Different types of voltage regulators

Variable Voltage Regulators: Advantages & Disadvantages in PCB Design

The ever-increasing utilization of electronic circuit boards results in the proliferation of new component types and presents a classic example of a “double-edged sword.” While more choices may allow you to source components that closely match your performance needs, the expanding landscape also underscores issues such as component supply chain control and makes them even more critical.

By far, passive components are more pervasive than any other. For active components, voltage regulators are utilized almost universally across industries. These fixed or adjustable components can help ensure that other components and boards have sufficient input supply to function properly. Although there are advantages and disadvantages to their application, a variable voltage regulator is one of the most important on your PCBA.

The Pros and Cons of Using Variable Voltage Regulators

The many different types of variable voltage regulators fall into one of two classes: linear or switching.

Linear Voltage Regulators

  • ☐ Series
  • ☐ Shunt

Switching Voltage Regulators

  • ☐ Boost or step-up regulator
  • ☐ Buck or step-down regulator
  • ☐ Buck-Boost or step-down/step-up regulator
  • ☐ Cuk regulator
  • ☐ Flyback regulator
  • ☐ Forward regulator
  • ☐ Full-Bridge regulator
  • ☐ Half-Bridge regulator
  • ☐ Push-Pull
  • ☐ Single-Ended Primary-Inductor Converter (SEPIC)

All of the regulators listed above supply power at a specified voltage level to an onboard component(s) or external load, and they each possess unique attributes—and their specific advantages and disadvantages.

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF VARIABLE VOLTAGE REGULATORS
Regulator Type Advantages Disadvantages
Linear

Low EMI

Low output ripple

Quick response to changes

Low efficiency

High heat

Large footprint

Switching

High efficiency

Small footprint

Small size

Output greater than input

High output ripple

Slow recovery from transients

Noisy

Costly

As shown above, linear regulators are inefficient, and they take up considerable space while generating high heat. When using these regulators, a heat sink is often required. However, low EMI and low output ripple make these devices attractive in applications where a premium is not placed on efficiency. Switching regulators, on the other hand, are efficient. They also take up less space while producing an output voltage higher than the input (linear regulator outputs are capped at the input level). Good output filtering, however, is critical due to the high ripple and slow recovery time. These devices are also more complex, noisy, and expensive than linear regulators.

How to Optimize Your Variable Voltage Regulator PCBA Design

Due to their efficiency and versatility, switching variable voltage regulators are often used for telecommunications, medical devices, computers, and cellular phone chargers. Linear regulators are most often utilized for control circuitry, industrial equipment, and laboratory test devices. Regardless of which variable voltage regulator you select, you should include the following guidelines in your design.

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Guidelines for Optimizing Your Variable Voltage Regulator PCBA Design

  • Use the smallest packages.
  • Apply good filtering design techniques.
  • Ensure traces can carry currents for all voltage levels.
  • Use thermal dissipation methods such as heat sink and thermal vias.
  • Use good grounding, including different planes for digital and analog signals, if possible.
  • Route feedback away from inductors.
  • Use SMD capacitors and place them as close to the source pin as possible.
  • If current loops are present, ensure they go in one direction for “on” and the opposite for “off.”

By following the guidelines listed above, you can create the best design for your variable voltage regulator board. At Tempo Automation, the industry leader in rapidly building high-quality prototypes and on-demand production boards, we will work with you to ensure that your design is manufacturable.

And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium Designer or Cadence Allegro user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software. For Mentor Pads or other design packages, we furnish DRC information in other CAD formats and Excel.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on how to create the best variable voltage regulator boards, contact us.

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