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					IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON POWER ELECTRONICS, VOL. 16, NO. 3, MAY 2001                                                                             311

  A Low-Profile Low-Power Converter with Coreless
            PCB Isolation Transformer
   S. C. Tang, Member, IEEE, S. Y. (Ron) Hui, Senior Member, IEEE, and Henry Shu-hung Chung, Member, IEEE

    Abstract—Very small manually wound transformers for sub-                 double-sided printed circuit board (PCB), the manual winding
watt dc–dc converters are notorious for their relatively high cost           cost is eliminated and automation manufacturing process is
and low reliability. In this paper, an isolated low-profile low-power        facilitated. Because the transformer windings are etched on
8 MHz soft-switching power converter using a coreless printed cir-
cuit board (PCB) transformer is described. Coreless PCB trans-               the PCB surfaces, packaging processes and materials, such as
formers eliminate several problems of their core-based counter-              resin epoxy, can be excluded. Apart from the device package,
parts in low-power applications. The diameter of the coreless PCB            magnetic core is eliminated so the height of device can be
transformer is merely 0.46 cm. The converter’s power output is               reduced substantially [12]–[14].
about 0.5W with a typical transformer efficiency of 63%. The high-              One major challenge of designing low-profile power con-
frequency capability, high reliability and the low-profile structure
make coreless PCB transformers a viable and attractive option for
                                                                             verters with coreless transformers is the high-frequency oper-
reliable mega-hertz switching converters and micro-circuits.                 ation of the coreless PCB transformers. The power converter
  Index Terms—Coreless PCB transformers, low-power con-
                                                                             on the primary side of the transformer has to be switched at
verters, low-profile converters, megahertz switching, packaging,             several Mega-Hertz. In order to ensure that the overall power
passive components.                                                          consumption of the converter is competitive when compared
                                                                             with existing core-based transformer isolated circuits, it is nec-
                                                                             essary to minimize not just the transformer loss, but also the
                          I. INTRODUCTION                                    switching loss of the converter electronics [15]. In this paper,
                                                                             a low-profile and low-power power converter that incorporates
L     OW-PROFILE low-power power converters for portable
      electronic applications are in high demand especially for
laptop, notebook, and palmtop computers. Many commercial
                                                                             the soft-switching technique and the coreless PCB transformer
                                                                             is presented. It will be demonstrated that the coreless PCB trans-
power supply products such as small outline package (SOP)                    formers offer a viable solution to megahertz switching power
power semiconductor chips [1] and low-profile transformer                    converters.
have been manufactured for various PC Cards specifications.
For low-power (sub-watt) power converters with isolated                      II. OPTIMAL OPERATION OF CORELESS PCB TRANSFORMERS
voltage output, two major practical problems arise. First,
the cost of the core-based manually wound transformer may                       The dimensions of the coreless PCB transformer (named Tr8),
contribute to about 80% of the total manufacturing cost of the               which provides isolation in the dc–dc converter, are shown in
converter. This is mainly due to the labor and material costs                Fig. 1(a). The diameter of the coreless PCB transformer is 4.6
involved in the manufacturing process of transformer. Second,                mm. Both of the primary and secondary have 10-turns. The con-
the wire is usually very thin and can be damaged easily in                   ductor width is 0.1 mm and separation between conducting track
the winding process. The very thin transformer winding, that                 is 0.2 mm. The thickness of the printed circuit board laminate is
carries the weight of the magnetic core, can easily be broken                0.4 mm. The copper track thickness is 35 m. Two spiral wind-
when the transformer is subject to shock conditions (that often              ings are printed “directly” on both side of a double-sided PCB.
occur in the transportation process). Thus, reliability of very              The PCB laminate is made of FR4 material that has high break-
small manually wound transformer is not high.                                down voltage (15 kV to 40 kV) [16]. The area of the coreless PCB
   Research into the development of micro-transformers has                   transformer, Tr8, is 0.6648 cm . Fig. 1(b) shows the photograph
been documented [2]–[6]. Ferrite cores or materials are usually              of a typical core-based pulse transformer, an 8-pin SOIC package
employed in these transformers to provide a closed magnetic                  integrated circuit and the actual coreless PCB transformer, Tr8,
path. However, the current rating and operating frequency are                used in the power converter. The size of the transformer is smaller
limited by the ferrite material because of magnetic saturation               than the surface mount electronics used in the primary circuit.
and Eddy current loss. The use of planar transformers without                The transformer circuit model derived from [9] is shown in Fig. 2.
any ferrite cores have been studied in [7]–[11]. By printing                 The winding resistances depend on operating frequency due to
the windings of a planar transformer on both sides of a                      skin effect. The primary and secondary winding resistance are
                                                                             measured which are given by
  Manuscript received November 29, 1999; revised January 31, 2001. This
work was supported by the Hong Kong Research Grant Council (CERG
9040446). Recommended by Associate Editor K. Ngo.                                                                                           (1)
  The authors are with the Department of Electronic Engineering, City Uni-
versity of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China (e-mail: eeronhui@cityu.
  Publisher Item Identifier S 0885-8993(01)04041-8.                                                                                         (2)
                                                          0885–8993/01$10.00 © 2001 IEEE
312                                                                              IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON POWER ELECTRONICS, VOL. 16, NO. 3, MAY 2001

