How To Choose A Resistor

How do we choose the right resistor when designing and building an electronic circuit? Here are the major parameters that should be kept into account.

bunch_of_resistors

A resistor is a component made out of a poor conducting material, so that it can offer a resistance to the flow of the current.

You can think to resistance in terms of the obstacles that charges encounter when moving from one end to the other of a conductor. The more obstacles, the higher the resistance. In a metallic wire, for example, the charges are the electrons of the conduction band (see this post and this other one for further details).

In today’s post I would like to address an issue that sometimes is underestimated when designing an electronic circuit: how to choose the right resistor for the job.

Resistors are not all the same. Besides the resistance value that distinguishes one from the other, there are other factors that are important as well.

Here is a list of all the important factors, why they are important, and what are the consequences of not choosing a resistor based on each specific factor.

  • The first thing that comes to mind is the tolerance, which is usually provided on the body of the resistor itself, along with its resistance value.

resistor_color_bands

In color coded resistors, the tolerance is defined by the band that is far away from all the others. In the above picture, for example, it is the gold band, which means that the tolerance is of 5%. In other resistors, where the resistance is explicitly written on the body of the resistor, the tolerance is usually written in clear along with the resistance. More in general, you’ll have to refer to the data sheet provided by the constructor to figure out its tolerance.
Tolerance is an important factor for those circuits that require very precise resistors, like measuring instruments and the like. It is also important when the resistor is used for the polarization of a critical component. If the resistors used in the project have a tolerance that is too high, the whole circuit may not function properly because the actual value of the resistor is too different from the one that was required.

  • Operating Temperature. This depends both from the ambient conditions and by the temperature raise produced by the power dissipation. There are two reasons to keep the temperature range into account. First, resistors slightly change their resistance with the change of the temperature. Using the resistor outside its temperature range would cause a variation greater than the one considered by the tolerance. Second, but not last, when the resistor is traversed by current it heats up. As long as the current stays within a range for which the power dissipation is not exceeded, everything is fine. Otherwise, the resistor can easily overheat and burn.

scorched_resistor

  • Maximum Voltage. Operating a resistor above its maximum voltage rating may cause sparks that would destroy the resistor.

burned_resistor

Resistors used in low power circuits usually have a maximum voltage in the order of at least 100V, and that’s why people usually don’t care or it doesn’t even know that there is such a parameter. In fact, low voltage circuits will normally never exceed the maximum voltage of any resistor. However, there are specific applications where voltages in the circuits can be above the 100V threshold. In such cases, it is important to verify that the resistors used in the circuit can withstand those voltages.

  • Temperature coefficient. This is the parameter that tells us how much the resistance changes per degree Celsius. It depends on the material the resistor is made of, but also on the heat dissipation capability of the component. Some resistors are built with an embedded heat sink to reduce the value of this factor.

power_resistor

This information becomes important in those cases where it is known that the resistor is going to dissipate a considerable amount of power. Based on that, it is possible to figure out if the resistor needs an external heat sink and, eventually, the heat sink thermal resistance.

  • Parasitic Capacitance and Inductance. A real resistor does not have only a resistance but also a very low value of capacity and inductance that may affect its functionality at high frequencies.

equivalent_resistor

These parasitic capacitance and inductance are caused by the physical dimensions and shape of the component and cannot be avoided. When working at high frequencies, these values need to be taken into account, since they will generate both capacitive and inductive reactance that will affect the value of the resistor at the particular frequency it is going to be used.

  • Packaging. This keeps into account where and how the resistor is going to be mounted. It can be a through holes resistor, which is provided with two leads to make the connections. The leads are usually inserted in the holes of a perforated board or of a Printed Circuit Board (PCB). Or, the resistor can be a Surface Mounted one. This has no wires, just two pads that can be directly soldered on a Surface Mounted technology (SMT) PCB. Other factors affecting the packaging include the possibility of attaching it to an external heat sink, and/or the necessity to properly ventilate it, to guarantee enough heat dissipation.

