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Everything You Need to Know About PCB Power Supply Design

Low noise PCB power supply

Low noise power supply

Whether your next device runs on battery power, a solar element, or plugs into the wall, you’ll need to design circuitry to regulate the power leading to your device. PCB power supply design can encompass more than just an actual power supply; systems ranging from personal computers to home appliances need a power supply to convert AC power from the wall to DC power with low noise content.

PCB power supply design is about more than just converting between AC and DC power. There are power and signal integrity issues to consider, as well as thermal management issues that arise with high power electronics. In fact, signal and power integrity are intimately related due to the way ICs operate, and some power supplies can produce significant radiated EMI that affects other parts of a circuit board.

No power supply or the system connected to it is immune from signal integrity or power integrity problems, but implementing some simple design procedures can help prevent a redesign. These best practices include everything from proper component arrangement to decoupling/bypassing, and stackup design.

PCB Power Supply Design Options

The first step in power supply is to choose the type of power supply you wish to use for your device. Unregulated power supplies are a down-and-dirty option for converting AC power from a wall outlet to a DC voltage. The output from these supplies will contain a ripple waveform as the output is not smoothed with a regulator. Modern applications use a regulated power supply, where this ripple is minimized.

There are two principal options for regulating DC output from power supplies: using a linear regulator or a switching regulator, which is sometimes called a switch-mode power supply. These types of power supplies pass the DC output from a full wave rectifier to a regulation circuit, which smooths the ripple waveform that is superimposed on the desired DC output. These regulators can also be used to directly regulate a DC power source like a battery. Linear regulators have very low noise, but they tend to be bulky due to the use of heatsinks or other active cooling measures required for thermal management. The significant heat dissipation in these power supplies is responsible for their low efficiency.

In contrast, a switched mode power supply provides much higher efficiency over a broad current range, allowing these power supplies to take on smaller form factor. However, these power supplies use a PWM circuit to smooth and regulate the output voltage, which requires the use of an active switching component (normally a MOSFET). This means that the system radiates strong EMI, and the output will contain spikes due to switching noise. This switching noise can appear as a ringing signal on the output (i.e., conducted EMI), and this noise needs to be filtered from the output.

Best Practices for PCB Power Supply Design

For low power applications, linear regulators and switching regulators are available as integrated circuits. These ICs are ideal for mobile devices or other devices that might plug into a wall outlet but require low power consumption. Regardless of the power consumption in your device, there are some basic PCB design considerations to take into account in order to ensure power integrity and signal integrity.


3D PCB power supply design in OrCAD

3D layout with power connection at the edge


Depending on the type of regulator used in your power supply, there are some circuits you should consider adding to your board, and there are some simple layout choices that can help suppress conducted and radiated EMI. In the extreme case, such as with a high current power supply or generally with a switching regulator, you may need to include shielding in your board to ensure signal integrity in nearby circuits

Thermal and Power Integrity in PCB Power Supply Design

PCB power supply design is about more than just power conversion. Ensuring power integrity in the output from your power supply will help solve some signal integrity issues. Thermal management is also important in power supplies as components will dissipate heat during the conversion process. Consider the following points during PCB power supply design.

Choosing a Regulator in PCB Power Supply Design

The output from linear and switching regulators includes some noise, although the source and effects of noise on your downstream circuits will vary. A linear regulator has less noise, but it is also less efficient and dissipates more heat. In contrast, a switching regulator replaces ripple on the input for switching noise on the output. However, it is easy to control the output voltage from a switching regulator (i.e., as a buck-boost converter) by adjusting the duty cycle of the PWM signal, which provides switching action. The switching regulator will dissipate much less heat thanks to its very high efficiency.

Read more about power integrity in your PCB power supply design.


