Automotive MOSFETs in Linear Applications: Thermal Instability

Automotive MOSFETs in Linear Applications: Thermal Instability
Application Note, V1.0, May 2005
Automotive MOSFETs in
Linear Applications:
Thermal Instability
by Peter H. Wilson
Automotive Power
Never stop
Thermal Instability in Automotive MOSFETs
Table of Content
Introduction ............................................ 1
Power MOSFETs ................................... 1
MOSFET Thermal Instability .................. 2
Conclusion ............................................. 4
1. Introduction
The choice of MOSFETs is important criteria for
applications that use MOSFETs in linear mode
operation. This application note is intended to
provide an overview of the phenomenon of “hot
spotting” under linear mode operation which can
be found in automotive applications such as
AirConditioning) and auxiliary heater diesel engine
Figure 1 below, is a typical method of using a
MOSFET in HVAC fan application.
MOSFET is used to linearly control the load like
variable resistor for lower cost solution.
MOSFETs that are able to achieve lower onresistance, RDS(on), as well as lower gate charge,
Qg, performance when compared with older
technologies. To improve the MOSFET onresistance (RDS(ON)), there are trade offs with the
optimization of MOSFET geometry. One of the
most significant consequence of improved onresistance resides in the performance of Safe
Operating Area (SOA).
Every power MOSFET is based upon a unit
“cell” design structure. MOSFET geometries are
specific to each manufacturer, but the MOSFET
electrical operations are basically the same.
Every MOSFET device is made up of millions of
MOSFET “cells”, which are electrically
paralleled together. The greater the number of
paralleled cells, the lower the device’s onresistance, RDS(on), and the greater the device's
current carrying capability. RDS(on), is one of the
most important factors for most of the power
MOSFETs used today, in order to reduce
conduction losses in the application.
Figure 2. Pictorial Diagram of a Trench
Figure 1. Pictorial diagram low side MOSFET
for linear control of load
2. Power MOSFETs
Every new power MOSFETs generation have
distinct advantages over previous MOSFET
technologies. This has resulted in power
Application Note
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Figure 2 shows a simplified pictorial diagram of
a trench N-channel power MOSFET. When
applying a positive voltage to the MOSFET gate
(the “P- body” region or “channel”), the channel
is inverted and the current flows between the
source and the drain. The more positive this
gate voltage, the lower the device's onresistance resulting in increased current flow.
As a result the power MOSFET device makes
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Thermal Instability in Automotive MOSFETs
an excellent semiconductor switch. When the
MOSFET transitions through the linear mode of
operation (see Figure 3), the gate voltages can
be typically just above the threshold, VGS(th)
While operating in this mode, the
channel resistance will be much greater than
the data sheet RDS(on) rating (usually rated at
VGS=10V) and the resulting drain voltage will
modulate between the supply voltage and
ground (see Figure 3).
Power MOSFET consists of millions of
individual unit "cells" making up the total device
These unit ”cells” are thermally
coupled due to their physical proximity to each
other. As a result, they tend to current share
because as junction temperature increases so
does RDS(on).
As indicated previously, to
decrease RDS(on) without increasing the die size,
the physical distance (cell pitch) between
adjacent MOSFET "cells" becomes smaller and
smaller, allowing more and more active cells per
unit area. The down side of “cell” densification
is a phenomenon known as "hot spotting". As
newer technologies are developed which
increase the "cell" density, the “hot spotting”
effect can occur at both lower drain voltages
and possible through switching transitions than
previous MOSFET generation.
The MOSFET positive temperature coefficient
does not represent all the factors that contribute
to a stable thermal operation. Using MOSFET
manufacturer’s latest technology of power
MOSFETs exhibit higher current densities in
order to decrease RDS(on) over previous
generations. To achieve these higher current
densities the MOSFET will have a higher gain
(transconductance - gfs).
transconductance can be defined as follows [1]:
g fs =
exceeds the device threshold voltage. This can
not be neglected for applications that fall within
the “linear mode” of operation as in Figure 3.
The circuit designer must give some attention to
selection of the MOSFET when operating in this
Figure 3. MOSFET operation through linear
mode operation.
