Switch Mode Power Supply Current Sensing—Part 1: The Basics

Current-mode control is widely used for switching mode power supplies due to its high reliability, simple loop compensation design, and simple and reliable load sharing capability. The current sense signal is an essential part of a current-mode switch mode power supply design; it is used to regulate the output and also provides overcurrent protection. Figure 1 shows the current sensing circuit for an LTC3855 synchronous switching mode step-down power supply. The LTC3855 is a current-mode control device with cycle-by-cycle current limiting. The sense resistor RS monitors the current.

Figure 1. The switch mode power supply current sense resistor (RS).

Figure 2 shows a scope image of the inductor current for two cases: in one case, with a load that the inductor current is capable of driving (red line), and in the second case, where the output short circuited (purple line).

Figure 2. LTC3855 current limit with foldback example, as seen on a 1.5 V/15 A rail.

Initially, the peak inductor current is set by the inductor value selected, the power switch ON time, the input and output voltages of the circuit, and the load current (signified by “1” on the plot). When the short circuit is applied, the inductor current quickly ramps upward until it hits the current limit at the point where RS × IINDUCTOR (IL) equals the maximum current sense voltage—protecting both the device and downstream circuitry (signified by “2” on the plot). After that, the built-in current foldback limit (number “3” on the plot) further reduces the inductor current to minimize thermal stress.

Current sensing also serves other purposes. It allows accurate current sharing in a multiphase power supply design. With lightly loaded power designs, it can be used to increase efficiency by preventing reverse current flow (reverse currents are currents that flow the opposite way through the inductor, from output to input, which may be undesirable or even destructive in some applications). In addition, when a multiphase application is lightly loaded, current sensing can be used to reduce the number of phases needed, which increases circuit efficiency. For loads that require a current source, current sensing can turn the power supply into a constant current source for applications such as LED driving, battery charging, and driving lasers.

In Part 2 of this series, “Where to Place the Current Sense Resistor,” we cover in which leg of the circuit to place the current sense resistor and how it affects operation.



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Henry Zhang

Henry Zhang

Henry Zhang is ADI’s Power by Linear™ applications director. He received a B.S.E.E. degree from Zhejiang University, China in 1994 and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute at State University, Blacksburg, Virginia in 1998 and 2001, respectively. He has been with Linear Technology (now part of ADI) since 2001.


Mike Shriver

Mike Shriver is a Senior Applications Engineer at Analog Devices. He has over 17 years’ experience at Linear Technology (now ADI), working in power applications. Prior to Linear Technology, he worked for Artesyn Technologies and Best Power Technology.

Kevin Scott

Kevin Scott

Kevin Scott works as a Product Marketing Manager for the Power Products Group at Analog Devices, where he manages Boost, Buck-Boost and Isolated Converters, LED Drivers and Linear Regulators. He previously worked as a Senior Strategic Marketing Engineer, creating technical training content, training sales engineers and writing numerous website articles about the technical advantages of the company’s broad product offering. He has been in the semiconductor industry for 26 years in applications, business management and marketing roles.

Kevin graduated from Stanford University in 1987 with a BS in Electrical Engineering and started his engineering career after a brief stint in the NFL.