Sinewave Dimmer

Sinewave Dimmer
SST Sinewave Dimmers
Strand Lighting will introduce their new Solid State Transformer (SST) series Sinewave dimmer modules at the LDI
this year.
When electric lighting was first used in theatre over a century ago, controlling the intensity of lamps was a challenge.
In the early days, various sorts
of devices were used, from
barrels filled with salt water to
large variable DC resistors
placed in series with the
lamps. These techniques
dimmed the lamps by reducing
the amount of voltage delivered to them. This worked, but
at the cost of waste heat and a
large, bulky control.
Technology Briefing
the next half cycle. The process repeats in this half
cycle, producing a “chopped” waveform. If the timing
of the turn-on is varied from zero to 100% of the halfcycle, the output power to the load varies from zero
to full. This type of dimmer is called a “Forward
phase controlled” dimmer. The phase control dimmer
has been the dominant dimming technology since the
1960's. Strand Lighting has shipped over 2 million
phase control dimmers in the successful LD90,
EC90, CD80 and SLD families and their predescessors.
Phase controlled dimmers are compact, produce
little wasted heat, and are inexpensive. They are remotely controlled from DMX or Ethernet and offer
many advanced features. Unfortunately, the phase
control waveform that makes them so efficient is their
When alternating current became standard, autotransformers replaced the resistance plate dimmers. An autotransformer is a special type of transformer with a sliding
tap that allows the output voltage to be adjusted from zero
to full. The autotransformer was still large and bulky. It did
not, however, produce nearly as much heat as the series
resistance dimmer.
While these types of dimmers had the drawbacks of large
size and excessive waste heat, they did have one big advantage: no lamp noise. The autotransformer produces an
output that is a Sinewave with variable amplitude.
A dimmer set to half, for example,
produced a Sinewave with half the
amplitude of the input voltage.
Achilles heel. The chopped waveform produces audible noise in lamps due to the sharp turn-on. Large
chokes are used to smooth out the sharp changes.
These chokes add bulk, weight and heat to the system. They can reduce, but not eliminate the lamp
By the 1960's the marketplace
wanted smaller, cooler dimmers that could be remote controlled by low voltage signals. The emerging semiconductor
industry had produced the thyristor, the solid-state equivalent to a latching relay. A type of thyristor which conducts current in one direction only, called a silicon-controlled
rectifier, or SCR, was used to build a
new type of dimmer. A pair of SCRs,
connected “back to back” to control
current flow in both directions, produced a different type of output.
The phase control waveform also has another undesirable effect. The chopped waveform produces discontinuous current flow in the power distribution system. In a standard 3-phase power system, these harmonics can result in currents in the neutral conductor
up to 1.4 times the rated current. Harmonics can
cause audible noise and overheating in the distributing wiring and feeder transformers, and possible penalties from the utility company. In the EU, pending
legislation may require dimming systems to produce
lower levels of harmonics than are possible for phase
control systems.
The SCR dimmer works by controlling
when the SCR is turned on in the
power line half-cycle . If it is turned on
half way into the half cycle, it will remain on until the current
falls to zero when the polarity of the power line reverses in
The drawbacks of phase control dimmers are becoming more important in the marketplace. More and
more loads are not simple incandescent lamps. They
include compact fluorescents, electronic dimming
ballasts, LED’s, electronic and magnetic low-voltage
A typical forward phase control waveform with a dimmer
set to half exhibits severely chopped output.
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and a host of other non-traditional sources. All of these
have one thing in common: the phase control waveform is
far from ideal for dimming them. In many cases the load will
perform poorly; in extreme cases the load (and possibly the
dimmer) will be damaged.
In the last decade, more advanced types of phase control
dimmers have been produced using a type of power semiconductor called an IGBT.
The IGBT (Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor) has been
widely used in motor controllers due to its ruggedness and
ease of control. IGBTs are also used in switch-mode power
supplies, UPS systems, inverters, power-factor controllers--any place where a power device that combines the ruggedness of a bipolar transistor with the ease of control of a
MOSFET is required.
