lunes, 14 de junio de 2010

Voltage-to-current signal conversion

In instrumentation circuitry, DC signals are often used as analog representations of physical measurements such as temperature, pressure, flow, weight, and motion. Most commonly, DC current signals are used in preference to DC voltage signals, because current signals are exactly equal in magnitude throughout the series circuit loop carrying current from the source (measuring device) to the load (indicator, recorder, or controller), whereas voltage signals in a parallel circuit may vary from one end to the other due to resistive wire losses. Furthermore, current-sensing instruments typically have low impedances (while voltage-sensing instruments have high impedances), which gives current-sensing instruments greater electrical noise immunity.

In order to use current as an analog representation of a physical quantity, we have to have some way of generating a precise amount of current within the signal circuit. But how do we generate a precise current signal when we might not know the resistance of the loop? The answer is to use an amplifier designed to hold current to a prescribed value, applying as much or as little voltage as necessary to the load circuit to maintain that value. Such an amplifier performs the function of a current source. An op-amp with negative feedback is a perfect candidate for such a task:

The input voltage to this circuit is assumed to be coming from some type of physical transducer/amplifier arrangement, calibrated to produce 1 volt at 0 percent of physical measurement, and 5 volts at 100 percent of physical measurement. The standard analog current signal range is 4 mA to 20 mA, signifying 0% to 100% of measurement range, respectively. At 5 volts input, the 250 Ω (precision) resistor will have 5 volts applied across it, resulting in 20 mA of current in the large loop circuit (with Rload). It does not matter what resistance value Rload is, or how much wire resistance is present in that large loop, so long as the op-amp has a high enough power supply voltage to output the voltage necessary to get 20 mA flowing through Rload. The 250 Ω resistor establishes the relationship between input voltage and output current, in this case creating the equivalence of 1-5 V in / 4-20 mA out. If we were converting the 1-5 volt input signal to a 10-50 mA output signal (an older, obsolete instrumentation standard for industry), we'd use a 100 Ω precision resistor instead.
Another name for this circuit is transconductance amplifier. In electronics, transconductance is the mathematical ratio of current change divided by voltage change (ΔI / Δ V), and it is measured in the unit of Siemens, the same unit used to express conductance (the mathematical reciprocal of resistance: current/voltage). In this circuit, the transconductance ratio is fixed by the value of the 250 Ω resistor, giving a linear current-out/voltage-in relationship.
  • In industry, DC current signals are often used in preference to DC voltage signals as analog representations of physical quantities. Current in a series circuit is absolutely equal at all points in that circuit regardless of wiring resistance, whereas voltage in a parallel-connected circuit may vary from end to end because of wire resistance, making current-signaling more accurate from the "transmitting" to the "receiving" instrument.
  • Voltage signals are relatively easy to produce directly from transducer devices, whereas accurate current signals are not. Op-amps can be used to "convert" a voltage signal into a current signal quite easily. In this mode, the op-amp will output whatever voltage is necessary to maintain current through the signaling circuit at the proper value.

Averager and summer circuits

If we take three equal resistors and connect one end of each to a common point, then apply three input voltages (one to each of the resistors' free ends), the voltage seen at the common point will be the mathematical average of the three. This circuit is really nothing more than a practical application of Millman's Theorem: This circuit is commonly known as a passive averager, because it generates an average voltage with non-amplifying components. Passive simply means that it is an unamplified circuit. The large equation to the right of the averager circuit comes from Millman's Theorem, which describes the voltage produced by multiple voltage sources connected together through individual resistances. Since the three resistors in the averager circuit are equal to each other, we can simplify Millman's formula by writing R1, R2, and R3 simply as R (one, equal resistance instead of three individual resistances): If we take a passive averager and use it to connect three input voltages into an op-amp amplifier circuit with a gain of 3, we can turn this averaging function into an addition function. The result is called a noninverting summer circuit: With a voltage divider composed of a 2 kΩ / 1 kΩ combination, the noninverting amplifier circuit will have a voltage gain of 3. By taking the voltage from the passive averager, which is the sum of V1, V2, and V3 divided by 3, and multiplying that average by 3, we arrive at an output voltage equal to the sum of V1, V2, and V3: Much the same can be done with an inverting op-amp amplifier, using a passive averager as part of the voltage divider feedback circuit. The result is called an inverting summer circuit: Now, with the right-hand sides of the three averaging resistors connected to the virtual ground point of the op-amp's inverting input, Millman's Theorem no longer directly applies as it did before. The voltage at the virtual ground is now held at 0 volts by the op-amp's negative feedback, whereas before it was free to float to the average value of V1, V2, and V3. However, with all resistor values equal to each other, the currents through each of the three resistors will be proportional to their respective input voltages. Since those three currents will add at the virtual ground node, the algebraic sum of those currents through the feedback resistor will produce a voltage at Vout equal to V1 + V2 + V3, except with reversed polarity. The reversal in polarity is what makes this circuit an inverting summer: Summer (adder) circuits are quite useful in analog computer design, just as multiplier and divider circuits would be. Again, it is the extremely high differential gain of the op-amp which allows us to build these useful circuits with a bare minimum of components.
  • A summer circuit is one that sums, or adds, multiple analog voltage signals together. There are two basic varieties of op-amp summer circuits: noninverting and inverting.