                                                                               included in the transformer model as part of the secondary
                                                                               leakage inductance. The stray inductance of the secondary
                                                                               winding is about 30 nH. The differences between the mea-
                                                                               sured (at 10 MHz) and calculated values are mainly due to the
                                                                               high frequency effects such as proximity effects. Because the
                                                                               intra-winding capacitance,        and    , are much smaller than
                                                                               the external capacitor, their effects are neglected to simplify
                                     (a)                                       the following analysis. The inter-winding capacitance,         , is
                                                                               measured and calculated. The calculated and measured capac-
                                                                               itances, at 10 MHz, are 2.106 pF and 2.08 pF, respectively.
                                                                               is negligible and      now represents the external capacitance
                                                                               in the calculation.
                                                                                  Based on this equivalent circuit and the theory described in
                                                                               [8]–[11], several characteristics of this transformer can be ob-
                                                                               tained. It has been pointed out that by connecting an external ca-
                                                                               pacitor across the secondary winding, the no-load resonant fre-
                                                                               quency can be determined. This feature is an important factor
                                                                               in designing the power converter for a specific switching fre-
                                                                               quency range. The equation of the no-load resonant frequency
                                                                               is given as


Fig. 1. (a) Dimensions of the coreless PCB transformer (Tr8) used converter.   where                               and                   . (Here
(b) A photograph of a typical core-based pulse transformer, a 8-pin SOIC
package surface mount IC and the coreless PCB transformer (Tr8).                   is the load capacitance.)
                                                                                  Because the transformer only consists of a few turns, it is al-
                                                                               most a short circuit at low operating frequency. It is necessary
                                                                               to operate the transformer at high frequency in order to mini-
                                                                               mize the magnetizing current of the transformer. Based on the
                                                                               transformer model in Fig. 2, the input impedance and phase plot
                                                                               of the transformer can be determined. A 1.2 nF resonant capac-
                                                                               itor is chosen so that the maximum input impedance is set at
                                                                               about 8.2 MHz. Fig. 3(a) shows the calculated and measured
                                                                               magnitude of the transformer input impedance,           when the
                                                                               transformer is loaded with a 50 resistor. The phase plot of the
                                                                               input impedance is shown in Fig. 3(b). As frequency increases
Fig. 2. Equivalent circuit of a coreless PCB transformer with an external
resonant capacitor.                                                            from dc, the phase of input impedance increases and approaches
                                                                               90 degree within the frequency from about 1 MHz to 8.5 MHz.
                                                                               In this frequency range, the input terminal of the transformer
                                TABLE I                                        is highly inductive. This phenomenon is desirable in a low-loss
                            EQUIVALET CIRCUIT                                  zero-voltage-switching (ZVS) power converter [17].
                                                                                  The voltage gain of the transformer is defined as the ratio be-
                                                                               tween the secondary voltage and the primary voltage,             .
                                                                               The calculated and measured voltage gain of the transformer
                                                                               with 1.2 nF resonant capacitor and 50        load are plotted in
                                                                               Fig. 4. As previously mentioned, the transformer’s voltage gain
                                                                               can be boosted by an external capacitor . The high voltage
                                                                               gain region (greater than unity) is between 7 MHz and 11 MHz.