 

Inductors Basics

Describing basic functionality of the inductors and how they are treated when connected in series or in parallel.

What is an inductor? How does it work? And how we handle inductors when they are connected in series or in parallel? Here are the answers.

An inductor is an electric device capable of storing energy in the form of a magnetic or electromagnetic field.

inductor

In its basic form, an inductor can be made of a single loop of wire, or several loops (solenoid). These loops can be arranged in air or on a ferromagnetic core.

When an inductor is connected to a battery, a current starts flowing in the circuit. The current that flows inside the inductor generates a magnetic field, like the one that would be generated by an actual magnet. This field stores an amount of energy, the same way an electric field does.

inductor_circuit

If the battery is suddenly disconnected, the energy that was accumulated in the inductor must be somehow released. but the energy cannot be released instantaneously, it needs to be released a little bit at a time. And since the energy depends on the current flowing in the inductor, the inductor tries to keep the it running, even if the battery is no more connected. To do so, it uses the energy stored into the magnetic field to generate a voltage at its terminals to keep the current going.

inductor_open_circuit

However, since the inductor is now connected nowhere, current cannot flow, unless the voltage is so high that the current can flow in the thin air. And that is exactly what happens: the voltage increases so much that there is a sudden discharge of current through the air, in the form of a spark, that dissipates all the energy that was stored in the inductor. This spark is the one you may sometimes notice when opening a switch that is powering a lamp or a motor, or when you pull the plug from a device that was working using a considerable amount of current.

Similarly to the case where the current is suddenly removed, an inductor generates a voltage also when the current is just changed in intensity. In this case, the voltage is created to react to the change in current, trying to keep it to the same value, so the energy can be conserved.

In both cases, the amount of voltage is proportional to the change in current (ΔI) and inversely proportional to the amount of time in which the current changes (Δt). In other words, the faster the current change, the higher is the voltage.

For a specific inductor, the ratio between the change of current and the interval in which that happens equals the voltage generated by the inductor divided by a constant that depends on the physics dimensions of the inductor. Such constant is called inductance, represented with the letter L, and can be calculated with the following experimental formula:

inductance_formula

where:

μ = permeability of the material inside the coil

N = number of turns making the coil

A = area of the cross section of the coil

l = length of the coil

L is measured in Henry.

μ is the product of the permeability of the void (or air) and the relative permeability of the material:mu

The voltage at the terminals of the inductor is therefore calculated as:

vdit

We can now calculate the energy stored in the magnetic field of an inductor as the integral of the power, which is obtained multiplying the voltage at the inductor and the current that flows through it:

inductor_energy

which, considering the value of the voltage previously calculated, can be solved as follows:

inductor_energy_value

where I is the current flowing through the inductor at the time the energy is calculated.

When choosing an inductor for a circuit, the following parameters must be considered:

  • the value of the inductance in Henry

  • the max current the inductor can sustain; failure to specify that could cause the inductor to overheat, since the wire could be too thin to deal with the required current;

  • the max voltage that can be applied to the inductor; an excessive voltage on the inductor could cause sparks due to insufficient insulation of the wire.

Inductors In Series

Let’s consider a series of inductors of different inductance values and let’s calculate the equivalent inductance.

inductors_in_series

All the inductors, being in series, are traversed by the same current. And since each inductor has its own inductance value, each one will store a different amount of energy:

inductors_series_energies.png

The total energy stored in the inductors is therefore:

inductors_series_total_energy.png

So, the equivalent inductance is clearly:

series_inductance.png

which we can generalize as:

series_inductance_gen.png

Inductors In Parallel

In the case of inductors in parallel, they are all subject to the same voltage and are traversed by a different current:

inductors_in_parallel.png

parallel_inductors_voltages.png

From these equations we can find the currents by integration:

parallel_inductors_currents.png

The total amount of current is therefore:

parallel_inductors_total_current.png

So we can say that the equivalent inductance of a parallel of inductors can be determined through the formula:

parallel_inductors_formula_1.png

or, more in general:

parallel_inductors_formula_2.png

All the formulas presented here are very general and can be applied to both DC and AC circuits. Note, however, that since AC circuits have a variable voltage and current, the application of the formulas in AC is a little more challenging then in DC. But this is a story for another time.