Building a differential amplifier

An op-amp with no feedback is already a differential amplifier, amplifying the voltage difference between the two inputs. However, its gain cannot be controlled, and it is generally too high to be of any practical use. So far, our application of negative feedback to op-amps has resulting in the practical loss of one of the inputs, the resulting amplifier only good for amplifying a single voltage signal input. With a little ingenuity, however, we can construct an op-amp circuit maintaining both voltage inputs, yet with a controlled gain set by external resistors. If all the resistor values are equal, this amplifier will have a differential voltage gain of 1. The analysis of this circuit is essentially the same as that of an inverting amplifier, except that the noninverting input (+) of the op-amp is at a voltage equal to a fraction of V2, rather than being connected directly to ground. As would stand to reason, V2 functions as the noninverting input and V1 functions as the inverting input of the final amplifier circuit. Therefore: If we wanted to provide a differential gain of anything other than 1, we would have to adjust the resistances in both upper and lower voltage dividers, necessitating multiple resistor changes and balancing between the two dividers for symmetrical operation. This is not always practical, for obvious reasons. Another limitation of this amplifier design is the fact that its input impedances are rather low compared to that of some other op-amp configurations, most notably the noninverting (single-ended input) amplifier. Each input voltage source has to drive current through a resistance, which constitutes far less impedance than the bare input of an op-amp alone. The solution to this problem, fortunately, is quite simple. All we need to do is "buffer" each input voltage signal through a voltage follower like this: Now the V1 and V2 input lines are connected straight to the inputs of two voltage-follower op-amps, giving very high impedance. The two op-amps on the left now handle the driving of current through the resistors instead of letting the input voltage sources (whatever they may be) do it. The increased complexity to our circuit is minimal for a substantial benefit.

The instrumentation amplifier

As suggested before, it is beneficial to be able to adjust the gain of the amplifier circuit without having to change more than one resistor value, as is necessary with the previous design of differential amplifier. The so-called instrumentation builds on the last version of differential amplifier to give us that capability: This intimidating circuit is constructed from a buffered differential amplifier stage with three new resistors linking the two buffer circuits together. Consider all resistors to be of equal value except for Rgain. The negative feedback of the upper-left op-amp causes the voltage at point 1 (top of Rgain) to be equal to V1. Likewise, the voltage at point 2 (bottom of Rgain) is held to a value equal to V2. This establishes a voltage drop across Rgain equal to the voltage difference between V1 and V2. That voltage drop causes a current through Rgain, and since the feedback loops of the two input op-amps draw no current, that same amount of current through Rgain must be going through the two "R" resistors above and below it. This produces a voltage drop between points 3 and 4 equal to: The regular differential amplifier on the right-hand side of the circuit then takes this voltage drop between points 3 and 4, and amplifies it by a gain of 1 (assuming again that all "R" resistors are of equal value). Though this looks like a cumbersome way to build a differential amplifier, it has the distinct advantages of possessing extremely high input impedances on the V1 and V2 inputs (because they connect straight into the noninverting inputs of their respective op-amps), and adjustable gain that can be set by a single resistor. Manipulating the above formula a bit, we have a general expression for overall voltage gain in the instrumentation amplifier: Though it may not be obvious by looking at the schematic, we can change the differential gain of the instrumentation amplifier simply by changing the value of one resistor: Rgain. Yes, we could still change the overall gain by changing the values of some of the other resistors, but this would necessitate balanced resistor value changes for the circuit to remain symmetrical. Please note that the lowest gain possible with the above circuit is obtained with Rgain completely open (infinite resistance), and that gain value is 1.
  • An instrumentation amplifier is a differential op-amp circuit providing high input impedances with ease of gain adjustment through the variation of a single resistor.

