SMPS Design 101: Essential Tips for Efficient Power Supplies

When it comes to power supplies, the quest for efficiency and reliability is never-ending. This brings us to the fascinating world of SMPS design – a field combining power electronics, engineering, and a bit of magic, don’t you think? SMPS, or Switch Mode Power Supplies, are at the heart of powering our electronic devices, from your laptop charger to complex industrial equipment. In this blog, we’re going to dive into the essentials of SMPS design, ensuring that you, my dear reader, get a clear picture of how to design power supplies that are both efficient and effective.

Fundamental Principles of SMPS Design

Key Components of an SMPS

Let’s dissect an SMPS to understand its anatomy. At its heart, an SMPS comprises several crucial components:

  • Input Supply: This can be alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC), serving as the primary source of power.

  • Rectifier (for AC input): Converts AC to DC, if the input supply is AC.

  • Filter Capacitor: Smoothens the rectified voltage, reducing ripples for stable DC.

  • Switching Element (usually a MOSFET): Rapidly switches the input supply, controlling the energy flow.

  • Inductor and/or Transformer: Stores and transfers energy; the transformer isolates and steps up/down the voltage in isolated designs.

  • Output Capacitor: Further filters the output from the inductor, ensuring a steady DC output.

  • Control Circuit (often a PWM Controller): Manages the switching element, dictating the duty cycle for desired output.

How SMPS Works?

The working principle of an SMPS (Switch Mode Power Supply) is a fascinating interplay of various components and electrical phenomena. Initially, if the input is AC, it is rectified to DC. Then, the core process begins with a switching element, often a MOSFET, that rapidly toggles the input power on and off. This switching is fast, happening thousands or even millions of times per second. The frequency of this switching is crucial as it determines the size of the components like inductors and capacitors, with higher frequencies allowing smaller sizes.

The transformative aspect of a Switch Mode Power Supply (SMPS) lies in the meticulous management of switched power. During the “on” phase of the switch, energy is either accumulated in an inductor or conveyed through a transformer, contingent upon the specific design of the SMPS. This energy accumulation is transient, merely a brief interlude. As soon as the switch is deactivated, the stored energy from the previous cycle is promptly discharged to the output load.

At this juncture, the concept of duty cycle becomes paramount. The duty cycle is defined as the ratio of the switch’s active time to the total duration of the cycle. Through precise modulation of this duty cycle, the SMPS adeptly governs the quantum of energy transferred in each cycle, thereby effectively regulating the output voltage.

Subsequently, this output undergoes a process of smoothing, typically executed by capacitors, to ensure the delivery of a consistent DC output. Overseeing this entire process is a control circuit, often employing Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). This technique dynamically adjusts the duty cycle in response to feedback received from the output. Such a feedback mechanism is instrumental in maintaining the stability of the output voltage, regardless of fluctuations in the input voltage or alterations in the load. This attribute underscores the high efficiency and adaptability of SMPS, rendering it an indispensable power supply solution in a myriad of applications.

Design Criteria for Efficient SMPS

The engineering of a proficient Switch Mode Power Supply (SMPS) represents a sophisticated amalgamation of technical precision and creative ingenuity. It demands unwavering compliance with established norms and industry best practices. The overarching goal is to achieve unparalleled efficiency—frequently surpassing 90% in state-of-the-art models—while simultaneously guaranteeing unyielding reliability, a compact footprint, and fiscal feasibility. Let’s delve into the detailed specifications:

  • Component Selection: In the domain of SMPS engineering, the astute selection of components holds paramount importance. Consider, for instance, switching regulators, where MOSFETs and diodes are expected to exhibit minimal on-resistance and swift switching proficiencies. Lower on-resistance significantly reduces conduction losses, and rapid switching capabilities truncate transition losses. Optimal MOSFETs are characterized by non-resistance values as minuscule as a few milliohms, coupled with switching speeds in the nanosecond range.

  • Thermal Management: Efficient thermal regulation is indispensable. Exemplary thermal design ensures that components operate within their designated thermal parameters, thus prolonging their functional lifespan and sustaining efficiency. This includes employing heat sinks, thermal interface materials, and an intricately orchestrated Printed Circuit Board (PCB) layout to enhance heat dissipation.