Theremin v.2 Power Supply Design

theremin-v2-power-supply

For the new version of the Theremin, I have chosen to use a dual 12V power supply. This will have more flexibility because it will allow me to use more sophisticated units, possibly using op-amps.

The circuit is very basic: it uses a dual 14V transformer (not shown in the schematic) capable of providing 1.5A at its output.

A dual transformer is made up as in the following picture.

center-tapped-transformer

Is has a primary winding that is connected to the AC power supply outlet, and a secondary winding with a center tapped wire that is usually put to ground on the low voltage circuit side.

Voltage between either end wire of the secondary and the center tapped wire is usually the same (with the exception of specifically made transformers), which we call V.

The voltage measured between the two end wires of the winding is instead two times V or 2V.

Sometimes, instead of having a single secondary winding, we have two, carrying the exact same voltage. In this case, we can connect together the two closest wires and consider that as the center tapped wire. Then everything works as the first kind of transformer.

transformer-trans64

The AC current of the transformer is converted in to a DC current through the usage of a bridge rectifier and the capacitors C1 and C2.

The bridge rectifier converts the sine wave coming from the transformer into a fully rectified wave.

Full-wave_rectified_sine

Then, the capacitor that follows (in this case C1 and C2) starts charging over the ascending sides of the wave and discharging, partially, over the descending sides of the wave, basically filling the wave in between crests and making it look like more a straight horizontal line with some disturbance in it that we call ripple (the red line in the following picture).

ripple

In general, depending on the use of the power supply, we define a maximum value of the ripple that the circuit can handle.

In our case, we need to make sure that the voltage at the input of the regulators never goes below 14.5V, according to the data sheet, otherwise the regulator will not function properly.

The peak voltage provided by the transformer is its RMS value multiplied by the square root of 2, or:

peak_voltage

The minimum voltage we can have at the input of the regulator is:

regfulator_input_voltage

This is the max value of ripple that we can sustain.

To calculate the capacitor necessary to obtain this ripple, we use the following formula:

capacitance calculation

where f is the frequency of the alternate current which, in the USA, is 60Hz, and Ix is the maximum current that the power supply needs to provide.

So, we would need a capacitance value, for C1 and C2, of 2358uF.

However, the Theremin circuit will really not draw 1.5A from the power supply, so we can stay a little conservative, and use the closest value below the calculated one, which is 2200uF.

At this point we can safely say that the voltage on the output of the regulators will be exactly 12V (positive or negative, depending on the output side).

To further help the regulator, and preventing the current through it to go too close to the 1.5A threshold, where the regulator would not work anymore because the ripple becomes too high, we add to the output of each regulator another electrolytic capacitor, this one with a value at least equal to the capacitance value that we did not put at the input side. Since at the input side we put a capacitance of 2200uF instead of 2358uF, we will need a capacitor of at least 158uF.

However, to stay totally safe, I decided to use a capacitor at least 5 times higher, so I used the value of 1000uF for C3 and C4.

And finally, I added an extra capacitor (C5 and C6) to shunt toward ground any RF frequency that would travel back from the Theremin oscillators toward the power supply. A 0.1uF value is what is suggested by the data sheet of the regulator, so I used just that.

Why did I use this capacitor if there was already a 1000uF in there?

The reason hides in the way the electrolytic capacitors behave. In short, the electrolytic capacitors do not work well at high frequencies, so we need to add the extra 0.1uF capacitor, which is not an electrolytic one, to work in that range of frequencies. And since the range of frequencies is much higher than the one of the 110Vac outlet, a very small capacitance is enough to do the job.