Differentiator and integrator circuits

By introducing electrical reactance into the feedback loops of op-amp amplifier circuits, we can cause the output to respond to changes in the input voltage over time. Drawing their names from their respective calculus functions, the integrator produces a voltage output proportional to the product (multiplication) of the input voltage and time; and the differentiator (not to be confused with differential) produces a voltage output proportional to the input voltage's rate of change. Capacitance can be defined as the measure of a capacitor's opposition to changes in voltage. The greater the capacitance, the more the opposition. Capacitors oppose voltage change by creating current in the circuit: that is, they either charge or discharge in response to a change in applied voltage. So, the more capacitance a capacitor has, the greater its charge or discharge current will be for any given rate of voltage change across it. The equation for this is quite simple: The dv/dt fraction is a calculus expression representing the rate of voltage change over time. If the DC supply in the above circuit were steadily increased from a voltage of 15 volts to a voltage of 16 volts over a time span of 1 hour, the current through the capacitor would most likely be very small, because of the very low rate of voltage change (dv/dt = 1 volt / 3600 seconds). However, if we steadily increased the DC supply from 15 volts to 16 volts over a shorter time span of 1 second, the rate of voltage change would be much higher, and thus the charging current would be much higher (3600 times higher, to be exact). Same amount of change in voltage, but vastly different rates of change, resulting in vastly different amounts of current in the circuit. To put some definite numbers to this formula, if the voltage across a 47 µF capacitor was changing at a linear rate of 3 volts per second, the current "through" the capacitor would be (47 µF)(3 V/s) = 141 µA. We can build an op-amp circuit which measures change in voltage by measuring current through a capacitor, and outputs a voltage proportional to that current: The right-hand side of the capacitor is held to a voltage of 0 volts, due to the "virtual ground" effect. Therefore, current "through" the capacitor is solely due to change in the input voltage. A steady input voltage won't cause a current through C, but a changing input voltage will. Capacitor current moves through the feedback resistor, producing a drop across it, which is the same as the output voltage. A linear, positive rate of input voltage change will result in a steady negative voltage at the output of the op-amp. Conversely, a linear, negative rate of input voltage change will result in a steady positive voltage at the output of the op-amp. This polarity inversion from input to output is due to the fact that the input signal is being sent (essentially) to the inverting input of the op-amp, so it acts like the inverting amplifier mentioned previously. The faster the rate of voltage change at the input (either positive or negative), the greater the voltage at the output. The formula for determining voltage output for the differentiator is as follows: Applications for this, besides representing the derivative calculus function inside of an analog computer, include rate-of-change indicators for process instrumentation. One such rate-of-change signal application might be for monitoring (or controlling) the rate of temperature change in a furnace, where too high or too low of a temperature rise rate could be detrimental. The DC voltage produced by the differentiator circuit could be used to drive a comparator, which would signal an alarm or activate a control if the rate of change exceeded a pre-set level. In process control, the derivative function is used to make control decisions for maintaining a process at setpoint, by monitoring the rate of process change over time and taking action to prevent excessive rates of change, which can lead to an unstable condition. Analog electronic controllers use variations of this circuitry to perform the derivative function. On the other hand, there are applications where we need precisely the opposite function, called integration in calculus. Here, the op-amp circuit would generate an output voltage proportional to the magnitude and duration that an input voltage signal has deviated from 0 volts. Stated differently, a constant input signal would generate a certain rate of change in the output voltage: differentiation in reverse. To do this, all we have to do is swap the capacitor and resistor in the previous circuit: As before, the negative feedback of the op-amp ensures that the inverting input will be held at 0 volts (the virtual ground). If the input voltage is exactly 0 volts, there will be no current through the resistor, therefore no charging of the capacitor, and therefore the output voltage will not change. We cannot guarantee what voltage will be at the output with respect to ground in this condition, but we can say that the output voltage will be constant. However, if we apply a constant, positive voltage to the input, the op-amp output will fall negative at a linear rate, in an attempt to produce the changing voltage across the capacitor necessary to maintain the current established by the voltage difference across the resistor. Conversely, a constant, negative voltage at the input results in a linear, rising (positive) voltage at the output. The output voltage rate-of-change will be proportional to the value of the input voltage. The formula for determining voltage output for the integrator is as follows: One application for this device would be to keep a "running total" of radiation exposure, or dosage, if the input voltage was a proportional signal supplied by an electronic radiation detector. Nuclear radiation can be just as damaging at low intensities for long periods of time as it is at high intensities for short periods of time. An integrator circuit would take both the intensity (input voltage magnitude) and time into account, generating an output voltage representing total radiation dosage. Another application would be to integrate a signal representing water flow, producing a signal representing total quantity of water that has passed by the flowmeter. This application of an integrator is sometimes called a totalizer in the industrial instrumentation trade.
  • A differentiator circuit produces a constant output voltage for a steadily changing input voltage.
  • An integrator circuit produces a steadily changing output voltage for a constant input voltage.
  • Both types of devices are easily constructed, using reactive components (usually capacitors rather than inductors) in the feedback part of the circuit.

Positive feedback

As we've seen, negative feedback is an incredibly useful principle when applied to operational amplifiers. It is what allows us to create all these practical circuits, being able to precisely set gains, rates, and other significant parameters with just a few changes of resistor values. Negative feedback makes all these circuits stable and self-correcting. The basic principle of negative feedback is that the output tends to drive in a direction that creates a condition of equilibrium (balance). In an op-amp circuit with no feedback, there is no corrective mechanism, and the output voltage will saturate with the tiniest amount of differential voltage applied between the inputs. The result is a comparator: With negative feedback (the output voltage "fed back" somehow to the inverting input), the circuit tends to prevent itself from driving the output to full saturation. Rather, the output voltage drives only as high or as low as needed to balance the two inputs' voltages: Whether the output is directly fed back to the inverting (-) input or coupled through a set of components, the effect is the same: the extremely high differential voltage gain of the op-amp will be "tamed" and the circuit will respond according to the dictates of the feedback "loop" connecting output to inverting input. Another type of feedback, namely positive feedback, also finds application in op-amp circuits. Unlike negative feedback, where the output voltage is "fed back" to the inverting (-) input, with positive feedback the output voltage is somehow routed back to the noninverting (+) input. In its simplest form, we could connect a straight piece of wire from output to noninverting input and see what happens: The inverting input remains disconnected from the feedback loop, and is free to receive an external voltage. Let's see what happens if we ground the inverting input: With the inverting input grounded (maintained at zero volts), the output voltage will be dictated by the magnitude and polarity of the voltage at the noninverting input. If that voltage happens to be positive, the op-amp will drive its output positive as well, feeding that positive voltage back to the noninverting input, which will result in full positive output saturation. On the other hand, if the voltage on the noninverting input happens to start out negative, the op-amp's output will drive in the negative direction, feeding back to the noninverting input and resulting in full negative saturation. What we have here is a circuit whose output is bistable: stable in one of two states (saturated positive or saturated negative). Once it has reached one of those saturated states, it will tend to remain in that state, unchanging. What is necessary to get it to switch states is a voltage placed upon the inverting (-) input of the same polarity, but of a slightly greater magnitude. For example, if our circuit is saturated at an output voltage of +12 volts, it will take an input voltage at the inverting input of at least +12 volts to get the output to change. When it changes, it will saturate fully negative. So, an op-amp with positive feedback tends to stay in whatever output state its already in. It "latches" between one of two states, saturated positive or saturated negative. Technically, this is known as hysteresis. Hysteresis can be a useful property for a comparator circuit to have. As we've seen before, comparators can be used to produce a square wave from any sort of ramping waveform (sine wave, triangle wave, sawtooth wave, etc.) input. If the incoming AC waveform is noise-free (that is, a "pure" waveform), a simple comparator will work just fine. However, if there exist any anomalies in the waveform such as harmonics or "spikes" which cause the voltage to rise and fall significantly within the timespan of a single cycle, a comparator's output might switch states unexpectedly: Any time there is a transition through the reference voltage level, no matter how tiny that transition may be, the output of the comparator will switch states, producing a square wave with "glitches." If we add a little positive feedback to the comparator circuit, we will introduce hysteresis into the output. This hysteresis will cause the output to remain in its current state unless the AC input voltage undergoes a major change in magnitude. What this feedback resistor creates is a dual-reference for the comparator circuit. The voltage applied to the noninverting (+) input as a reference which to compare with the incoming AC voltage changes depending on the value of the op-amp's output voltage. When the op-amp output is saturated positive, the reference voltage at the noninverting input will be more positive than before. Conversely, when the op-amp output is saturated negative, the reference voltage at the noninverting input will be more negative than before. The result is easier to understand on a graph: When the op-amp output is saturated positive, the upper reference voltage is in effect, and the output won't drop to a negative saturation level unless the AC input rises above that upper reference level. Conversely, when the op-amp output is saturated negative, the lower reference voltage is in effect, and the output won't rise to a positive saturation level unless the AC input drops below that lower reference level. The result is a clean square-wave output again, despite significant amounts of distortion in the AC input signal. In order for a "glitch" to cause the comparator to switch from one state to another, it would have to be at least as big (tall) as the difference between the upper and lower reference voltage levels, and at the right point in time to cross both those levels. Another application of positive feedback in op-amp circuits is in the construction of oscillator circuits. An oscillator is a device that produces an alternating (AC), or at least pulsing, output voltage. Technically, it is known as an astable device: having no stable output state (no equilibrium whatsoever). Oscillators are very useful devices, and they are easily made with just an op-amp and a few external components. When the output is saturated positive, the Vref will be positive, and the capacitor will charge up in a positive direction. When Vramp exceeds Vref by the tiniest margin, the output will saturate negative, and the capacitor will charge in the opposite direction (polarity). Oscillation occurs because the positive feedback is instantaneous and the negative feedback is delayed (by means of an RC time constant). The frequency of this oscillator may be adjusted by varying the size of any component.
  • Negative feedback creates a condition of equilibrium (balance). Positive feedback creates a condition of hysteresis (the tendency to "latch" in one of two extreme states).
  • An oscillator is a device producing an alternating or pulsing output voltage.

Practical considerations

Real operational have some imperfections compared to an "ideal" model. A real device deviates from a perfect difference amplifier. One minus one may not be zero. It may have have an offset like an analog meter which is not zeroed. The inputs may draw current. The characteristics may drift with age and temperature. Gain may be reduced at high frequencies, and phase may shift from input to output. These imperfection may cause no noticable errors in some applications, unacceptable errors in others. In some cases these errors may be compensated for. Sometimes a higher quality, higher cost device is required.