Some of these new dimmers operate in reverse phase control where the dimmer is turned on at the line zero-crossing
point, then turned off at the desired output voltage. The
bulky choke is eliminated in favor of a controlled turn-off by
the IGBT. These systems still suffer from many of the same
A typical Reverse Phase control waveform exhibits “chopping”
similar to forward phase control dimmers
problems as any phase control dimmer. Reverse phase
control dimming applies the voltage to the load at zero
volts, and turns it off once the desired target voltage has
been reached. This mode of operation is fine for a tungsten
(resistive) or electronic low-voltage transformer
(capacitive), but is unusable with inductive loads. Neon,
ballasted loads, fans and small motors will generate destructive inductive kickback energy when dimmed by a reverse-phase control dimmer. RPC dimmers must not be
used with these loads, or must switch to forward-phase
control to dim these loads. In all cases, FPC or RPC, the
dimmers are producing triplen harmonics.
While a typical 800uS reverse phase IBGT dimmer is more
efficient then 790uS high-rise SCR dimmer (no choke loss),
its efficiency is very similar to Sinewave. A large
amount of heat is produced in these dimmers during the
transitions (rise or fall time) since the IGBTs are operated in
their linear region. When the dimmer is full on, the losses
are what are called conducted losses across the
fully-on IGBT. Sinewave only has conducted losses,
since the IGBTs are not operated in their linear region. Sinewave has some losses through the input
and output filters, but it is much less then the linear
region losses in an IGBT dimmer.
How Does the Strand SST
series Sinewave Dimmer
The Strand SST Dimmer utilizes a micro controller to
produce high frequency pulse width modulated control waveforms to the
dimmer’s IGBT power
switches. The dimmers
high switching frequency
reduces the size of the
passive filter components and insures that
any acoustic noise produced within the dimmer is
well above the audible range. The 47Khz carrier frequency is divided into 255 steps, providing a voltage
resolution on the output of less than 0.5%, resulting
in a flawless Sinewave output.
This superior reconstruction of the output waveform
results in SST producing less than 1% total harmonic
distortion back to the mains. A novel power stage
design provides excellent performance with nonlinear loads. There is no minimum load specification,
and SST will produce a solid sinusoidal waveform
output with no connected load.
The dimmer module reads the firing pulse produced
by the SLD control processor and sets the PWM to
produce the requested output voltage.
Imagine a lamp connected to the AC mains through a
switch. Now turn this switch on and off tens of thousands of times per second. The power line waveform
will be “sliced” vertically into sections as shown in the
diagram below.
If the duty cycle of the switch is varied, the amount of
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energy delivered to the load will vary. The waveform
illustrated below shows a 95% duty cycle, which is almost
full power.
an incandescent load, current is drawn during the
entire power line cycle. For a non-linear load, such as
a ballast or electronic low-voltage fixture, the load
characteristics are passed through to the power line.
The Sinewave dimmer is “transparent” to the load,
neither adding nor subtracting from the load’s current and voltage characteristics.
This is important. An ideal dimmer will deliver voltage
and current to the load in the same way as a direct
connection to the power line. No phase-control dimmer can do this. Many loads that were not controllable by phase-control dimmers may now be used.
Magnetic low-voltage fixtures, electronic low-voltage
fixtures, neon, cold-cathode, LEDS, fans or other
small motors will now operate without problems.
The PWM waveforms cannot be directly used to control the
load. They must be filtered to produce a Sinewave.
The above diagram shows the incoming line voltage in red,
and the filtered 50% PWM output in orange. The result is a
Sinewave with an amplitude that is 50% of the incoming
line. Vary the PWM duty cycle, and you vary the output
The concept is simple. Building a practical Sinewave dimmer is not. The ideal switch is replaced by IGBT switching
transistors, and the passive filter sections add size and
weight. The size of the filters required, however, decreases
as the switching frequency is increased.
Besides the variable amplitude Sinewave output, what
other advantages does this technology provide? Recall that
the phase-control dimmer produces power line harmonics
by its very nature. The PWM Sinewave dimmer produces
almost no harmonic distortion, typically less than 1%. With
Not all loads are designed to operate at voltage
lower then their rating. Many types of lamp ballasts,
neon lamps, fans, and motors will not run at reduced
voltages. A simple rule of thumb for determining if a
load may be controlled is to see if it will operate correctly on an autotransformer.
