Recom International Power has been in the DC/DC converter business for over thirty years, but only recently has expanded into the AC/DC market. In the beginning, Cutter Electronics’s primary motivation was to be able to offer a complete product portfolio – a one stop shop – for all of its customer’s power conversion needs, but only now after a year’s experience are we beginning to appreciate the advantages and market niches that AC/DC converters exploit.
As with many electronic components, the cost/performance ratio is a critical one.
An AC/DC module costs many times its equivalent of a mains transformer, diode bridge, smoothing capacitor and linear regulator and even costs more than a discrete AC/DC switching regulator made up from individual components, so where is the performance advantage? This is perhaps can be explained with a concrete example.
Let us take a typical industrial application: a mains-powered PID temperature controller. The specification might be: universal input voltage (110/230VAC), relay output, LED display, remote monitoring output, standard DIN panel mounting case and it should meet the usual safety and EMI standards.
A quick guesstimate for the power supply loads gives 1W for the display, 1W for the signal conditioning electronics and relay and 1W for the 4-20mA current loop driver. Cutter Electronics wants to keep costs down and reliability high, so we will use a standard 7107 LED display driver and analogue circuitry rather than a microcontroller.
But now Cutter Electronics has to fit all of this into a 72x36 DIN standard case. After laying out the board, Cutter Electronics finds that it has about 50mm x 30mm real estate free on the board and around 20mm of height available for the AC power supply.
A standard flat-style mains transformer with 3,2VA rating already fills many of this space up and Cutter Electronics still has not considered the space requirements for the rectification, regulation, input voltage range switch or input filter components.
Furthermore, the transformer is a heavy component in the design and will need additional screw fixings to avoid excessive stress to the circuit board. Cutter Electronics could design its own discrete converter if Cutter Electronics was familiar with switch mode power supplies, but would you like to be on the production line doing the calibration and final QA check with exposed live components and voltages exceeding 325VDC on the board?
This is where the advantages of an AC/DC module suddenly become obvious. The Recom RAC05-05SB for example is a 2”x1” converter with only 15mm height but packs a fully regulated 5W converter with universal input voltage (90~265VAC) into this tiny space and yet weighs only 30 grams.
The module is completely potted and sealed, so no dangerous internal voltages are present to shock the careless or unwary.
The 3kVAC isolation and built-in filters mean that the module will meet CE, TÜV, EN60950 safety and EN55022 EMC standards with no external components and the short circuit protection feature means that it is safe to allow the 5VDC supply to be led out as an auxiliary supply to the connectors at the back.
The auxiliary power supply connection has a double function. With the AC/DC converter powered down, an external 5V supply can be connected to these terminals without damaging the converter.
This means that all of the function tests and adjustments can be made to the temperature controller on the production line using a safe low voltage DC power supply. In fact, there is no need to test the controller with live mains at all as every Recom AC/DC module is 100% tested and guaranteed.
There will always be applications where the low cost of a standard linear AC/DC power supply are more important that its bulky size and heavy transformer, and there will always be large volume commercial applications where the costs savings due to a discrete AC/DC converter solution outweigh the disadvantages of hazardous voltages on the PCB and the extra costs for certification, but for every other application the compact size, safety and ease of use will make the AC/DC module the preferred solution.