Common-mode gain

As stated before, an ideal differential amplifier only amplifies the voltage difference between its two inputs. If the two inputs of a differential amplifier were to be shorted together (thus ensuring zero potential difference between them), there should be no change in output voltage for any amount of voltage applied between those two shorted inputs and ground: Voltage that is common between either of the inputs and ground, as "Vcommon-mode" is in this case, is called common-mode voltage. As we vary this common voltage, the perfect differential amplifier's output voltage should hold absolutely steady (no change in output for any arbitrary change in common-mode input). This translates to a common-mode voltage gain of zero. The operational amplifier, being a differential amplifier with high differential gain, would ideally have zero common-mode gain as well. In real life, however, this is not easily attained. Thus, common-mode voltages will invariably have some effect on the op-amp's output voltage. The performance of a real op-amp in this regard is most commonly measured in terms of its differential voltage gain (how much it amplifies the difference between two input voltages) versus its common-mode voltage gain (how much it amplifies a common-mode voltage). The ratio of the former to the latter is called the common-mode rejection ratio, abbreviated as CMRR: An ideal op-amp, with zero common-mode gain would have an infinite CMRR. Real op-amps have high CMRRs, the ubiquitous 741 having something around 70 dB, which works out to a little over 3,000 in terms of a ratio. Because the common mode rejection ratio in a typical op-amp is so high, common-mode gain is usually not a great concern in circuits where the op-amp is being used with negative feedback. If the common-mode input voltage of an amplifier circuit were to suddenly change, thus producing a corresponding change in the output due to common-mode gain, that change in output would be quickly corrected as negative feedback and differential gain (being much greater than common-mode gain) worked to bring the system back to equilibrium. Sure enough, a change might be seen at the output, but it would be a lot smaller than what you might expect. A consideration to keep in mind, though, is common-mode gain in differential op-amp circuits such as instrumentation amplifiers. Outside of the op-amp's sealed package and extremely high differential gain, we may find common-mode gain introduced by an imbalance of resistor values. To demonstrate this, we'll run a SPICE analysis on an instrumentation amplifier with inputs shorted together (no differential voltage), imposing a common-mode voltage to see what happens. First, we'll run the analysis showing the output voltage of a perfectly balanced circuit. We should expect to see no change in output voltage as the common-mode voltage changes:
instrumentation amplifier   v1 1 0    rin1 1 0 9e12     rjump 1 4 1e-12   rin2 4 0 9e12     e1 3 0 1 2 999k   e2 6 0 4 5 999k   e3 9 0 8 7 999k   rload 9 0 10k     r1 2 3 10k        rgain 2 5 10k     r2 5 6 10k        r3 3 7 10k        r4 7 9 10k        r5 6 8 10k        r6 8 0 10k        .dc v1 0 10 1     .print dc v(9)    .end    
v1            v(9)              0.000E+00     0.000E+00  1.000E+00     1.355E-16  2.000E+00     2.710E-16  3.000E+00     0.000E+00   As you can see, the output voltage v(9)  4.000E+00     5.421E-16   hardly changes at all for a common-mode  5.000E+00     0.000E+00   input voltage (v1) that sweeps from 0  6.000E+00     0.000E+00   to 10 volts.  7.000E+00     0.000E+00  8.000E+00     1.084E-15  9.000E+00    -1.084E-15  1.000E+01     0.000E+00  
Aside from very small deviations (actually due to quirks of SPICE rather than real behavior of the circuit), the output remains stable where it should be: at 0 volts, with zero input voltage differential. However, let's introduce a resistor imbalance in the circuit, increasing the value of R5 from 10,000 Ω to 10,500 Ω, and see what happens (the netlist has been omitted for brevity -- the only thing altered is the value of R5):
v1           v(9)              0.000E+00     0.000E+00  1.000E+00    -2.439E-02  2.000E+00    -4.878E-02  3.000E+00    -7.317E-02   This time we see a significant variation  4.000E+00    -9.756E-02   (from 0 to 0.2439 volts) in output voltage  5.000E+00    -1.220E-01   as the common-mode input voltage sweeps   6.000E+00    -1.463E-01   from 0 to 10 volts as it did before.  7.000E+00    -1.707E-01  8.000E+00    -1.951E-01  9.000E+00    -2.195E-01  1.000E+01    -2.439E-01  
Our input voltage differential is still zero volts, yet the output voltage changes significantly as the common-mode voltage is changed. This is indicative of a common-mode gain, something we're trying to avoid. More than that, its a common-mode gain of our own making, having nothing to do with imperfections in the op-amps themselves. With a much-tempered differential gain (actually equal to 3 in this particular circuit) and no negative feedback outside the circuit, this common-mode gain will go unchecked in an instrument signal application. There is only one way to correct this common-mode gain, and that is to balance all the resistor values. When designing an instrumentation amplifier from discrete components (rather than purchasing one in an integrated package), it is wise to provide some means of making fine adjustments to at least one of the four resistors connected to the final op-amp to be able to "trim away" any such common-mode gain. Providing the means to "trim" the resistor network has additional benefits as well. Suppose that all resistor values are exactly as they should be, but a common-mode gain exists due to an imperfection in one of the op-amps. With the adjustment provision, the resistance could be trimmed to compensate for this unwanted gain. One quirk of some op-amp models is that of output latch-up, usually caused by the common-mode input voltage exceeding allowable limits. If the common-mode voltage falls outside of the manufacturer's specified limits, the output may suddenly "latch" in the high mode (saturate at full output voltage). In JFET-input operational amplifiers, latch-up may occur if the common-mode input voltage approaches too closely to the negative power supply rail voltage. On the TL082 op-amp, for example, this occurs when the common-mode input voltage comes within about 0.7 volts of the negative power supply rail voltage. Such a situation may easily occur in a single-supply circuit, where the negative power supply rail is ground (0 volts), and the input signal is free to swing to 0 volts. Latch-up may also be triggered by the common-mode input voltage exceeding power supply rail voltages, negative or positive. As a rule, you should never allow either input voltage to rise above the positive power supply rail voltage, or sink below the negative power supply rail voltage, even if the op-amp in question is protected against latch-up (as are the 741 and 1458 op-amp models). At the very least, the op-amp's behavior may become unpredictable. At worst, the kind of latch-up triggered by input voltages exceeding power supply voltages may be destructive to the op-amp. While this problem may seem easy to avoid, its possibility is more likely than you might think. Consider the case of an operational amplifier circuit during power-up. If the circuit receives full input signal voltage before its own power supply has had time enough to charge the filter capacitors, the common-mode input voltage may easily exceed the power supply rail voltages for a short time. If the op-amp receives signal voltage from a circuit supplied by a different power source, and its own power source fails, the signal voltage(s) may exceed the power supply rail voltages for an indefinite amount of time!

Offset voltage

Another practical concern for op-amp performance is voltage offset. That is, effect of having the output voltage something other than zero volts when the two input terminals are shorted together. Remember that operational amplifiers are differential amplifiers above all: they're supposed to amplify the difference in voltage between the two input connections and nothing more. When that input voltage difference is exactly zero volts, we would (ideally) expect to have exactly zero volts present on the output. However, in the real world this rarely happens. Even if the op-amp in question has zero common-mode gain (infinite CMRR), the output voltage may not be at zero when both inputs are shorted together. This deviation from zero is called offset. A perfect op-amp would output exactly zero volts with both its inputs shorted together and grounded. However, most op-amps off the shelf will drive their outputs to a saturated level, either negative or positive. In the example shown above, the output voltage is saturated at a value of positive 14.7 volts, just a bit less than +V (+15 volts) due to the positive saturation limit of this particular op-amp. Because the offset in this op-amp is driving the output to a completely saturated point, there's no way of telling how much voltage offset is present at the output. If the +V/-V split power supply was of a high enough voltage, who knows, maybe the output would be several hundred volts one way or the other due to the effects of offset! For this reason, offset voltage is usually expressed in terms of the equivalent amount of input voltage differential producing this effect. In other words, we imagine that the op-amp is perfect (no offset whatsoever), and a small voltage is being applied in series with one of the inputs to force the output voltage one way or the other away from zero. Being that op-amp differential gains are so high, the figure for "input offset voltage" doesn't have to be much to account for what we see with shorted inputs: Offset voltage will tend to introduce slight errors in any op-amp circuit. So how do we compensate for it? Unlike common-mode gain, there are usually provisions made by the manufacturer to trim the offset of a packaged op-amp. Usually, two extra terminals on the op-amp package are reserved for connecting an external "trim" potentiometer. These connection points are labeled offset null and are used in this general way: On single op-amps such as the 741 and 3130, the offset null connection points are pins 1 and 5 on the 8-pin DIP package. Other models of op-amp may have the offset null connections located on different pins, and/or require a slightly difference configuration of trim potentiometer connection. Some op-amps don't provide offset null pins at all! Consult the manufacturer's specifications for details.

