What Are Voltage Regulators and Their Types?

Voltage regulation is a necessary element of any electronic system. Without this technology, electronic circuits and their associated components would be prone to damage and failure, while also risking operator safety due to an increased fire hazard. Voltage regulation is achieved through the implementation of several components, those of which may vary in design between applications. In this blog, we will discuss how voltage regulators work and the most common types available on the market.

Understanding the role of voltage regulators first requires some knowledge of the power sources used in a circuit. Any power source, whether it be a battery or grid, can be classified as alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). Elements such as batteries, solar cells, and thermocouples provide DC power to a circuit. In this class of power delivery, the voltage remains constant and always travels in a single direction. If one were to chart their behavior in a voltage over time graph, they would notice a horizontal line at whatever voltage the unit is rated for. Conversely, alternating current sources provide a nonlinear current in which the direction and voltage are constantly changing. If a similar graph were to be made for an AC unit, the voltage would fluctuate in a sine pattern over time.

In most circuits, an AC input is converted to a steady DC output through the use of a rectifier. After being transformed to DC, the current then passes through a voltage regulator before reaching the device so that it receives a constant and non-variable voltage. Regulators are typically composed of three components: the feedback circuit, stable reference voltage, and pass element control circuit. The feedback circuit is used to detect changes in DC output, while the stable reference voltage produces a constant current to deliver to the load device. Finally, pass elements act as variable resistors that change as needed to further ensure non variable output voltage.

Most voltage regulators may either be defined as linear or switching. The linear form has been around much longer and is still the predominant type used in modern circuits. Linear voltage regulators are best suited for applications in which the input and output voltages are relatively close. They are cheaper and easier to install than their counterparts, and produce low EMI. However, their efficiency is typically variable and much lower than switching regulators. Having an understanding of these parameters is critical before choosing one solution over the other.

Switching regulators can transform an input current into a pulsed voltage, which is further filtered by a series of other elements into a smooth output. When initiated quickly, these devices are capable of incredible efficiency, usually rated around 95%. They also produce very little heat because of this. Switching regulators are also unique in their ability to produce output voltages higher than the input. While these features are attractive, switching regulators are more complex than linear types; therefore, they are more expensive to implement. They also produce an undesirable amount of interference and noise during routine operations.

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April 29, 2022
December 6, 2021

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