                                                                                   III. OPERATION OF THE SOFT-SWITCHED CONVERTER
   The leakage and mutual inductances are measured and sim-                       As a power transformer, the operating frequency should
ulated. The results are given in Table I. The inductances are                  be chosen so that the maximum efficiency can be achieved
measured by an HP4194A impedance/gain-phase analyzer. The                      after considering the switching loss factors for the power
lead wire stray inductance of the primary winding can be com-                  electronics. Fig. 5 shows the calculated and measured energy
pensated with the aid of the impedance analyzer. However,                      efficiency of the transformer versus operating frequency when
the lead wire stray inductance between the secondary winding                   the primary winding is fed with a sinusoidal voltage and the
and the external capacitor cannot be compensated. It has to be                 secondary winding is loaded with a resistor of 50 . The
TANG et al.: LOW-PROFILE LOW-POWER CONVERTER                                                                                                          313

                                                                                   optimal operating frequency of the transformer, Tr8, with
                                                                                   1.2 nF resonant capacitor, is about 8 MHz. An transformer
                                                                                   efficiency of about 76% is recorded when the transformer is
                                                                                   fed with a sinusoidal voltage. At such frequency, soft switching
                                                                                   can also be achieved for the power switches because the
                                                                                   transformer load is still sufficiently inductive. Therefore, the
                                                                                   operating frequency of the coreless PCB transformer is chosen
                                                                                   to be 8 MHz. Soft-switching technique is used to reduce the
                                                                                   switching loss in the converter circuit.
                                                                                      The proposed transformer isolated converter circuit, shown
                                                                                   in Fig. 6, is a low-loss half-bridge converter that uses zero-
                                                                                   voltage-switching (ZVS) technique. The high side switch, , is
                                        (a)                                        a P-channel MOSFET instead of an N-channel MOSFET. This
                                                                                   configuration eliminates a voltage level shifter that may com-
                                                                                   plicate the converter circuit and dissipate more energy [18]. The
                                                                                   timing sequences of the switches, and , are shown in Fig. 7.
                                                                                   Before the time, , is in the on-state and is in the off- state.
                                                                                   The drain current of        increases linearly from zero. At ,
                                                                                   is turned off. Capacitor         is charged gradually and it diverts
                                                                                   the transformer primary current from the drain of . There-
                                                                                   fore, the              product of      is small and the turn-off loss
                                                                                   of the is minimized. From to ,                 is charged and       is
                                                                                   discharged through the inductive primary winding of the trans-
                                                                                   former. The input impedance of the transformer with resonant
                                                                                   capacitor, , has to be inductive at the operating frequency and
                                                                                   the primary current must be high enough to remove the charges
                                        (b)                                        of       before      is turned on. At , the voltage across          is
Fig. 3. (a) Magnitude of input impedance of the transformer (Tr8) with             discharged to zero. The transformer primary current forces the
1.2 nF//50 
 load. (b) Phase of input impedance of the transformer (Tr8)           diode,       , to turn on. Drain-to-source voltage of       is, there-
with 1.2 nF//50 
                                                                                   fore, zero (neglecting the forward voltage drop of         ) between
                                                                                      to .       is turned on at to achieve zero-voltage-switching
                                                                                   of . At ,           is turned off. Similar to       ,      is used to
                                                                                   minimize the turn-off loss of . As             is charged to 12 V,
                                                                                   the drain-to-source voltage of         is zero and       is forced to
                                                                                   turn on at by the primary current of the transformer. Again,
                                                                                   the     is turned on under zero-voltage condition at to com-
                                                                                   plete one switching cycle.

                                                                                                  IV. EXPERIMENTAL VERIFICATION
                                                                                      The converter has been tested with a load of 50 . The input
                                                                                   voltage is 12 V. The secondary output voltage is regulated to
                                                                                   5 V. The switching frequency of the converter is set at 8 MHz.
Fig. 4. Voltage gain jV =V   j   against frequency of the transformer (Tr8) with   The output power is 0.5 W. A linear low dropout voltage reg-
1.2 nF//50 
 load.                                                                 ulator LM2937IMP-5.0 is used to regulate the output voltage.
                                                                                   Fig. 8 shows the measured drain current ( : 0.2 A/div.) and the
                                                                                   drain-source voltage of one of the power switches. It can be seen
                                                                                   that soft switching has been achieved. The voltages and currents
                                                                                   of the primary and secondary windings of the coreless trans-
                                                                                   former were measured and are displayed in Fig. 9. It can be seen
                                                                                   that the primary current, secondary current and voltage do not
                                                                                   consist of fast transients. At 8 MHz operation, the transformer’s
                                                                                   stray inductance provides the filtering effect and smoothes out
                                                                                   all sharp edges in the waveforms. When fed with a nonsinu-
                                                                                   soidal primary voltage under these test conditions, a transformer
                                                                                   efficiency of 63% has been achieved. This efficiency value is
                                                                                   less that recorded when the transformer is fed with sinusoidal
Fig. 5. Energy efficiency of Tr8 when load with 1.2 nF//50 
 load.                 voltage (76%). The reason is due to the harmonic losses. The
314                                                                                  IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON POWER ELECTRONICS, VOL. 16, NO. 3, MAY 2001

Fig. 6.   Schematic of the isolated low-profile converter with the coreless PCB transformer.