Bias current

Inputs on an op-amp have extremely high input impedances. That is, the input currents entering or exiting an op-amp's two input signal connections are extremely small. For most purposes of op-amp circuit analysis, we treat them as though they don't exist at all. We analyze the circuit as though there was absolutely zero current entering or exiting the input connections. This idyllic picture, however, is not entirely true. Op-amps, especially those op-amps with bipolar transistor inputs, have to have some amount of current through their input connections in order for their internal circuits to be properly biased. These currents, logically, are called bias currents. Under certain conditions, op-amp bias currents may be problematic. The following circuit illustrates one of those problem conditions: At first glance, we see no apparent problems with this circuit. A thermocouple, generating a small voltage proportional to temperature (actually, a voltage proportional to the difference in temperature between the measurement junction and the "reference" junction formed when the alloy thermocouple wires connect with the copper wires leading to the op-amp) drives the op-amp either positive or negative. In other words, this is a kind of comparator circuit, comparing the temperature between the end thermocouple junction and the reference junction (near the op-amp). The problem is this: the wire loop formed by the thermocouple does not provide a path for both input bias currents, because both bias currents are trying to go the same way (either into the op-amp or out of it). In order for this circuit to work properly, we must ground one of the input wires, thus providing a path to (or from) ground for both currents: Not necessarily an obvious problem, but a very real one! Another way input bias currents may cause trouble is by dropping unwanted voltages across circuit resistances. Take this circuit for example: We expect a voltage follower circuit such as the one above to reproduce the input voltage precisely at the output. But what about the resistance in series with the input voltage source? If there is any bias current through the noninverting (+) input at all, it will drop some voltage across Rin, thus making the voltage at the noninverting input unequal to the actual Vin value. Bias currents are usually in the microamp range, so the voltage drop across Rin won't be very much, unless Rin is very large. One example of an application where the input resistance (Rin) would be very large is that of pH probe electrodes, where one electrode contains an ion-permeable glass barrier (a very poor conductor, with millions of Ω of resistance). If we were actually building an op-amp circuit for pH electrode voltage measurement, we'd probably want to use a FET or MOSFET (IGFET) input op-amp instead of one built with bipolar transistors (for less input bias current). But even then, what slight bias currents may remain can cause measurement errors to occur, so we have to find some way to mitigate them through good design. One way to do so is based on the assumption that the two input bias currents will be the same. In reality, they are often close to being the same, the difference between them referred to as the input offset current. If they are the same, then we should be able to cancel out the effects of input resistance voltage drop by inserting an equal amount of resistance in series with the other input, like this: With the additional resistance added to the circuit, the output voltage will be closer to Vin than before, even if there is some offset between the two input currents. For both inverting and noninverting amplifier circuits, the bias current compensating resistor is placed in series with the noninverting (+) input to compensate for bias current voltage drops in the divider network: In either case, the compensating resistor value is determined by calculating the parallel resistance value of R1 and R2. Why is the value equal to the parallel equivalent of R1 and R2? When using the Superposition Theorem to figure how much voltage drop will be produced by the inverting (-) input's bias current, we treat the bias current as though it were coming from a current source inside the op-amp and short-circuit all voltage sources (Vin and Vout). This gives two parallel paths for bias current (through R1 and through R2, both to ground). We want to duplicate the bias current's effect on the noninverting (+) input, so the resistor value we choose to insert in series with that input needs to be equal to R1 in parallel with R2. A related problem, occasionally experienced by students just learning to build operational amplifier circuits, is caused by a lack of a common ground connection to the power supply. It is imperative to proper op-amp function that some terminal of the DC power supply be common to the "ground" connection of the input signal(s). This provides a complete path for the bias currents, feedback current(s), and for the load (output) current. Take this circuit illustration, for instance, showing a properly grounded power supply: Here, arrows denote the path of electron flow through the power supply batteries, both for powering the op-amp's internal circuitry (the "potentiometer" inside of it that controls output voltage), and for powering the feedback loop of resistors R1 and R2. Suppose, however, that the ground connection for this "split" DC power supply were to be removed. The effect of doing this is profound: No electrons may flow in or out of the op-amp's output terminal, because the pathway to the power supply is a "dead end." Thus, no electrons flow through the ground connection to the left of R1, neither through the feedback loop. This effectively renders the op-amp useless: it can neither sustain current through the feedback loop, nor through a grounded load, since there is no connection from any point of the power supply to ground. The bias currents are also stopped, because they rely on a path to the power supply and back to the input source through ground. The following diagram shows the bias currents (only), as they go through the input terminals of the op-amp, through the base terminals of the input transistors, and eventually through the power supply terminal(s) and back to ground. Without a ground reference on the power supply, the bias currents will have no complete path for a circuit, and they will halt. Since bipolar junction transistors are current-controlled devices, this renders the input stage of the op-amp useless as well, as both input transistors will be forced into cutoff by the complete lack of base current.
  • Op-amp inputs usually conduct very small currents, called bias currents, needed to properly bias the first transistor amplifier stage internal to the op-amps' circuitry. Bias currents are small (in the microamp range), but large enough to cause problems in some applications.
  • Bias currents in both inputs must have paths to flow to either one of the power supply "rails" or to ground. It is not enough to just have a conductive path from one input to the other.
  • To cancel any offset voltages caused by bias current flowing through resistances, just add an equivalent resistance in series with the other op-amp input (called a compensating resistor). This corrective measure is based on the assumption that the two input bias currents will be equal.
  • Any inequality between bias currents in an op-amp constitutes what is called an input offset current.
  • It is essential for proper op-amp operation that there be a ground reference on some terminal of the power supply, to form complete paths for bias currents, feedback current(s), and load current.