  • Minimizing EMI (Electromagnetic Interference): Rigorous compliance with EMI regulatory standards, such as the FCC guidelines in the United States or the equivalent CE standards in Europe, is imperative. Techniques including effective grounding, the use of shielded transformers, and the incorporation of EMI filters are employed to mitigate noise emissions.

  • Control Strategy Optimization: The selection of an apt control strategy, be it Voltage Mode Control (VMC) or Current Mode Control (CMC), significantly affects the SMPS’s performance. For instance, Current Mode Control provides enhanced responsiveness to load changes and inherent over-current protection, albeit at the cost of increased design intricacy.

  • Feedback Loop and Stability: An expertly crafted feedback loop is crucial for maintaining the output voltage or current within strict boundaries under variable load conditions. Stability is typically achieved through sophisticated compensator designs, wherein parameters like phase margin and gain are meticulously calibrated. A phase margin in the vicinity of 45° to 60° is often targeted, striking an equilibrium between stability and response agility.

  • Power Density and Size Reduction: Technological advancements have made the enhancement of power density—a metric of power delivered per unit volume—a critical factor in SMPS design. Utilizing high-frequency switching (beyond 1 MHz) allows for the incorporation of smaller magnetic components, thereby reducing the overall dimensions of the power supply.

  • Energy Efficiency Standards Compliance: Conforming to international energy efficiency standards, such as Energy Star or the European Union’s ErP Directive, is not only ecologically sound but also a market necessity. For example, Energy Star criteria may require that external power supplies maintain an efficiency level of at least 87% for a Level VI rating, dependent upon the power output classification.

Type of SMPS

In the realm of SMPS (Switch Mode Power Supply) technologies, there are primarily two categories: non-isolated and isolated, each serving different types of applications and adhering to various design topologies.

Non-Isolated vs. Isolated SMPS

Non-isolated SMPS architectures, exemplified by buck, boost, and buck-boost converters, are distinguished by an uninterrupted electrical connection between their input and output circuits. Predominantly utilized in applications such as LED drivers and IoT devices, these configurations are lauded for their high efficiency and compact construction. Nonetheless, they typically rely on an unregulated DC voltage source, where the inductor’s voltage and current parameters directly impact the output characteristics. Despite their high efficiency, non-isolated SMPS are hampered by certain drawbacks, most notably a deficiency in safety measures relative to their isolated counterparts, as they lack galvanic isolation between the high-voltage input and low-voltage output.

Conversely, isolated SMPS leverage transformers to achieve an absolute segregation of input and output domains, thereby enhancing safety and diminishing electromagnetic interference—a pivotal attribute for applications in medical equipment and sensitive electronic apparatuses. This category encompasses forward converters, flyback converters, and other specialized topologies adept at managing high-voltage inputs while delivering consistent voltage outputs. The inclusion of isolation not only allows for versatility in output polarity but also significantly mitigates the risk of electrical shock.

AC to DC, DC to DC, and Other Variants

SMPS can be further classified based on their input and output characteristics. AC to DC converters, a prevalent variant of SMPS, are extensively employed in standard power sources like power adapters, adeptly converting high-voltage AC into a lower-voltage DC output. These systems often stand in contrast to linear regulated power supplies, which, though they excel in delivering impeccable voltage regulation and minimal noise, fall short in efficiency compared to SMPS.

DC to DC converters are indispensable in environments that necessitate the transformation of one DC voltage level to another, thereby serving the majority of electronic DC loads. These converters consistently maintain output voltage, even amidst fluctuations in input voltage, utilizing mechanisms such as inductor current discharge and voltage feedback. Their essential role spans a wide range of applications, from automotive systems to portable electronics, where they proficiently regulate power from batteries or alternative DC sources.

In summary, the selection of the optimal SMPS type—be it isolated or non-isolated, AC to DC, or DC to DC power—is contingent upon a myriad of factors including efficiency requirements, safety standards, spatial limitations, and the specific demands of the application. A thorough comprehension of these distinctions and the intricacies of various SMPS topologies, including their disadvantages, is indispensable for engineers and designers in devising and refining power solutions for a diverse spectrum of electronic devices.