Input Power
In any installation the nature of the power line can
have an effect on system noise. Engineers characterize power service as being either “hard” or “soft”. A
"hard" service is one that is able to deliver large
amounts of load current with very little voltage drop.
Buildings with a "soft" service, experience the reverse
often encountering a substantial voltage drop as the
load on the system increases. We often see this as a
drop in light levels. Both types of power can create
noise within a system. A hard service can cause increased noise when a conventional SCR switches on
due to its ability to supply the high current pulses that
cause lamp noise. Similarly a soft service can have
increased noise due to the line’s inability to effectively deal with power line harmonics generated by a
dimming system.
The new SST dimmer from Strand generates a Sinewave output that has no triplen harmonics and no
sharp switching components as are generated by
both forward phase (SSR/Thyristor dimmers) or reverse phase (IBGT dimmers) and as a result will provide quiet loads regardless of the nature of the power
SLD Control Electronics
The SLD processor provides the excellent voltage
regulation characteristics of the standard SLD thyris-
tor module to the SST. The
micro controller monitors
output current and module
temperature to insure that
the power stage is within its
limits, and will shut the module down if exceeded. This information is passed back to
the SLD processor, just as in the standard thyristor modules.
All of the powerful features of the SLD system are available
with Sinewave modules including line compensation, full
dimmer status reporting and superior waveform analysis
and control. Whether you are dimming a single LED, a low
voltage incandescent load or even a motor the Strand SST
dimmer will provide smooth stable operation.
The market for silent dimming has always existed, however
achieving this goal has been difficult. The new SLD SST
Sinewave dimmer is a modern Solid State Transformer and
may be used in any application where an early autotransformer dimmer might be used. Any load that can be
dimmed by a transformer can be dimmed by the SLD SST
The dimmer is not load sensitive and the output will remain
stable at all times making the dimmer ideal for dimming any
electronic ballast track light, most LED loads and a wide
range of neon and cold cathode loads.
Any application where silence is important and system designers want to eliminate all lamp sing should consider using a Sinewave dimmer as there will be no audible lamp
filament noise from any luminaire connected to these dimmers. Since the Sinewave module can be mixed with regular dimmers system designers can choose SST Sinewave
modules for House lights and Concert lighting and use
conventional dimmers backstage and in all less noise sensitive spaces.
Fast Facts:
NO lamp noise - not just quiet lamps, but SILENT
Total harmonic distortion of less than 1%.
No triplen harmonics - no need for K rated transformers
or oversized neutrals.
Ability to dim any load that can be dimmed by an autotransformer, with no need to switch operating modes,
e.g. neon, magnetic ballasts, electronic low-voltage transformers,
fans, small motors, and so on
Efficiency comparable to highrisetime SCR or forward/reverse
phase control IGBT dimmer
Unity Power Factor
Power Line Harmonics
Power line harmonics can generate a host of
problems for users of large scale dimming systems. They manifest themselves in the form of
neutral overheating, voltage drops and transformers that overheat and generate noise.
Phase control dimming systems are seen as non
linear loads by the transformers used to supply
power to the system. Both forward and reverse
phase dimmers operate by switching on (or off)
for only part of each line cycle as a result the
load current is not continuous. This can result in
significant amounts of harmonic distortion within
a dimming system.
Harmonics occur at multiples of the fundamental
frequency for power line voltages. In North
America this frequency is 60Hz. The second
harmonic would be 120Hz, the third 180 Hz, and
it is these harmonics that can cause heating in
the cores of a transformer. Odd number harmonics (the 3rd harmonic specifically) are additive in
the neutral of all 3 phase systems and do not
cancel at certain phase angles even if loads are
carefully balanced. We often see this manifested
in dimmers set at 30% where the neutral current
can exceed the load on the phase conductors.
In an ideal power system with no harmonic currents, the single phase line-to-neutral load currents would flow in each phase conductor and
return in the common neutral conductor. A true
Sinewave dimming system has none of the
switching problems caused by forward or reverse phase dimmer operation as the output is a
symmetrical sine wave at all times.
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