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Fully Integrated Isolated DC-DC Converter Using

Micro-Transformers
Baoxing Chen
Analog Devices Inc.
804 Woburn Street
Wilmington, MA 01887 USA

Abstract-We demonstrated a fully integrated isolated dc-dc with coreless on chip transformers. Batching processing nature
converter using coreless micro-transformers. The transformers of the IC process has the potential to reduce the cost of
are switched resonantly at 170 MHz to achieve efficient energy individual power components. Moreover, mature IC
transfer while the energy regulation is realized through a 500
KHz PWM feedback signal which controls the duty cycle that
techniques produce high quality insulation layers, and
this 170 MHz resonant action is left on. Both the transformer integrated dc-dc converters typically have superior isolation
switches and Schottky diodes used for rectification are rating and higher reliability than those with discrete
implemented on chip. 5kV isolation is achieved through 20m transformers.
thick polyimide layers sandwiched in between the primary coils
and the secondary coils. The feedback PWM signal is transmitted II. CONVERTER ARCHITECTURE
across isolation barrier with on-chip transformers also through
The fully integrated converter architecture is shown in Fig.
appropriate encoding and decoding. The converter packaged in a
16L Small-Outline Integrated Circuit (SOIC) is measured to 1. Two 0.6m high voltage CMOS switches implemented in a
deliver 0.5W isolated power at 33% efficiency. cross-coupled configuration together with the transformer
form sustaining oscillation. The transformer with its center
I. INTRODUCTION tape connected to VDD is switched resonantly at 170MHz to
Integration of power electronics components has attracted a achieve efficient energy transfer. The integrated Schottky
lot of research interest recently [1]. There is a growing diodes were used as rectification devices. These diodes turn on
demand of portable electronics and handheld devices, and and recover fast enough for 170 MHz rectification. The diodes
miniaturization of power modules becomes highly desirable. need to be sized such that they stay in Schottky region during
However, integrated components such as inductors, rectification. To improve efficiency with varying load and
transformers, switches and diodes have large and sometime maintain voltage regulation, a feedback signal transformer was
prohibitive parasitic resistance. The integrated inductors and used. A 500 KHz feedback signal would turn on/off the
transformers are desired to operate at high frequency to have resonant transformer switching action instead of controlling
higher quality factor, but there are a few main difficulties to each transformer switch directly. This approach essentially
overcome to switch at high frequency. First, the switching loss separates the energy regulation from energy conversion
begins to dominate, so some form of resonant switching is allowing optimized power transfer and maintaining regulation.
needed. Second, the reverse recovery for the rectifying diodes The power device sizes including transformers can be
becomes appreciable. Last, the regulation is difficult to obtain optimized by studying the coupled resonator model as shown
at high frequency. A Vernier-regulated architecture has been in Fig. 2. The input impedance, voltage transfer function and
proposed to address some of these difficulties for high efficiency can be derived. The input capacitance is dominated
frequency dc-dc power conversion, where energy conversion by the drain capacitance of the MOS switches while the output
and regulation function are partitioned [2].
For isolated dc-dc converter, isolated transformers would be
needed. There would be magnetic core loss and degradation of
magnetization that would limit the high frequency operation.
Furthermore, the magnetic core in the system could
compromise the isolation rating of the transformer. With these
limitations for high frequency operation due to magnetic core
in mind, here we propose a dc-dc converter using coreless
micro-transformers. Coreless PCB transformers have been
proposed for using in an isolated dc-dc converter [3], 67%
transformer efficiency has been reported. However, they are
not compatible with state of art integrated circuit (IC) process
and this prevents its integration with other power components.
A fully integrated dc-dc converter is made possible by
integrating the switching components and rectification devices Figure 1. Power Transfer Block Diagram

978-1-4244-1874-9/08/$25.00 2008 IEEE 335


Figure 2. Transformer Coupled Resonator

capacitance is mainly that from rectification diodes. To be


noted is that the coupled resonator has two resonating modes, Figure 3. Feedback Signal Transfer Block Diagram
one at high efficiency and one at low frequency. If the two
resonators are symmetric, the resonating frequencies i can be the driver side, a watchdog is implemented in the receiver to
simplified as in (1) while the input impedance Zin(i), where make sure the output is at a fail-safe state when no refresh
i=1,2, can be simplified as in (2), pulses are detected.
The on-chip power transformers are implemented as stacked
12 =
1
; 22 =
1 (1) spirals and their cross-section is shown in Fig. 4. 6m thick
( L + M )C ( L M )C plated Au was used for both the top spirals and bottom spirals.
L+M LM The 20m thick cured polyimide provides isolation better than
Z in (1 ) = ; Z in (2 ) = ; (2) 5kV. Polyimide was chosen as the material for insulating
2 rC 2 rC
layers because it provides large breakdown strength, high
where L is the self inductance, and r is the serial resistance for thermal and mechanical stability, excellent chemical
the spirals while M is the mutual inductance between the resistance, good ESD performance and low relative
primary and secondary spirals. Clearly the resonating mode at permittivity. The polyimide films as deposited on wafer level
low frequency 1 has high input impedance and high provide well-controlled thickness and high structural quality.
efficiency. To ensure that the converter operates in the The commercial polyimide films are available in photo-resist
efficient mode, we design such that the two modes are widely form, so they could be easily patterned by photolithography
separated, typically 2 > 21. This is achievable with coupling process and then hard cured in its final form through a thermal
coefficient bigger than 0.6. curing process. The cured polyimide films used in these
A modified Proportional plus Integral (PI) controller is used devices have dielectric breakdown strength over 400V/m.
to achieve high output accuracy and some immunity to high With a total thickness of 20m between coils, the polyimide
frequency noise. The two time constants are chosen to yield layers enable the devices to be able to survive over 8kV
good phase margin at cross-over frequency. All the instantaneous ac voltage. The polyimide properties are
compensation elements were implemented on chip. The PWM summarized in table 1. Because deposited polyimide films are
is created by comparing the output from the error amplifier to free of voids and do not suffer from corona discharge, these
the output from a constant frequency ramp waveform devices also exhibit good aging behavior and work well under
generator. The differential inputs for the error amplifier are the continuous ac voltages or dc voltages. Besides good high
4:1 divided output voltage and a 1.25 reference voltage voltage performance, polyimide has excellent ESD
generated through on chip bandgap reference generator. performance. During energy limited ESD events, the polymer
The transfer of the feedback signal is realized through could absorb some of the charge to form stable radicals to
transmitting short pulses around 1nS wide across the interrupt the avalanche process and it appears that some of the
transformers with two consecutive short pulses to indicate a
leading edge and a single short pulse as a falling edge. Fig. 3
shows the signal transfer block diagram. A non-retriggerable
mono-stable at the secondary generates detection pulses. If
two pulses are detected, the output is set to High. On the other
hand, if a single pulse is detected, the output is set to Low. An
input filter helps to increase noise immunity. The DC
correctness is guaranteed by refresh signals sent into the
transformers when no signal edges are detected for about 1S.
If the input is high, two consecutive short pulses are generated
as refresh pulses and if the input is low, refresh of a single
short pulse is generated. To complement the refresh circuit on
Figure 4. Transformer Structure