Being semiconductor devices, op-amps are subject to slight changes in behavior with changes in operating temperature. Any changes in op-amp performance with temperature fall under the category of op-amp drift. Drift parameters can be specified for bias currents, offset voltage, and the like. Consult the manufacturer's data sheet for specifics on any particular op-amp. To minimize op-amp drift, we can select an op-amp made to have minimum drift, and/or we can do our best to keep the operating temperature as stable as possible. The latter action may involve providing some form of temperature control for the inside of the equipment housing the op-amp(s). This is not as strange as it may first seem. Laboratory-standard precision voltage reference generators, for example, are sometimes known to employ "ovens" for keeping their sensitive components (such as zener diodes) at constant temperatures. If extremely high accuracy is desired over the usual factors of cost and flexibility, this may be an option worth looking at.
  • Op-amps, being semiconductor devices, are susceptible to variations in temperature. Any variations in amplifier performance resulting from changes in temperature is known as drift. Drift is best minimized with environmental temperature control.

Frequency response

With their incredibly high differential voltage gains, op-amps are prime candidates for a phenomenon known as feedback oscillation. You've probably heard the equivalent audio effect when the volume (gain) on a public-address or other microphone amplifier system is turned too high: that high pitched squeal resulting from the sound waveform "feeding back" through the microphone to be amplified again. An op-amp circuit can manifest this same effect, with the feedback happening electrically rather than audibly. A case example of this is seen in the 3130 op-amp, if it is connected as a voltage follower with the bare minimum of wiring connections (the two inputs, output, and the power supply connections). The output of this op-amp will self-oscillate due to its high gain, no matter what the input voltage. To combat this, a small compensation capacitor must be connected to two specially-provided terminals on the op-amp. The capacitor provides a high-impedance path for negative feedback to occur within the op-amp's circuitry, thus decreasing the AC gain and inhibiting unwanted oscillations. If the op-amp is being used to amplify high-frequency signals, this compensation capacitor may not be needed, but it is absolutely essential for DC or low-frequency AC signal operation. Some op-amps, such as the model 741, have a compensation capacitor built in to minimize the need for external components. This improved simplicity is not without a cost: due to that capacitor's presence inside the op-amp, the negative feedback tends to get stronger as the operating frequency increases (that capacitor's reactance decreases with higher frequencies). As a result, the op-amp's differential voltage gain decreases as frequency goes up: it becomes a less effective amplifier at higher frequencies. Op-amp manufacturers will publish the frequency response curves for their products. Since a sufficiently high differential gain is absolutely essential to good feedback operation in op-amp circuits, the gain/frequency response of an op-amp effectively limits its "bandwidth" of operation. The circuit designer must take this into account if good performance is to be maintained over the required range of signal frequencies.
  • Due to capacitances within op-amps, their differential voltage gain tends to decrease as the input frequency increases. Frequency response curves for op-amps are available from the manufacturer.

Input to output phase shift

In order to illustrate the phase shift from input to output of an operational amplifier (op-amp), the OPA227 was tested in our lab. The OPA227 was constructed in a typical non-inverting configuration (Figure below). OPA227 Non-inverting stage The circuit configuration calls for a signal gain of ≅34 V/V or ≅50 dB. The input excitation at Vsrc was set to 10 mVp, and three frequencies of interest: 2.2 kHz, 22 kHz, and 220 MHz. The OPA227's open loop gain and phase curve vs. frequency is shown in Figure below. AV and Φ vs. Frequency plot To help predict the closed loop phase shift from input to output, we can use the open loop gain and phase curve. Since the circuit configuration calls for a closed loop gain, or 1/β, of ≅50 dB, the closed loop gain curve intersects the open loop gain curve at approximately 22 kHz. After this intersection, the closed loop gain curve rolls off at the typical 20 dB/decade for voltage feedback amplifiers, and follows the open loop gain curve. What is actually at work here is the negative feedback from the closed loop modifies the open loop response. Closing the loop with negative feedback establishes a closed loop pole at 22 kHz. Much like the dominant pole in the open loop phase curve, we will expect phase shift in the closed loop response. How much phase shift will we see? Since the new pole is now at 22 kHz, this is also the -3 dB point as the pole starts to roll off the closed loop again at 20 dB per decade as stated earlier. As with any pole in basic control theory, phase shift starts to occur one decade in frequency before the pole, and ends at 90o of phase shift one decade in frequency after the pole. So what does this predict for the closed loop response in our circuit? This will predict phase shift starting at 2.2 kHz, with 45o of phase shift at the -3 dB point of 22 kHz, and finally ending with 90o of phase shift at 220 kHz. The three Figures shown below are oscilloscope captures at the frequencies of interest for our OPA227 circuit. Figure below is set for 2.2 kHz, and no noticeable phase shift is present. Figure below is set for 220 kHz, and ≅45o of phase shift is recorded. Finally, Figure below is set for 220 MHz, and the expected ≅90o of phase shift is recorded. The scope plots were captured using a LeCroy 44x Wavesurfer. The final scope plot used a x1 probe with the trigger set to HF reject. OPA227 Av=50dB @ 2.2 kHz OPA227 Av=50dB @ 22 kHz OPA227 Av=50dB @ 220 kHz