Design SMPS Circuit

Let’s explore the design and working principles of two common types of SMPS (Switch Mode Power Supplies): the Buck Converter and the Flyback Converter. These examples illustrate the diversity in SMPS designs, catering to different power requirements and applications.

Buck Converter (Step-Down Converter)


  • Primary Components: A typical Buck Converter design includes a MOSFET (as the switch), a diode, an inductor, and output capacitors.

  • Control Circuit: It often employs Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) via a controller IC to regulate the duty cycle of the MOSFET.

  • Input/Output: Designed for applications where the output voltage needs to be lower than the input voltage.

Working Principle:

  • When the MOSFET is turned on, current flows through the inductor, storing energy in its magnetic field. During this phase, the diode is reverse-biased and blocks current.

  • When the MOSFET is off, the stored energy in the inductor’s magnetic field is released to the load, and the diode becomes forward-biased, allowing current to flow to the output.

  • The ratio of the on-time to the total switching period (duty cycle) determines the amount of energy transferred to the load, thus controlling the output voltage.

  • For instance, if the input voltage is 12V and a 50% duty cycle is maintained, the average output voltage will be around 6V.


  • Common in computer power supplies, automotive applications, and as voltage regulators in various electronic devices.

Flyback Converter


  • Primary Components: Includes a transformer, a switching transistor (like a MOSFET), a diode, and an output capacitor.

  • Control Circuit: Uses a controller IC for PWM control, similar to the Buck Converter, but additionally controls the transformer’s operation.

  • Input/Output: Can be used for both step-up and step-down purposes, and provides galvanic isolation between input and output.

Working Principle:

  • In the ‘on’ phase, the switch (MOSFET) is closed, allowing current to flow through the primary winding of the transformer, storing energy in its magnetic field while the secondary winding is blocked by the diode.

  • In the ‘off’ phase, the switch opens. The energy stored in the transformer’s magnetic field is transferred to the secondary winding and then to the load, with the diode now conducting.

  • The transformer’s turn ratio and the duty cycle control the output voltage and provide isolation. For example, a turn ratio of 1:2 in the transformer can step up a 12V input to a 24V output.


  • Widely used in applications requiring isolation and in scenarios where the voltage needs to be stepped up or down significantly, like in chargers, adapters, and power supplies for consumer electronics.

Both the Buck and Flyback converters showcase the adaptability of SMPS designs to meet specific power needs, from simple voltage step-down requirements to more complex scenarios needing voltage transformation and isolation.

Troubleshooting and Maintenance of SMPS

Problem Category
Specific Problem
Noise and EMI
Electrical or magnetic interference affecting SMPS performance
– Use proper shielding and grounding
– Employ EMI filters and ferrite beads
– Optimize PCB layout
– Ensure switching frequency avoids sensitive bands
Excessive power dissipation, poor thermal management
– Use adequately rated components with low on-resistance
– Implement efficient heat sinks and thermal pads
– Ensure good ventilation
– Optimize switching frequencies
Component Failure
Failure of capacitors, MOSFETs, diodes, or inductors
– Choose high-quality, reliable components
– Design with safety margin in component ratings
– Regularly inspect and replace worn components
– Implement protection circuits
Inadequate Output Voltage or Ripple
Unstable output voltage or excessive ripple
– Verify and optimize the feedback loop
– Use high-quality capacitors for filtering
– Ensure proper functioning of control circuit
– Replace degraded or malfunctioning components
Start-Up Issues
Failure to start due to insufficient current, faulty components
– Ensure adequate start-up current
– Check for short circuits or faulty components
– Verify under-voltage lockout circuit operation
Load Regulation Issues
Poor load regulation
– Meticulously calibrate the feedback network
– Employ high-grade components for the power stage
– Inspect for soldering flaws and PCB anomalies
This table offers a detailed analysis of common issues encountered in Switched-Mode Power Supplies (SMPS) and presents effective strategies for maintaining optimal performance and reliability.


Embarking on SMPS design is an exciting journey. It’s a field where innovation meets practicality. Remember, every component counts, and understanding the basics is just the beginning. Happy designing, and may your power supplies be ever efficient and reliable!

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