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# Understand and reduce DC/DC switching-converter ground noise

## 11/21/2011 10:14 AM EST

DC/DC switching-power converters are notorious for physically disrupting an otherwise carefully designed system and circuit schematic designs. These power converters drive unwanted charge onto electrical ground, causing false digital signals, flip-flop double clocking, EMI, analog-voltage errors, and damaging high voltages.

As the complexity of these designs increase and applications become more densely populated, the physical-circuit implementation plays a critical role in the electrical integrity of the system. This article illustrates two major sources of ground noise and offers suggestions on how to reduce both.

Ground noise: Problem #1

Figure 1 shows an ideal buck converter with a constant load current. Switches t1 and t2 toggle back and forth, chopping Vin across Lbuck and Cbuck. Neither inductor current nor capacitor voltage can change instantaneously, and the load current is constant. Hopefully, all switching voltages and currents successfully span Lbuck or pass through Cbuck respectively, since an ideal buck converter produces no ground noise.

But experienced designers know that a buck converter is a notorious noise source. This fact means that Figure 1 is missing important physical elements.

Figure 1:  Buck converter circuit—inductor current cannot change instantaneously, so identifying a source of ground bounce in an ideal buck converter is not easy.

Whenever charge moves, a magnetic field develops. Current in a wire, resistor, transistor, superconductor, and even a capacitor’s plate-to-plate displacement current creates a magnetic field. Magnetic flux, ΦB, is magnetic field, B, passing through a current loop area, A, and equals the product of the field cutting the loop surface at a right angle, ΦB = B·A. The magnetic field at a distance, r, encircling a wire is directly proportional to the wire’s electrical current, B = μoI/2πr.

Electrical components have length and charge must flow from one device to the next in the various wire segments. But moving charge creates a magnetic field, so the schematic in Figure 1 can be improved. Figure 2 shows a better model of a simple buck converter.

Figure 2: Magnetic flux = (B-field) × (current loop area). Changing flux induces voltage. As a buck switches, the changing current-loop path causes a changing flux and induces ground bounce.(Click here for enlarged image.)

In Figure 2, the wire remains ideal in every way, except current must flow some distance in each segment while traveling from one electrical component to the next. As this charge flows, magnetic field wraps around the energized wires and is magnetic flux passing through the t1 and t2 switch loops.

Changing t1 and t2 current-loop areas is the first major source of switching-converter ground noise. Magnetic flux in the Vin-t1-gnd loop grows and collapses on every switch cycle. That changing flux induces voltage everywhere in that loop, including the ideal ground return line. No amount of copper, not even a superconductor, can eliminate this induced voltage. Only a reduction in the changing magnetic flux will help.

Changing magnetic flux has three factors: rate-of-change, magnetic field strength, and loop area. Since the clock frequency and maximum output current may be design requirements, minimizing loop area becomes the best solution.

Inductance is proportional to magnetic flux, so Figure 3 shows an electrical model for Figure 2 where changing current in parasitic inductor Lp1 causes ground noise, while constant current in parasitic Lp2 does not.

Figure 3: Parasitic inductance models energy stored in the magnetic field. Changing current in Lp1 induces ground bounce whereas constant current in Lp2 does not. (Click here for enlarged image.)

Although Figure 3 presents the problem in a familiar way, it makes a poor substitute for the physically enhanced model shown in Figure 2. Figure 3 shows parasitically induced voltage across Lp1 and Lp2; whereas voltage will actually be induced everywhere in a loop enclosing changing magnetic flux. However, this circuit element drawing will still serve the purpose of showing how to reduce induced ground noise.

Figure 4: Careful input-capacitor placement minimizes the changing loop area, and routes the changing current away from ground return to eliminate ground bounce. (Click here for enlarged image.)

As drawn in Figure 3, ground-return current flows and changes in Lp1, and it causes a voltage bounce problem. But a carefully placed input capacitor, as shown in Figure 4, reduces the parasitic magnetic-flux area, and routes changing buck current in a path that does not include ground return.

In this case, current in parasitic inductors Lp1 and Lp2 is constant, so the ground voltage will be stable. Additionally, the reduction in this magnetic flux area proportionally reduces EMI and all other unwanted, induced loop voltages as modeled in Figure 3.

