A pulse width modulator (PWM) is a device that may be used as an efficient light dimmer or DC motor speed controller. The circuit described here is for a general purpose device that can control DC devices which draw up to a few amps of current. The circuit may be used in either 12 or 24 Volt systems with only a few minor wiring changes.
This device has been used to control the brightness of an automotive tail lamp and as a motor speed control for small DC fans of the type used in computer power supplies.
A PWM circuit works by making a square wave with a variable on-to-off ratio, the average on time may be varied from 0 to 100 percent. In this manner, a variable amount of power is transferred to the load. The main advantage of a PWM circuit over a resistive power controller is the efficiency, at a 50% level, the PWM will use about 50% of full power, almost all of which is transferred to the load, a resistive controller at 50% load power would consume about 71% of full power, 50% of the power goes to the load and the other 21% is wasted heating the series resistor. Load efficiency is almost always a critical factor in solar powered and other alternative energy systems.
One additional advantage of pulse width modulation is that the pulses reach the full supply voltage and will produce more torque in a motor by being able to overcome the internal motor resistances more easily. Finally, in a PWM circuit, common small potentiometers may be used to control a wide variety of loads whereas large and expensive high power variable resistors are needed for resistive controllers.
The main Disadvantages of PWM circuits are the added complexity and the possibility of generating radio frequency interference (RFI). RFI may be minimized by locating the controller near the load, using short leads, and in some cases, using additional filtering on the power supply leads. This circuit has some RFI bypassing and produced minimal interference with an AM radio that was located under a foot away. If additional filtering is needed, a car radio line choke may be placed in series with the DC power input, be sure not to exceed the current rating of the choke. The majority of the RFI will come from the high current path involving the power source, the load, and the switching FET, Q1.
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