Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Boost Regulator Powering Small White LEDs

My short contract turned out to last from March until November. Great for the paying the bills, lousy for getting anything else done. It was a decent gig, I got to do lots of things. Everything from writing and synthesizing Verilog, to block level analog verification, to top level mixed-signal verification, to Perl/Tk for a simulation environment, and creating a PSpice model to round the contract out. I had never done high level modeling in PSpice before, so I got to do a variety of things I've done before and something new. Not too bad. 

I have decided to publish this blog on a monthly basis; I intend to publish on the first Wednesday of each month. I should be able to keep up that pace even if I am in neck deep in a contract. Since I am briefly between contracts, I will write several blog entries ahead. I might even proofread them if I write them ahead of time like that. 

Enough administravia, on to some design!

I am revisiting and finishing the LED lighting system for a boy scout trailer. As you might recall, the challenge is to place a robust, low power lighting system inside a boy scout troop equipment trailer. The lighting system will be powered by a 12V lead acid battery that may only get charged for a couple of hours each month. the lights need to usable for two nights of camping in between those charges. Low power (30-40mA) white LEDs seem like a good way to handle this. 

To simplify the wiring to the LEDs, the LEDs are connected in series. Only two wires need to be connected to the LEDs from the control box this way. I want to keep the highest potential present in the system below about 40V. The white LEDs I chose have a maximum forward voltage drop of up to 4.4V. So eight in series. 

I am using the National Semiconductor (now Texas Instruments) LM2585 boost regulator controller. It's a nice chip for this application. It is simple to use, has a low pin count, and has more than enough power capability. The LM2585 datasheet recommends using TI's WEBENCH Power Designer. This is a nice tool, I like it's power, it's simplicity, and it's wealth of produced information (even a suggested parts list). However, it requires a more recent version of Adobe Flash than I have bothered to install on my Linux computer, so I had to shift over to my Windows laptop to use it, and I didn't really get the feel of the circuit. Since I am using the regulator in a current feedback mode, the simulations can't be made to do what I'm going to do. So it's a great system but I had to fiddle a bit with it's results before I was comfortable. Of course, I checked the results with hand calculation to make sure they made sense. 

Figure 1. LM2585 30mA LED driver.
There isn't much to say about this. It is close to the standard application schematic except that the feedback point is taken at the top of a 41Ω current setting resistor. The LM2585 will try to control the out voltage to maintain 1.23V at the FB node (1.23V/41Ω=0.03A). The 36V zener diode across the output keeps the voltage from increasing wildly if the chain of LEDs is broken. I have tested this by intentionally opening one of the LED connections. By the slight smell, I can tell this is straining the capacitor and the circuit is none too happy about that operating mode, but it is keeping the circuit from actually blowing up. Bursting into flames is almost always a bad thing.

I put this circuit together on a generic PC board as poorly shown in figure 1. The close up in figure 2 shows that my way of making a surface mount inductor into a through hole inductor. Just solder a couple of wires to it.

Figure 1. The physical implementation. The 1mH inductor is almost as large as the rest of the circuit. 

Figure 2. Now it is a through hole inductor.

Figure 3 shows a scope shot of the circuit in operation.

Figure 3. Scope shot. Channel 1 (yellow) is SWITCH. Channel 2 (blue) is FB. Channel 3 (purple) is OUT. Channel 4 (green) is IN. The too large capacitor (22uF) keeps the output level. 

When I started this project, I assumed getting the LED regulator going would be most of the work. I was wrong. Next time I will show what I came up with for the on/off switch. That turned out to be more complex. In fact, the installment after next will be the program for the micro-controller that is becoming part of the switch. 

Figure 4. The whole circuit on my dining room white board.

Next month, the on/off switch circuit and a complete parts list. Until then, I hope I'm doing someone besides myself some good. Good luck on your own projects!

By the way, does anyone out there know how to submit Design Ideas to EDN? I couldn't quickly find the submission guidelines online or in the print magazine.