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Texas Instruments Industrial-strength design considerations to prevent thermal and EMI damage Application notes
Texas Instruments
Industrial-strength design considerations to
prevent thermal and EMI damage
By Rick Zarr
Technologist, High-Speed Signal and Data Path
Electronic controls and sensing in industrial applications
enables or greatly improves many aspects of manufacturing, machining and production. However, electronics must
survive within the harsh environments used to produce
materials such as steel, petroleum products and chemicals,
or in mines where the environment is extremely hot, dirty
and humid. Careful considerations must be taken when
designing any system that must endure these conditions
that can include extremely strong electric and magnetic
fields. Keeping these conditions in mind and designing for
worst-case conditions will ensure that these systems continue to operate, regardless of the environment where
they are installed. This article examines some of the key
design obstacles and includes worst-case design techniques to achieve survivable solutions for industrial
The Importance of Reliability
In our modern world of disposable phones and low-cost
consumer electronics, why should engineers worry about
periodic field failures on a factory floor? In reality, it is not
the cost of the electronics and possibly not even the cost
of maintaining the system. Rather, it very well could be
safety or the loss of plant productivity that could dwarf
the cost of the latter. Large-scale manufacturing plants
can cost billions of dollars to build and millions more to
run. A single shutdown event due to some system failure
could take days to restart, costing potentially hundreds of
thousands, if not millions of dollars, in lost revenue per
day while off-line. Also, whenever human life is at stake, a
failure that causes injury is unthinkable. In other words,
failure in these facilities is not an option.
Electronic controls are often installed into areas that are
inaccessible to humans during normal operation, such as
near a furnace or behind a large piece of equipment. This
means that to reach the control system, the production
area must be shut down for access. Industrial systems are
installed with the intention that they will operate for many
years (sometimes for the lifetime of the facility) without
ever failing or requiring maintenance. This is the true
challenge for designers of industrial systems.
The challenge of thermal management
Heat is a byproduct of electronics due to the operation of
transistors and other components. It must be well managed or rising temperatures will degrade or damage
devices. To understand why, simply reviewing how semiconductors are fabricated illustrates the problem.
Integrated-circuit (IC) fabrication uses thermal processes
such as diffusion and annealing to move material around
and within structures. The atoms of the material migrates
or forms crystal structures during these processes, which
occur at fairly elevated temperatures (1200ºC or greater).
However, unless the IC is held at absolute zero (0º K or
–273.15ºC), thermal motion will continue the process of
diffusion, although much slower than during fabrication.
A curiosity of silicon used to fabricate ICs is that it has a
non-linear relationship to resistance and temperature. At
room temperature, silicon shows an increase in resistance
as the IC’s operating temperature increases. However, as
the temperature increases (above recommended limits),
the resistance begins to decrease, resulting in a potential
positive-feedback condition. This also can occur for various other systemic reasons inside an IC that may result in
a thermal runaway condition. As more current flows, the
resistance of the path decreases due to thermal heating,
ultimately destroying the IC by thermal damage.
Many power ICs and voltage regulators employ thermal
shutdown of the output stages to prevent this runaway
condition from permanently destroying the IC. However,
this is still a fault condition whereby the system will fail to
continue operation. Even if an IC never reaches thermal
shutdown, long term reliability suffers from elevated temperatures that can result in premature failure. ICs must be
used in accordance with the datasheet’s recommended
operating conditions so that the temperature of the IC die
inside the package is kept at a safe value.
To manage the operating temperatures in equipment,
manufacturers often use fans to increase the airflow over
heat-generating components. Unfortunately, fans are notoriously unreliable over long periods. Plus, industrial equipment is often sealed off from the environment, which
prevents cooling with outside air. Heat must be carried
away via a thermal path from the ICs to a point of lower
Starting with the die as a point of heat source, the thermal impedance specified in the IC datasheet must be used
to calculate the thermal rise based on the rate the heat
flows away from the device. The thermal impedance is
given in degrees centigrade per watt of power dissipation
of the IC along with the path the heat will travel. For
instance, from the junction (die) to the IC’s case is
referred to as Theta Junction to Case, or θJC (pronounced
theta sub JC).
These values are extremely important. For example, a
small linear regulator such as an LM340 in a SOT-223
package has a θJA (thermal impedance from the junction
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Electromagnetic considerations
to the ambient air) of roughly 50ºC/W with an unlimited
copper plane as the heat-sink. If the input voltage is 5 V,
and the output voltage is 1.8 V (a common CMOS core
voltage), with a 1-A load, the power dissipation of the
­regulator will be 3.2 W. This means that even with a large
surface area on the PCB utilized as a heat-sink and the
ambient air temperature is 20°C, the die’s temperature still
rises to 160°C. This greatly exceeds the device’s normal
operating temperature and could result either in a thermal
shutdown or damage over time.
In this example, nothing could be done to make the heat
flow away from the die unless a lower thermal impedance
(other than copper) is tied directly to the case. The heat
simply cannot flow away through the PCB copper fast
enough to prevent the temperature from rising within the
IC at that level of power. A solution here would be to use a
more efficient method to convert the 5 V to 1.8 V (such as
an LMZ10501 nano-module switching regulator). Another
option is to use a package with much lower thermal imped­
ance, which incidentally occupies more PCB surface area .
Thermal impedances, like their electrical cousin, can be
summed in series to calculate the temperature rise. For
example, TRise = PDissipated × (θJC + θCA + θAE) where the
thermal impedances are θJC (junction to case), θCA (case
to ambient) and θAE (ambient to environment or to the
environment where the equipment resides). Selecting
packages with very-low thermal impedances help transfer
heat from the device. Also, adding aluminum heat sinks or
heat pipes to the case can help provide a lower thermalimpedance path to the air. This reduces the operating
temperature, which greatly improves long-term reliability.
Managing thermal issues with equipment enclosed in an
air-tight box is not the only problem. Now consider the
equipment’s electromagnetic (EM) environment and electromagnetic interference (EMI). Many engineers consider
EMI susceptibility as damage caused by lighting or other
voltage overstress condition—and they would be correct.
However, that’s not the only failure-inducing mechanism of
extreme EM fields. More on this later.
Electrostatic damage mitigation is a reality that designers must address. If cables (including power) come into
the chassis, then there is a path for large voltages to be
present in that equipment, regardless of normal operating
conditions. Power supplies often are protected intrinsically by design from large voltage spikes. The input stages
might even have high-speed voltage monitors that clamp
the input to prevent overvoltage related damage. However,
when equipment is connected via wired networks, these
connections provide a path with a means to store charge
through the wire capacitance. It is not uncommon to find
a thousand feet of wire between a sensor module (with
active electronics) and a controller.
There are phenomena in nature that can destroy equipment, such as a direct lightning strike. However, there is
another more-subtle effect known as cross striking. This
phenomenon occurs when a highly-charged thunderhead
slowly drifts over the network with long cabling and
induces opposite charges on the wire (Figure 1). Normally,
the charge is held in position by the charge high above in
the cloud. However, if another cloud with an opposite
charge drifts nearby, this can cause an electrostatic discharge (lightning) high above the network between the
two clouds.
Figure 1. Conditions for cross-striking when
oppositely-charged clouds float by
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Figure 2. A cross-strike event may result in
damage to end equipment
Once the charge in the cloud directly above has dissipated, the induced charge on the wire must also dissipate.
As the charge rapidly drains from the wire, extremely
large voltages appear at both ends of the cable. If left
unchecked, the voltage potentially can destroy whatever is
located on either end of the wire (Figure 2). To mitigate
this type of damage, arc tubes or spark gaps along with
electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection diodes are
located in the end-equipment cable termination, providing
the charge a path to ground. Otherwise, the path will be
through cable drivers or transceivers, which most likely
will not survive.
As mentioned earlier, the other type of EMI doesn’t
directly destroy ICs. Instead, it causes them to shift their
operating points; or cause drift from specified limits. Many
manufacturing facilities now use microwave heaters or
other RF sources in the process. These large RF fields can
induce currents into various parasitic diodes and active
components found within an IC. If the IC was not designed
to handle these fields, internal bias points may shift,
changing the circuit’s operating point.
A common nonindustrial EMI problem can be observed
in many speaker phones. Amplifiers are often susceptible
to RF sources such as cell phones. If the speaker phone is
in use, often times a buzzing can be heard on a call while
holding the cell phone close. The RF energy from the
­cellular transmitter is parasitically demodulated inside the
amplifier chain and is heard audibly through the speaker.
However, in an industrial-control application, this phenomenon can be far more serious. It often manifests itself
as an offset in precision measurements. That could mean a
temperature-sensing error of several degrees or other
measurement errors with remote sensors. Many processes
must be held to extremely tight tolerances. Any deviation
may result in either a catastrophic failure of the production
process, or at a minimum substandard quality.
To address the problem, designers need to use
RF-hardened components (not to be confused with
radiation-hardened ICs). ICs such as the LMP2021 (single)
and LMP2022 (dual) operational amplifiers are designed
specifically for precision performance in the presence
of high-level RF fields. Using ICs like these will mitigate
errors in precision applications caused by the presence of
RF interference.
The industrial environment is harsh and unforgiving to
electronic systems. Designers must take into account the
conditions of elevated temperatures as well as other
sources of damage and interference. Much of the heavy
lifting is now done by the ICs themselves because they are
designed to handle extreme conditions. Ultimately, however, it is the designer’s decisions that will result in a system that operates continuously for years without failure.
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