Operational amplifier models

While mention of operational amplifiers typically provokes visions of semiconductor devices built as integrated circuits on a miniature silicon chip, the first op-amps were actually vacuum tube circuits. The first commercial, general purpose operational amplifier was manufactured by the George A. Philbrick Researches, Incorporated, in 1952. Designated the K2-W, it was built around two twin-triode tubes mounted in an assembly with an octal (8-pin) socket for easy installation and servicing in electronic equipment chassis of that era. The assembly looked something like this: The schematic diagram shows the two tubes, along with ten resistors and two capacitors, a fairly simple circuit design even by 1952 standards: In case you're unfamiliar with the operation of vacuum tubes, they operate similarly to N-channel depletion-type IGFET transistors: that is, they conduct more current when the control grid (the dashed line) is made more positive with respect to the cathode (the bent line near the bottom of the tube symbol), and conduct less current when the control grid is made less positive (or more negative) than the cathode. The twin triode tube on the left functions as a differential pair, converting the differential inputs (inverting and noninverting input voltage signals) into a single, amplified voltage signal which is then fed to the control grid of the left triode of the second triode pair through a voltage divider (1 MΩ -- 2.2 MΩ). That triode amplifies and inverts the output of the differential pair for a larger voltage gain, then the amplified signal is coupled to the second triode of the same dual-triode tube in a noninverting amplifier configuration for a larger current gain. The two neon "glow tubes" act as voltage regulators, similar to the behavior of semiconductor zener diodes, to provide a bias voltage in the coupling between the two single-ended amplifier triodes. With a dual-supply voltage of +300/-300 volts, this op-amp could only swing its output +/- 50 volts, which is very poor by today's standards. It had an open-loop voltage gain of 15,000 to 20,000, a slew rate of +/- 12 volts/µsecond, a maximum output current of 1 mA, a quiescent power consumption of over 3 watts (not including power for the tubes' filaments!), and cost about $24 in 1952 dollars. Better performance could have been attained using a more sophisticated circuit design, but only at the expense of greater power consumption, greater cost, and decreased reliability. With the advent of solid-state transistors, op-amps with far less quiescent power consumption and increased reliability became feasible, but many of the other performance parameters remained about the same. Take for instance Philbrick's model P55A, a general-purpose solid-state op-amp circa 1966. The P55A sported an open-loop gain of 40,000, a slew rate of 1.5 volt/µsecond and an output swing of +/- 11 volts (at a power supply voltage of +/- 15 volts), a maximum output current of 2.2 mA, and a cost of $49 (or about $21 for the "utility grade" version). The P55A, as well as other op-amps in Philbrick's lineup of the time, was of discrete-component construction, its constituent transistors, resistors, and capacitors housed in a solid "brick" resembling a large integrated circuit package. It isn't very difficult to build a crude operational amplifier using discrete components. A schematic of one such circuit is shown in Figure below. A simple operational amplifier made from discrete components. While its performance is rather dismal by modern standards, it demonstrates that complexity is not necessary to create a minimally functional op-amp. Transistors Q3 and Q4 form the heart of another differential pair circuit, the semiconductor equivalent of the first triode tube in the K2-W schematic. As it was in the vacuum tube circuit, the purpose of a differential pair is to amplify and convert a differential voltage between the two input terminals to a single-ended output voltage. With the advent of integrated-circuit (IC) technology, op-amp designs experienced a dramatic increase in performance, reliability, density, and economy. Between the years of 1964 and 1968, the Fairchild corporation introduced three models of IC op-amps: the 702, 709, and the still-popular 741. While the 741 is now considered outdated in terms of performance, it is still a favorite among hobbyists for its simplicity and fault tolerance (short-circuit protection on the output, for instance). Personal experience abusing many 741 op-amps has led me to the conclusion that it is a hard chip to kill . . . The internal schematic diagram for a model 741 op-amp is shown in Figure below. Schematic diagram of a model 741 op-amp. By integrated circuit standards, the 741 is a very simple device: an example of small-scale integration, or SSI technology. It would be no small matter to build this circuit using discrete components, so you can see the advantages of even the most primitive integrated circuit technology over discrete components where high parts counts are involved. For the hobbyist, student, or engineer desiring greater performance, there are literally hundreds of op-amp models to choose from. Many sell for less than a dollar apiece, even retail! Special-purpose instrumentation and radio-frequency (RF) op-amps may be quite a bit more expensive. In this section I will showcase several popular and affordable op-amps, comparing and contrasting their performance specifications. The venerable 741 is included as a "benchmark" for comparison, although it is, as I said before, considered an obsolete design. Publicado por: Geraldine F. Linares M. CRF

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