In short, the first important source of switching converter ground noise is a result of changing magnetic flux area. Good printed circuit board (PCB) design uses both trace routing and careful bypass-capacitor placement to minimize changing current-loop areas and changing current in a ground-return path.

Sanjib.Acharya

11/21/2011 1:17 PM EST

Very good article. I am going to apply the learnings into the power supply design I got involved in. I would love to see a continuation of this series for other power supply topologies as well.

zeeglen

11/21/2011 2:56 PM EST

Good article, and also would like to see more.

Years ago I ran into a problem with noise from an isolated 48V to 5V converter into a fiber optic receiver, but only when the card was placed into a metal card cage. On the bench alone it worked fine. The local ground noise was common mode in the optical receiver PIN diode to the external transimpedance amplifier connection on the bench, but the metal optical receiver housing was physically installed on the card front faceplate. Placing the front faceplate at earth (chassis) ground capacitively quieted the local ground, which then caused a 3dB worse bit error rate. We ended up having to mount the optical receiver diode on the pcb and run an optical pigtail to the front faceplate connector.

On a subsequent optical receiver I anticipated the problem and used a pigtail in the initial design as well as including mounting holes for a shield for the the optical receiver diode. The shield was needed, the card was stand-alone in a metal box and installing into the box caused similar converter noise problems. All that was needed was a square inch of metal on a couple standoffs at pcb ground to hide the photodiode and transimpedance input from the box.

hm

11/21/2011 7:36 PM EST

Interesting and informative article. Can there be webinar from Author and link available on eetimes?

abraxalito

11/21/2011 11:41 PM EST

Very interesting - but the enlarged drawing links appear to be broken on this page. Second the request for more similar articles, this is first-principle stuff so has wide applicability beyond DC-DC converters.

agk

11/22/2011 5:36 AM EST

The inductor can be made with minimum parasitic capacitance. The bobin of the inductor to have corrugated sections and the wire is wound in these sections will reduce the parasitic capacitance very much. In turn can minimize the ground noises.

PierreBTOL

11/23/2011 7:10 AM EST

Concise & very interesting !
If we could have the same level of explications about the "i/o CommonMode Noise Isolated" DCDC Converter, it will be great !

studleylee

11/23/2011 12:36 PM EST

@PierreBTOL Loved this article! This other one was also useful in tips for common mode noise:
http://www.interpoint.com/product_documents/DC_DC_Converters_Output_Noise.pdf

Measurement and Filtering of
Output Noise of DC/DC
Converters

Fabio007

11/24/2011 3:27 AM EST

Great article, I would like to get a PDF copy of it, but the print link does not seem to work.

To add to comment of agk re: winding inductor with low parasitic C, another trick is to have the turns at the ends of the winding (near the connection terminals) spaced further apart compared to turns in the middle of the winding. This is an old trick used by ham-radio builders, and can result is a smaller inductor than would result from spacing all turns the same distance apart, but of course the parasitic C is a bit higher.

Sail Mike

11/24/2011 3:58 AM EST

Missing links for larger images & cant print

BicycleBill

11/24/2011 7:48 AM EST

There is some system bug which is preventing the "enlarge" of Figures 5 and 6 from appearing properly. Here are the direct links for those figures:

http://www.eetimes.com/ContentEETimes/Documents/Schweber/C0893/C0893-Figure5.pdf AND http://www.eetimes.com/ContentEETimes/Documents/Schweber/C0893/C0893-Figure6.pdf

huanben

11/25/2011 1:12 AM EST

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD

PierreBTOL

11/26/2011 3:14 AM EST

@ studleylee:
Very useful, thank you for that link !

Jerry.Deng

11/29/2011 2:31 PM EST

good article. However it assumes constant current on load, most IC actually works at constant voltage with varing current dynamically, any idea?

Swamp

12/1/2011 8:53 AM EST

As a slight improvement, it might have been informative to include the specific physical location of the input capacitor described in your article (between the Vin pin of the converter IC/switch transistor and the anode of the switching diode).

Great article, Jeff -thanks!

SLN MURTHY

5/15/2012 1:43 AM EDT

It is an excellent article. Jerry Deng's point is valid and impact of varying current in a constant voltage environment would add more punch to this basic understanding.

silker

4/27/2013 5:28 PM EDT

Can we say that RC inductor current sense method has the drawback of ground line pollution? We intentionally put a capacitor (along a resitor resistor) between inductor legs.