md. M. Moll. Shockley.” presented a t the 1965 Internat’l Meeting. vol. H.” Solid-Slate Electronics. pp. [5] H. pp. “ZumEinschnureffekt bei Transistoren. [41 F. pp. Eds. 139-141. Vaccaro. 500-501.. 3) The power level should be reduced to a value which assures stable current distribution. 511-521. ED-9. vol. vol. Goldberg and J. Simmons. December 1954. IRE. 19. 2) The temperature coefficient of current should be reducedfor the single active parts the transistor is composed of. French. J. pp. Rec. C.gbertr. belchior and M. 1..9 I E E E Internat’lConv. “Mesoplasma breakdown in silicon junctions.634 IEEE TRANSACTIONS OK ELECTRON DEVICES AUGUST/SEPTEMBER stable cells are combined to a large area configuration with stabilizing emitter resistors for each cell. 439-440. Schafft and J. F. C . Second breakdown proof power transistor. nu. ED-5. J. Klasse f.” Arch. D. IEEE (CorresDondence). October 1963. no. _- Fig. ‘<ZurTheorie des zweiten Durchbruchs bei Transistoren.” Phys. temperature dependence of current.” Scientia Electrica.. Of course.. 1) Device geometry should be designed so as to provide strong thermal coupling. “Thermal instabilities and hot spots in junction transistors. Strutt. pt. pp.” 196. English and H. Weitzsch. [13]A. ‘[Le PhhomBne de pincement sur les transistors de puissance en commutation. 42.elektr. pp. Techn. Thornton and C. vol. September 1965. L. vol. D.” Proc. the following precautions may be taken. a power transistor which is divided into eight small-area devices. vol. “Second breakdown in transistors. Gerstner. pp. September-October 1963. 0. A. vol.” Nachrichtentechn. [2] R. I n order to improvestabilityagainst second breakdown initiated by this thermal mechanism. ‘[HF-Leistungstransistoren-Keuere Entwicklungen mit Techniken der Mikroelektronik. electr. pp. Thire. Obertr. pp. but that is not necessary because the single parts are designed in an undercritical size.. Then these enough to assurestabilitywithineach .: Spartan Books. 108. vol. 27-33. I : Production.” Abh. D. elektr. as an example. [SI R. Tauc and A. 195-199. Math. Rev.” I R E Trans. 936-937. “A new high current mode of transistor operation. since it does not cure the inst’ability. January 1955. [11] H. “Secondary breakdownin transistors. vol. 17. 16.” Arch. “Thermal breakdown in silicon z7-n junctions. 27-42. Abraham. January 1962. J. Ebers and J. u. pp. 1961. ‘‘Der elektrische Durchschlag an p-n-Ubergangen in Silizium. Washington. But there is a very promising possibility for construction of a second the breakdown proof power transistor by combining the first tm7o stability design concepts [19]. pp. 19. November 1957. “Mesoplasmas and second breakdown in silicon junctions. 19. March 1962. “Thermisch bedingte stromeinschniiru!Ig bei Hochfrequenz-Leistungstransistoren. Phys.” Colloque Internat’l sur les Dispositifs ci Shmiconducteurs. Baltimore. vol. vol.” Internationale ElektronischeRundschau. Taucand A. [3] J. Haitz. pp. Greenburg. January 1960. vol. pp. “Breakdown voltage in power transistors. zeitschr. [lo] F. November 1961. December 1964. Melchior and M. 194-203. H. 277-293. April 1966. Wiss. 0. eachhaving a stabilizing emitter resistor. Scarlett. A. Gerstner. ‘ Ubertr. “Large signal behavior of junction transistors.. The large-area device is divided into eight cells. r71 J. There three are essential parameters influencing the stability of the current distribution: device geometry. M.. Scarlett and W. “Secondary breakdown and hot spots in power transistors. April 1964: [12] H. [14] A. C. vol. vol.Gerstner. M. 1963. D. vol.” Proc. “On the initiation of second breakdown in diodes and transistors. on Elecfron Devices. 52. W. Shockley. on Electron Devices. 3-13. 51.1. F. J. the internal B within these cells is not influenced. [6] J. M. 3. 1-8. 467-475. 495-501. pp. March 1963.” I R E Trans. Berlin. L _ I I __ Thethird possibility does not seem to beverysatisfactory. Bergmann and D. vol. January 1958. 1761-1772. pp. “A survey of second breakElectron Devices down. Session 14. 4. Akad.. The large-area power transistor is divided into single cells which are small cell. Schafft and J. pp.

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