3. MOSFET Thermal Instability
 ∂I D 
 ∂V 
 GS 
VDS = cons tan t
A MOSFET that has a higher transconductance
will have a higher current handling capability at
lower gate source voltages and thus a higher
zero temperature coefficient point (see Figure
4) on the device transfer curve [2]. While the
higher zero temperature coefficient can often be
neglected when the applied gate voltage far
Application Note
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characteristic curves over temperature.
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Thermal Instability in Automotive MOSFETs
Figure 4 above, shows a MOSFET transfer
curves where drain current, ID, is a function of
gate voltage, VGS, at fixed junction temperatures.
The "zero temperature coefficient" is the point
where the temperature lines intersect. Another
way to depict the “zero temperature coefficient”
is to take the ∆Id / ∆T = α, where α is defined as
the drain current temperature coefficient[2].
temperature (175°C) while maintaining a
constant 25°C case temperature (ideal cooling).
The constant power lines are derived directly
from the MOSFET transient thermal impedance
Figure 5. ∆Id/∆T versus Id for new versus old
MOSFET technology
α is the drain current temperature coefficient
which is the result of several competing effects:
+ Positive temperature, which
dependence of carrier generation
- Negative temperature, which
dependence of carrier mobility
For α > 0 a hotter “cell” will carry more current
and get even hotter which can possible lead to
thermal runaway
For α < 0 a hotter “cell” will carry less current
and is cooler, which leads to thermal
The SOA graph from SPP_B_I80N06S-08 data
sheet describes the boundary conditions of safe
operation. Between the boundary conditions
exists a set of sloping lines that show SOA
limitations as a function of a time. These lines
are “constant” power lines representing the
power it takes to raise the device junction
temperature to maximum rated junction
Application Note
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Figure 6. SOA of SPP_B_I80N06S-08 data
Hot spot generation within the MOSFET die can
happen below the zero temperature coefficient
point (when α >0, see Figure 5) and when the
temperature distribution across the die is not
uniform. Unfortunately, temperature distribution
across the die is never uniform under bias.
Even with a perfectly mounted die that has no
solder voids or any other other manufacturer
imperfections, the die will always be warmer in
the center than around the edges.
Hot spotting can begin with a constant VGS
across the die and a small group of cells that
are hotter than their neighbors. Below the zero
temperature coefficient point these cells due the
transfer characteristic begin to take more
current compared with other cells. This will
further increase the temperature. As shown in
Figure 5, this mechanism is regenerative and
has the potential of leading to intrinsic thermal
runaway within the MOSFET. Thus, under the
right combination of conditions a catastrophic
device failure can result. Hot spotting can
possible occur due to imperfections in the die
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attach process (voids) or voids degradation
over device lifetime. This local area void can
produce hotter cells than other neighboring
cells. Which can lead to theses hotter cells to
take more current compared to its neighbors
and thus further increases its temperature until
possible failure.
4. Conclusion
There are four points which can influence a
MOSFET’s susceptibility to the hot spotting
1. MOSFET cell density: As the cell density of
the MOSFET is increased the thermal
coupling between adjacent cells is
2. MOSFET transconductance gain (gfs): The
higher the device’s gain, gfs, the higher the
current intersection point on the transfer
curve (see Figure 4)
3. Drain voltage: The higher the drain-source
voltage while the MOSFET is its “linear
mode of operation”, the greater the
susceptibility for hot spotting.
4. Time: The longer the MOSFET operating
within an area of potential hot spotting
(linear mode of operation), the higher the
probability of hot spotting will likely occur.
Infineon has chosen to modify the SOA graphs
on certain automotive qualified MOSFETS and
eliminate suspect constant power lines. Some
SOA graphs have a dual slope in the region of
hot spotting thereby acknowledging and
demonstrating the device’s SOA constraints. In
general, hot spotting should not a problem when
a MOSFET is switched full “on,” quickly.
Ducan A. Grant and John Gowar,
“Power MOSFETS Theory and Applications”,
John Wiley & Sons Publications, 1989.
P. Spirito, G. Breglio, V. d’Alessandro,
N. Rinaldi, “Thermal Instabilities in high Current
Power MOS Devices: Experimental Evidence,
Electro-thermal Simulations and Analytical
Modeling”, MIEL 2002, 23 International
Conference on Microelectronics, Vol. 1, May
12-15, 2002, pp. 23-30.
Application Note
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Application Note
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