Why should you care about overcurrent protection in your system?

Everywhere we go, new electronic devices are popping up to make life easier or more efficient. As we come to rely on these devices, it becomes imperative that they just “work” – regardless of the operating environment. Whether it is the always-on smartphone, our ever-more-electronic vehicles, the self-checkout kiosks at our favorite restaurant or a large factory automation system that we do not directly interact with but have just come to accept as part of life – we just expect things to work.

Figure 1: Examples of the many electronic devices that we have become part of our everyday life

One major way to prevent downtime in modern electronic systems is to detect, react to and fix potentially damaging conditions as rapidly as possible. However, two macrotrends make this a larger challenge. The first is the desire for more performance, despite the fact that today’s electronics have processing power that’s orders of magnitude greater than their predecessors just since the early part of the millennium. The second is packing all of this additional performance into shrinking form factors.

System thermal management has become one of the most prevalent methods for implementing damage detection and prevention. Historically, designers monitored temperature to protect systems; as the temperature rose, a fan could turn on to reduce the ambient temperature. However, with the trend toward smaller form factors, in many cases there is just not room to implement a space-consuming solution like a fan.

The demand for greater performance can cause a significant rise in temperature in a short period of time. In most cases this temperature increase results in a power consumption increase. Rather than measuring a lagging indicator (temperature), many designers choose to measure a leading indicator, current (or power, which is the voltage multiplied by the current). Overcurrent protection enables designers to manage system thermal performance more efficiently and anticipate problems proactively vs. reacting to potential issues.

There are many reasons to monitor for overcurrent conditions:

  • Long-term system reliability.
  • System/user safety.
  • System efficiency.
  • Fault protection.

If you would like to learn more about the challenges of system thermal management and how Texas Instruments is enabling more accurate and precise overcurrent detection to help solve this challenge, please download my white paper, “Overcurrent protection enables more efficient and reliable systems with longer lifecycles”  or check out the Texas Instruments portfolio of current sense amplifiers.

Additional Resources: