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Short Circuit Protection

The main disadvantage of a series regulator is that the pass transistor is in series with the load. If a short develops in the load, a large amount of current will flow in the regulator circuit. The pass transistor can be damaged by this excessive current flow. You could place a fuse in the circuit, but in many cases, the transistor will be damaged before the fuse blows. The best way to protect this circuit is to limit the current automatically to a safe value. A series regulator with a current-limiting circuit is shown in figure 4-50. You should recall that in order for a silicon NPN transistor to conduct, the base must be between 0.6 volt to 0.7 volt more positive than the emitter. Resistor R4 will develop a voltage drop of 0.6 volt when the load current reaches 600 milliamperes. This is illustrated using Ohm's law:

Figure 4-50. - Series regulator with current limiting.

When load current is below 600 milliamperes, the base-to-emitter voltage on Q2 is not high enough to allow Q2 to conduct. With Q2 cut off, the circuit acts like a series regulator.

When the load current increases above 600 milliamperes, the voltage drop across R4 increases to more than 0.6 volt. This causes Q2 to conduct through resistor R2, thereby decreasing the voltage on the base of pass transistor Q1. This action causes Q1 to conduct less. Therefore, the current cannot increase above 600 to 700 milliamperes.

By increasing the value of R4, you can limit the current to almost any value. For example, a 100-ohm resistor develops a voltage drop of 0.6 volt at 6 milliamperes of current. You may encounter current-limiting circuits that are more sophisticated, but the theory of operation is always the same. If you understand this circuit, you should have no problem with the others.


Whenever you are working with electricity, the proper use of safety precautions is of the utmost importance to remember. In the front of all electronic technical manuals, you will always find a section on safety precautions. Also posted on each piece of equipment should be a sign listing the specific precautions for that equipment. One area that is sometimes overlooked, and is a hazard especially on board ship, is the method in which equipment is grounded. By grounding the return side of the power transformer to the metal chassis, the load being supplied by the power supply can be wired directly to the metal chassis. Thereby the necessity of wiring directly to the return side of the transformer is eliminated. This method saves wire and reduces the cost of building the equipment, and while it solves one of the problems of the manufacturer, it creates a problem for you, the technician. Unless the chassis is physically grounded to the ship's ground (the hull), the chassis can be charged (or can float) several hundred volts above ship's ground. If you come in contact with the metal chassis at the same time you are in contact with the ship's hull, the current from the chassis can use your body as a low resistance path back to the ship's ac generators. At best this can be an unpleasant experience; at worst it can be fatal. For this reason Navy electronic equipment is always grounded to the ship's hull, and approved rubber mats are required in all spaces where electronic equipment is present. Therefore, before starting to work on any electronic or electrical equipment, ALWAYS ENSURE THAT THE EQUIPMENT AND ANY TEST EQUIPMENT YOU ARE USING IS PROPERLY GROUNDED AND THAT THE RUBBER MAT YOU ARE STANDING ON IS IN GOOD CONDITION. As long as you follow these simple rules, you should be able to avoid the possibility of becoming an electrical conductor.


There are two widely used checks in testing electronic equipment, VISUAL and SIGNAL TRACING. The importance of the visual check should not be underestimated because many technicians find defects right away simply by looking for them. A visual check does not take long. In fact, you should be able to see the problem readily if it is the type of problem that can be seen. You should learn the following procedure. You could find yourself using it quite often. This procedure is not only for power supplies but also for any type of electronic equipment you may be troubleshooting. (Because diode and transistor testing was covered in chapter 1 and 2 of this module, it will not be discussed at this time. If you have problems in this area, refer to chapter 1 for diodes or chapter 2 for transistors.)

  • BEFORE YOU ENERGIZE THE EQUIPMENT, LOOK FOR:  SHORTS - Any terminal or connection that is close to the chassis or to any other terminal should be examined for the possibility of a short. A short in any part of the power supply can cause considerable damage. Look for and remove any stray drops of solder, bits of wire, nuts, or screws. It sometimes helps to shake the chassis and listen for any tell-tale rattles. Remember to correct any problem that may cause a short circuit; if it is not causing trouble now, it may cause problems in the future.

DISCOLORED OR LEAKING TRANSFORMER - This is a sure sign that there is a short somewhere. Locate it. If the equipment has a fuse, find out why the fuse did not blow; too large a size may have been installed, or there may be a short across the fuse holder.

LOOSE, BROKEN, OR CORRODED CONNECTION - Any connection that is not in good condition is a trouble spot. If it is not causing trouble now, it will probably cause problems in the future. Fix it.

DAMAGED RESISTORS OR CAPACITORS - A resistor that is discolored or charred has been subjected to an overload. An electrolytic capacitor will show a whitish deposit at the seal around the terminals. Check for a short whenever you notice a damaged resistor or a damaged capacitor. If there is no short, the trouble may be that the power supply has been overloaded in some way. Make a note to replace the part after signal tracing. There is no sense in risking a new part until the trouble has been located.


SMOKING PARTS - If any part smokes or if you hear any boiling or sputtering sounds, remove the power immediately. There is a short circuit somewhere that you have missed in your first inspection. Use any ohmmeter to check the part once again. Start in the neighborhood of the smoking part. SPARKING - Tap or shake the chassis. If you see or hear sparking, you have located a loose connection or a short. Check and repair.

If you locate and repair any of the defects listed under the visual check, make a note of what you find and what you do to correct it. It is quite probable you have found the trouble. However, a good technician takes nothing for granted. You must prove to yourself that the equipment is operating properly and that no other troubles exist.

If you find none of the defects listed under the visual check, go ahead with the signal tracing procedure. The trouble is probably of such a nature that it cannot be seen directly-it may only be seen using an oscilloscope.

Tracing the ac signal through the equipment is the most rapid and accurate method of locating a trouble that cannot be found by a visual check, and it also serves as check on any repairs you may have made. The idea is to trace the ac voltage from the transformer, to see it change to pulsating dc at the rectifier output, and then see the pulsations smoothed out by the filter. The point where the signal stops or becomes distorted is the place look for the trouble. If you have no dc output voltage, you should look for an open or a short in your signal tracing. If you have a low dc voltage, you should look for a defective part and keep your eyes open for the place where the signal becomes distorted.

Signal tracing is one method used to localize trouble in a circuit. This is done by observing the waveform at the input and output of each part of a circuit.

Let's review what each part of a good power supply does to a signal, as shown in figure 4-51. The ac voltage is brought in from the power line by means of the line cord. This voltage is connected to the primary of the transformer through the ON-OFF switch (S1). At the secondary winding of the transformer (points 1 and 2), the scope shows you a picture of the stepped-up voltage developed across each half of the secondary winding-the picture is that of a complete sine wave. Each of the two stepped-up voltages is connected between ground and one of the two anodes of the rectifier diodes. At the two rectifier anodes (points 4 and 5), there is still no change in the shape of the stepped-up voltage-the scope picture still shows a complete sine wave.

Figure 4-51. - Complete power supply (without regulator).

However, when you look at the scope pattern for point 6 (the voltage at the rectifier cathodes), you see the waveshape for pulsating direct current. This pulsating dc is fed through the first choke (L1) and filter capacitor (C1) which remove a large part of the ripple, or "hum," as shown by the waveform for point 7. Finally the dc voltage is fed through the second choke (L2) and filter capacitor (C2), which remove nearly all of the remaining ripple. (See the waveform for point 8, which shows almost no visible ripple.) You now have almost pure dc.

No matter what power supplies you use in the future, they all do the same thing - they change ac voltage into dc voltage.

Component Problems

The following paragraphs will give you an indication of troubles that occur with many different electronic circuit components.

TRANSFORMER AND CHOKE TROUBLES. - As you should know by now, the transformer and the choke are quite similar in construction. Likewise, the basic troubles that they may develop are comparable.

  • A winding can open.
  • Two or more turns of one winding can short together.
  • A winding can short to the casing, which is usually grounded.
  • Two windings(primary and secondary) can short together.
  • This trouble is possible, of course, only in transformers.

When you have decided which of these four possible troubles could be causing the symptoms, you have definite steps to take. If you surmise that there is an open winding, or windings shorted together or to ground, an ohmmeter continuity check will locate the trouble. If the turns of a winding are shorted together, you may not be able to detect a difference in winding resistance. Therefore, you need to connect a good transformer in the place of the old one and see if the symptoms are eliminated. Keep in mind that transformers are difficult to replace. Make absolutely sure that the trouble is not elsewhere in the circuit before you change the transformer.

Occasionally, the shorts will only appear when the operating voltages are applied to the transformer. In this case you might find the trouble with a megger-an instrument which applies a high voltage as it reads resistance.

CAPACITOR AND RESISTOR TROUBLES. - Just two things can happen to a capacitor:

  • It may open up, removing the capacitor completely from the circuit.
  • It may develop an internal short circuit. This means that it begins to pass current as though it were a resistor or a direct short.

You may check a capacitor suspected of being open by disconnecting it from the circuit and checking it with a capacitor analyzer. You can check a capacitor suspected of being leaky with an ohmmeter; if it reads less than 500 kilohms, it is more than likely bad. However, capacitor troubles are difficult to find since they may appear intermittently or only under operating voltages. Therefore, the best check for a faulty capacitor is to replace it with one known to be good. If this restores proper operation, the fault was in the capacitor.

Resistor troubles are the simplest. However, like the others, they must be considered.

  • A resistor can open.
  • A resistor can increase in value.
  • A resistor can decrease in value.

You already know how to check possible resistor troubles. Just use an ohmmeter after making sure no parallel circuit is connected across the resistor you wish to measure. When you know a parallel circuit is connected across the resistor or when you are in doubt disconnect one end of the resistor before measuring it. The ohmmeter check will usually be adequate. However, never forget that occasionally intermittent troubles may develop in resistors as well as in any other electronic parts.

Although you may observe problems that have not been covered specifically in this chapter, you should have gained enough knowledge to localize and repair any problem that may occur.

Q.41 What is the most important thing to remember when troubleshooting? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.42 What is the main reason for grounding the return side of the transformer to the chassis? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.43 What are two types of checks used in troubleshooting power supplies? answer.gif (214 bytes)

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