Sunday, March 1, 2015

Q: Why does my FET, IGBT, SCR keep going up in smoke? A: Spot Heating

A common problem I see in message boards is that someone's circuit failed, and went up in smoke. People in the more esoteric realm's blame this on things like "Subtle Energy" overload and other such minutia. Here is the far more realistic explanation:

The very old "GE SCR Manual" goes into all of the Gorey details of what is happening inside the part, when the "Magick smoke comes out", as it is unlikely you have the Manual at hand, in a nut shell:

What lets the Magick Smoke out of IGBTS, FETS and SCRs in most cases is turn them on to slowly, causing 'Spot Heating' of the die.

Think of a FET as hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of very small resistors all in parallel, where each one can be turned on and off individually. The 'resistors' closest to the gate turn on first, and as the gate potential spreads across the die the rest turn on. The ones farthest from the gate turn on last.

With a slow gate turn on, a few of the small resistors nearest the gate are trying to carry all of the load, which they can't do, so they burn up, but the device does not fail quite yet. The next time the device is turned on, which may be only milliseconds away depending on your switching frequency, or days away depending on the application, some more of the resistors further in burn up. When the point is reached that there is simply not enough of the 'resistors' left to carry the load is when the Magick Smoke escapes, and the part dies a catastrophic death.

This is why the parts generally run "for a while" before failing. If it fails as soon as you fire it up the first time, you either had a catastrophic short in the load, possibly shorted caps that take a bit of time to 'wake up' before they hold a charge, generally fixed with 'Soft Start', or the gate drive really sucked big time.

There needs to a be a few *amps* of current pumped in the gate of the larger parts, for short periods of time, to get the gate potential to spread across the entire die as fast as possible.

You also want to get the thing turned off as fast as possible.

If you are not familiar with the concept of Magick Smoke, this is where all electronic parts run on Magick Smoke, because once the smoke comes out of the part, it no longer runs...