How to Design a Power Supply Circuit – Simplest to the Most Complex


Whether it’s an electronic noob or an expert engineer, all require this indispensable piece of equipment called the power supply unit. This is because no electronics can run without power, to be precise a low voltage DC power, and a power supply unit is a device which is specifically meant for fulfilling this purpose.

If this equipment is so important, it becomes imperative for all in the field to learn all the nitty-gritties of this important member of the electronic family.

Let’s begin and learn how to design a power supply circuit, a simplest one first , probably for the noobs who would find this information extremely useful.

A power supply circuit will fundamentally require three main components for providing the intended results. A transformer, a diode and a capacitor.

The transformer is the device which has two sets of windings, one primary and the other one is the secondary. Mains 220v or 120v is fed to the primary winding which is transferred to the secondary winding to produce a lower induced voltage there.

The low stepped down voltage available at the secondary of the transformer is used for the intended application in electronic circuits, however before this secondary voltage can be used, it needs to be first rectified, meaning the voltage needs to be made into a DC first.

For example if the transfornmer secondary is rated at 12 volts then the acquired 12 volts from the transformer secondary will be a 12 volt AC acros the relevant wires.

Electronic circuit can never work with ACs and therefore this voltage should be transformed into a DC.

A diode is one device which effectively converts an AC to DC, there are three configurations through which basic power supply designs may be configured.

Using a single diode: The most basic and crude form of power supply design is the one which uses a single diode and a capacitor. Since a single diode will rectify only  one half cycle of the AC signal, this type of configuration requires a large output filter capacitor for compensating the above limitation.
A filter capacitor makes sure that after rectification, at the falling or decreasing sections of the resultant DC pattern, where the voltage tends to dip, these sections are filled and topped by the stored energy inside the capacitor.
The above compensation act done by the capacitors stored energy helps to maintain a clean and ripple free DC output which wouldn’t be possible just by the diodes alone.

For a single diode power supply design, the transformer’s secondary winding just needs to have a single winding with two ends.

However the above configuration cannot be considered an efficient power supply design due to its crude half wave rectification and limited output conditioning capabilities.

Using two diodes: Using a couple of diodes for making a power supply requires a transformer having a center tapped secondary winding. The diagram shows how the diodes are connected to the transformer.

Though, the two diodes work in tandem and tackle both the halves of the AC signal and produce a full wave rectification, the employed method is not efficient, because at any instant only one half winding of the transformer is utilized. This results in poor core saturation and unnecessary heating of the transformer, making this type of power supply configuration less efficient and an ordinary design.

Using four diodes: It’s the best and universally accepted form of power supply configuration as far as the rectification process is concerned.
The clever use of four diodes makes things very simple, only a single secondary winding is all that is required, the core saturation is perfectly optimized resulting in an efficient AC to DC conversion. The figure shows how a full wave rectified power supply is made using four diodes and a relatively low value filter capacitor.

This type of diode configuration is popularly know as the bridge network, you may want to know how to construct a bridge rectifier, kindly refer to this article.

All the above power supply designs provide outputs with ordinary regulation and therefore cannot be considered perfect, these fail to provide ideal DC outputs, and therefore are not desirable for many sophisticated electronic circuits. Moreover these configurations does not include a variable voltage and current control features.

However the above features may be simply integrated to the above designs, rather with the last full wave power supply configuration through the introduction of a single IC and a few other passive components.

Using the IC 317: The IC LM 317 is a highly versatile device which is normally incorporated with power supplies for obtaining well regulated and variable voltage/current outputs. A few power supply example circuits using this IC is explained in this article.

Since the above IC can only support a maximum of 1.5 amps, for greater current outputs another similar device but with higher ratings may be used. The IC LM 338 works exactly like the LM 317 but is capable of handling up to 5 amps of current. A simple design is shown below.

For obtaining fixed voltage levels, 78XX series ICs may be employed with the above explained power supply circuits. The IC are comprehensively explained in this article.

Nowadays transformerless SMPS power supplies are becoming the favorites among the users, due to their high efficiency, high power delivering features at amazingly compact sizes.
Though building an SMPS power supply circuit at home is surely not for the novices in the field, engineers and enthusiasts with comprehensive knowledge about the subject can go about building such circuits at home.
A neat little switch mode power supply design has been discussed HERE.

There are a few other forms of power supplies which can be rather built by even the new electronic hobbyists and does not require transformers. Though very cheap and easy to build, these types of power supply circuits cannot support heavy current and are normally limited to 200 mA or so.

Two concepts of the above transformer less type of power supply circuits are discussed in the following couple of posts:

By Using High Voltage Capacitors,

By Using Hi -End ICs and FET