                                                                                  Fig. 9. Measured primary voltage (V ), primary current (I ), secondary
                                                                                  voltage (V ) and secondary current (I ) of the coreless PCB transformer from
                                                                                  the circuit in Fig. 6.

Fig. 7.   Timing diagram of the soft-switched converter.

                                                                                  Fig. 10. Measured output voltage (V    : 2.5 V/div) and output current (I   :
Fig. 8.   Measured drain current I and drain-source voltage V .                   50 mA/div).

output voltage      and current      of the dc–dc converter are                   regulated. The measured efficiency of the overall converter at
shown in Fig. 10. It can be seen that the output voltage is well                  0.5 W output is about 34%.
TANG et al.: LOW-PROFILE LOW-POWER CONVERTER                                                                                                                   315

                            V. CONCLUSIONS                                          [17] W. A. Tabixz and F. C. Lee, “Zero-voltage switching multi-resonant
                                                                                         technique—A novel approach to improve performance of high-frequency
   A low-profile, low-power power converter with soft                                    quasiresonant converters,” in Proc. IEEE PESC’88, 1988, pp. 9–17.
switching and coreless PCB isolation transformer has been                           [18] D. Carter and R. A. McMahon, “Electronic level shifter for use in half-
                                                                                         bridges operating at 13.56 MHz,” Electron. Lett., vol. 31, no. 16, pp.
demonstrated successfully. The half-bridge converter uses zero-                          1301–1302, 1995.
voltage-switching (ZVS) technique to minimize the switching
loss. The transformer has diameter of 4.6 mm and thickness of
0.4 mm, which is smaller than an 8-pin surface mount SOIC                                                    S. C. Tang (M’98) was born in Hong Kong in 1972.
package integrated circuit. The choice of optimal frequency                                                  He received the B.Eng. (with first class honors) and
range of the coreless PCB transformer for ZVS converter has                                                  the Ph.D. degrees in electronic engineering from the
                                                                                                             City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, in 1997 and
been addressed. This experimental study confirms that it is                                                  2000, respectively.
feasible to use coreless PCB transformers for developing low-                                                    He is presently a Research Fellow in the City
profile power converters with mega-hertz switching operation.                                                University of Hong Kong. His research interests
In this study, transformer efficiency of 76% and 63% are                                                     include coreless PCB transformers, high-frequency
                                                                                                             magnetics, MOSFET/IGBT gate drive circuits, iso-
recorded when the transformer is fed with sinusoidal voltage                                                 lation amplifiers and low-profile power converters.
and nonsinusoidal voltage, respectively. Coreless PCB trans-                                                    Dr. Tang is the Champion of the Institution of
formers eliminate the disadvantages of core-based manually                         Electrical Engineers (IEE) Hong Kong Younger Member Section Paper Contest
                                                                                   2000. He received the Li Po Chun Scholarships and Intertek Testing Services
wound transformers and provide a relatively low-cost and                           (ITS) Scholarships, in 1996 and 1997, respectively, the First Prize Award from
highly reliable solution to the manufacturing of sub-watt con-                     the IEEE HK Section Student Paper Contest’97, was the second winner in
verters with isolated voltage output. The favorable features at                    the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) 50th Anniversary Electronics
                                                                                   Engineering Project Competition, and received the Certificates of Merit in the
high frequency range, high reliability and the drastic reduction                   IEEE Paper Contests (Hong Kong Section), in 1998 and 1999, respectively.
in the vertical dimension make coreless PCB transformers an
attractive option for low-profile and mega-hertz applications.
The successful implementation has demonstrated their potential                                                S. Y. (Ron) Hui (SM’94) was born in Hong Kong
for reliable mega-hertz switching converters and micro-circuits.                                              in 1961. He received the B.Sc. degree (with honors)
                                                                                                              from the University of Birmingham, U.K. in 1984,
                                                                                                              and the D.I.C. and Ph.D degrees from the Imperial
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  [2] N. Dai, A. W. Lofti, G. Skutt, W. Tabisz, and F. C. Lee, “A comparative                                    He was a Lecturer in power electronics at the
      study of high-frequency, low-profile planar transformer technologies,”                                  University of Nottingham, U.K., from 1987 to 1990.
      in Proc. IEEE APEC’94, 1994, pp. 226–232.                                                               In 1990, he took up a lectureship at the University
  [3] K. Onda, A. Kanouda, T. Takahashi, S. Hagiwara, and H. Horie, “Thin                                     of Technology, Sydney, Australia, where he became
      type dc/dc converter using a coreless wire transformer,” in Proc. IEEE                                  a Senior Lecturer in 1991. He joined the University
      PESC’94, 1994, pp. 1330–1334.                                                of Sydney in 1993 and was promoted to Reader of Electrical Engineering and
  [4] Y. Yamaguchi, S. Ohnuma, T. Imagawa, J. Toriu, H. Matsuki, and K.            Director of Power Electronics and Drives Research Group in 1996. Presently,
      Murakami, “Characteristics of a thin film microtransformer with circular     he is a Chair Professor of Electronic Engineering and an Associate Dean of
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      ings with low resistance,” in Proc. APEC’95, 1995, pp. 533–539.              publications and book chapters. He has been an Honorary Professor at the
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                                                                                   power electronics.
  [7] H. Chung, S. Y. R. Hui, and S. C. Tang, “Development of a multi-
                                                                                      Dr. Hui received the Teaching Excellence Award in 1999 and the Grand Ap-
      stage current-controlled switched-capacitor step-down dc/dc converter
                                                                                   plied Research Excellence Award in 2001 from the City University of Hong
      with continuous input current,” IEEE Trans. Circuits Syst. I, vol. 47, pp.
      1017–1025, July 2000.                                                        Kong. He is a Fellow of the IEE, the IEAust, and the HKIE. He has been an As-
  [8] S. Y. R. Hui, S. C. Tang, and H. Chung, “Coreless printed-circuit board      sociate Editor of the IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON POWER ELECTRONICS since 1997.
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  [9] S. Y. R. Hui, H. Chung, and S. C. Tang, “Coreless printed circuit board
                                                                                                              Henry Shu-hung Chung (S’92–M’95) received the
      (PCB) transformers for power MOSFETS/IGBT gate drive circuits,”
                                                                                                              B.Eng. degree (with first class honors) in electrical
      IEEE Trans. Power Electron., vol. 14, pp. 422–430, May 1999.
                                                                                                              engineering and the Ph.D. degree from The Hong
 [10] S. Y. R. Hui, S. C. Tang, and H. Chung, “Optimal operation of core-
      less PCB transformer-isolated gate drive circuits with wide switching                                   Kong Polytechnic University in 1991 and 1994,
      frequency range,” IEEE Trans. Power Electron., vol. 14, pp. 506–514,                                    respectively.
      May 1999.                                                                                                  Since 1995, he has been with the City University
 [11] S. C. Tang, S. Y. R. Hui, and H. Chung, “Coreless printed circuit board                                 of Hong Kong. He is currently an Associate Pro-
      (PCB) transformer with multiple secondary windings for complemen-                                       fessor in the Department of Electronic Engineering.
      tary gate drive circuits,” IEEE Trans. Power Electron., vol. 14, pp.                                    His research interests include time-domain and
      431–437, May 1999.                                                                                      frequency-domain analysis of power electronic
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      Newnes, 1996.                                                                randomswitching techniques, digital audio amplifiers, and soft-switching
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      Dover, 1954.                                                                 papers, including 50 refereed journal papers in his current research area.
 [14] W. G. Hurley and M. C. Duffy, “Calculation of self and mutual imped-            Dr. Chung received the China Light and Power Prize and was awarded the
      ances in planar magnetic structures,” IEEE Trans. Magn., vol. 31, pp.        Scholarship and Fellowship of the Sir Edward Youde Memorial Fund in 1991
      2416–2422, July 1995.                                                        and 1993, respectively. He is currently Chairman of the Council of the Sir Ed-
 [15] S. C. Tang, S. Y. R. Hui, and H. Chung, “A naturally soft-switched high-     ward Youde Scholar’s Association and IEEE student branch counselor. He was
      frequency gate drive circuit for power MOSFETs/IGBTs,” in Proc. IEEE         Track Chair of the Technical Committee on Power Electronics Circuits and
      PEDS, Hong Kong, July 1999, pp. 246–252.                                     Power Systems, IEEE Circuits and Systems Society, from 1997 to 1998. He
 [16] C. F. Coombs Jr., Printed Circuits Handbooks, 3rd ed. New York: Mc-          is presently an Associate Editor of the IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON CIRCUITS AND
      Graw-Hill, 1988, pp. 6–32.                                                   SYSTEMS—PART I: FUNDAMENTAL THEORY AND APPLICATIONS.

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