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TABLE I transformers on separate chips, but in principle, the
POLYIMIDE PROPERTIES
transformers can be put on same chips for the MOS switches
Weight Loss =5% at T= ( ) 500 or Schottky diodes. The transformer process is compatible
CTE (ppm) 40~50 with standard CMOS processes. For the top transformer chip,
Tensile Strength (Mpa) >120 the two larger transformers are power transformers while the
Mechanical Elongation (%) >30 small transformer is for transmitting the feedback PWM signal.
Youngs Modulus (Gpa) 3.3 The bottom half of the snap shot including the bottom
Electrical Dielectric constant 3.3
transformer chips holds additional integrated isolation
Moisture Uptake (%) 0.8
functions. The integration of the isolated dc-dc converter
provides unprecedented possibilities for functional integration
Breakdown Voltage >400V/m
that can dramatically reduce the complexity, size and total cost
of the isolated system.
charge is bleed away. The devices can typically handle over
III. MEASUREMENT RESULTS
15kV ESD stresses. Other dielectric materials such as oxide
will not have this ESD tolerant characteristic and they will go The packaged converter as shown in Fig. 5 was tested. The
into avalanche once the ESD voltage level is over its dielectric converter provides an isolated DC output at 5V for up to
strength even though the energy can be very small. The 100mA. It has good supply regulation and load regulation.
polyimide we use has also very high thermal stability, its The transient response is also studied. Fig. 6 shows some
weight loss temperature is over 5000C and its glass transition operation waveforms. The right waveforms are the zoomed in
temperature is about 2600C. The polyimide has also high version of those to the left and the output voltage is offset at
mechanical stability, it has a tensile strength over 120MPa and 5V for the right waveforms so that we can examine the
it has a high elastic elongation of over 30%. In spite of its high transformer switching frequency by looking at the high
elongation, polyimide does not deform easily, its Youngs frequency output supply noises. Ch. 1 is the PWM signal, Ch.
Modulus is about 3.3Gpa. The polyimide has excellent 2 is the input supply and Ch. 3 is the isolated supply output.
chemical resistance. That is why it has been widely used for As we can see, the PWM frequency is about 446 kHz while
insulation coatings for the high voltage cables. High chemical the transformer switching frequency is about 170 MHz. Since
resistance also helps to facilitate IC processing on top of we use full wave rectification, the output supply noise
polyimide layers, for example, Au plating on top of polyimide frequency is twice the switching frequency. The converter
in our case. The polyimide has a dielectric constant of 3.3. efficiency is about 33% at full load it remains relatively
With small diameter coils and thick polyimide layers between constant all the way up to about 30% of the load and then
the coils, these devices have desirable small capacitance starts to drop below 30% efficiency for load under 20mA. The
across isolation barrier. load dependence for the converter efficiency is shown in Fig.
Figure 5 shows the complete converter chips inside a 16L 7. The main sources of the loss are the MOS switches, the
SOIC package. The left chip has the CMOS switches and the transformers and the Schottky diodes. The transformer itself
right chip has the rectification diodes and converter controller. has much higher efficiency and it is estimated to be better than
The transformer chips sit in the middle. This prototype has the 70%. The efficiency can be improved further by choosing
processes with MOS switches with less drain capacitance and
Schottky diodes with smaller junction capacitance. The
smaller capacitance will allow the operation of the converter

Figure 6. Converter Waveforms


Figure 5. Converter Snapshot

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35
integration provides possibilities for total isolation system
integration and has huge potential to reduce total system
complexity and cost while improving the system reliability.
While the converter efficiency is only 33%, it is good enough
Efficiency %

for many low power applications and there is a lot of room for
30 future improvement.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT
I would like to thank iCoupler team members, especially
Susan Li, Flow Zhao, Alice Wang, Alice Huang, Angelo
25
Pagkalawangan and Ronn Kliger for their contributions.
0 20 40 60 80 100
Output Load Current (mA) REFERENCES
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Figure 7. The Load Dependence for Converter Efficiency monolithic dc-dc converters, IEEE Trans. Power Electron., vol. 20, pp.
639948, May. 2005.
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IV. CONCLUSION 2000.

In Summary, we have demonstrated for the first time the fully


integrated isolated dc-dc converter in a SOIC. The power

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