PCB layout with serpentine routing

Power integrity problems can affect signal integrity in any of these traces


Thermal Management Options for Large Regulated Power Supplies

With high current power supplies, you’ll most likely be building a regulator circuit you need from discrete components as the size of the system will be too large to fit in a standard integrated circuit package. In this case, you will need to consider some thermal management options for any ICs in your power supply’s PCB. If you are converting power from a wall outlet to DC, one simple solution is to mount a fan on the enclosure and power it using the input AC signal. With DC-to-DC power supplies, you’ll need to use a PWM signal to run a fan to cool your components.

Your layer stack also plays a role in thermal management. Designing your power supply PCB on a multilayer board can aid thermal management as the internal copper plane layers help evenly distribute heat throughout the board. Using thermal vias and lands below components that dissipate a significant amount of heat can help quickly transport heat away from these components. The goal is to prevent hot spots from forming in your board by allowing heat to quickly dissipate from critical components.

If you’d like to learn more about thermal management in PCB power supply design, read more about thermal analysis for PCBs.

Bypassing and Decoupling For Power Integrity

Once power is sent downstream to your components, various active components can cause ground bounce and ringing in a power bus when ICs switch. This can lead to bit rate errors when a large number of ICs switch simultaneously as it affects the power received by components and the potential difference between the ON and OFF states in digital signals.ICs that run at lower supply voltage are more prone to these problems as they have a smaller voltage difference between the ON and OFF states.

These problems can be solved by designing a decoupling network and by choosing bypass capacitors between the ground and power pins on an IC. The goal in placing bypass capacitors is to compensate changes in the ground potential when many ICs switch simultaneously. Similarly, a decoupling network is designed to transient oscillations (i.e., ringing) in the power bus when ICs on the bus switch. One tool for designing your power delivery network and decoupling network is to use circuit analysis tools to design the equivalent RLC network that forms these circuits. With the right component choices, you can critically damp transient oscillations in your power delivery network and compensate ground bounce.

If you’d like to learn more about suppressing transients in a power delivery network, read about using SPICE simulations for time domain analysis in RLC networks.


Transient RLC response in the time domain

Transient response in an overdamped RLC network


Conducted EMI Suppression

Noise output from a regulator or from an unregulated power supply can impact downstream components and conducted EMI. Severe noise on the power bus can affect the output level from downstream components. Large ripple voltages and switching noise in a switching regulator can create these problems, especially when the power supply provides high current.

In this case, conducted EMI should be filtered from the power supply output. Since one generally desires a DC output, filtration can be used to remove these higher frequency components from the power supply output. This is where simulations for filters become important as this helps you choose the components you need to build your filter.

Here is some more information on filter design and analysis.

Shielding with Switching Regulators

Switching regulators emit EMI that can affect signal integrity in downstream circuits, especially in analog components. Low level switching regulators may not produce many problems unless they are placed very close to sensitive components. However, power supplies with high output current can cause involuntary switching in nearby digital circuits or noise spikes in analog circuits, which appear as a transient response in the nearby circuit.

Band stop filtering at the circuit’s natural frequency can be effective at removing these current spikes, but this is not practical when you are working with a large number of components on a board. Instead, it is easier to take advantage of shielding provided by ground planes in your layer stack and arrange sensitive components farther away from the switching regulator. You may need to place some shielding on sensitive components if they are near the switching regulator as this will block radiated EMI.

If you’d like to learn about some strategies for suppressing EMI, read more about EMI suppression techniques in PCB design.

Cadence Brings Layout and Analysis Together for PCB Power Supply Design

With the layout rules required to ensure signal and power integrity in your power supply and your overall board, you’ll need the right design, analysis, and layout tools that are adaptable to any application. Your PCB power supply design and analysis tools should take data directly from your schematic and help you determine the best layout choices for your system.


3D PCB layout in OrCAD

Your trace and component layout is critical in PCB power supply design


Cadence’s full suite of PCB design and analysis tools are adaptable to any application, including high speed design. The SI/PI Analysis Point Tools provide designers with power integrity analysis features that are directly applicable to PCB power supply design. You’ll have access to a complete electronics design and analysis solution when you work with Cadence’s industry-standard suite of design tools.

If you’re looking to learn more about how Cadence has the solution for you, talk to us and our team of experts.