An SCR, or silicon-controlled rectifier, is a type of semiconductor device that is commonly used in electronic circuits for switching and controlling electrical power. It is a three-layer, four-layer, or six-layer device that is made up of a P-type semiconductor material, an N-type semiconductor material, and a thin layer of silicon dioxide. The SCR works by controlling the flow of electrical current through the device, allowing it to be turned on or off as needed. In this article, we will explore the working principle of SCR and how it is used in various electronic applications.
How Does an SCR (Silicon-Controlled Rectifier) Work?
SCR (Silicon controlled rectifier) is also known as a thyristor. It is a 4-layer, 3-junction, bistable (ON and OFF) semiconductor switch.
The terminal to the outer p-layer is the anode, the terminal to the outer n-layer is the cathode and the terminal to the inner p-layer is the gate as shown in the schematic diagram and the symbolic representation.
The anode is connected to a heat sink base providing a rigid platform for the SCR. (silicon-controlled rectifier) The rating of the SCR has very much improved since its introduction in 1967 and now SCRs voltage rating of 10 kV and an RMS current rating of 3500 A with a switching speed of 1 microsecond corresponding to a power-handling capacity of 30 MW are available. A device of such a high rating can be switched on by a low voltage supply of about 1 A and 10 W which gives us an idea of the tremendous power amplification of this device (3 x 10⁶). Because of its compactness, high reliability, and low loss, the SCR has almost replaced the earlier power switching devices—thyratron and magnetic amplifier. The below figure shows the static v-i characteristic of the SCR which is similar to that of the diode in the reverse direction.
The forward characteristic is the same up to the turn-on (or breakdown) voltage (VBD) at which avalanche multiplication starts and the current begins to rise rapidly to a value determined by the supply voltage and the external impedance. The SCR latches on and this is the conducting mode (state). The SCR stays in this mode till the forward current is brought below the holding current level (a few milliamperes) and at this point, it reverts to the forward blocking state (J1 and J3 forward biased and J2 reverse biased). By increasing the gate or trigger current, both the forward break-down voltage and the holding current can be reduced. Thus, the SCR can be made to fire, i.e., to conduct at a specified forward voltage, by controlling the gate current. The ideal characteristic of the SCR is shown below figure.
The SCR has three operating modes:
- Forward blocking mode (J1 and J3 forward biased and J2 reverse biased). This is the off-state.
- Forward conducting mode: the on-state.
- Reverse blocking mode (J1 and J3 reverse biased and J2 forward-biased)—this is also the off-state.
When forward biased the SCR can be turned on in any of the following three ways:
1-When a positive trigger pulse is applied to the gate, the SCR switches rapidly to the conducting mode, after a brief delay. The total turn-on time which comprises delay and rise time is of the order of 0.2 and 0.1 microseconds and is dependent upon the character of the trigger pulse.
2-The SCR continues to conduct after the trigger pulse has ceased provided the thyristor current has become more than the latching current which is slightly more than the holding current.
3-The SCR can also be turned on by increasing the forward voltage beyond the forward breakdown voltage VBD. An SCR may turn on (without any gate pulse) if the forward voltage is applied suddenly. This is called a dv/dt turn on and it may result in improper operation of the circuit. A simple R-C snubber is normally used to limit the dv/dt of the applied forward voltage.
4-If the current in a thyristor rises at a too high rate, that is, high di/dt, the device might be destroyed. Some inductance, therefore, must be inserted in series to keep di/dt below a safe limit.
The gate control method, i.e., applying a positive gate signal to the forward-biased SCR is an efficient and simple method of turning on the SCR and is commonly applied. Using gate control, the device can be triggered either by a dc gate signal or by a pulsed-gate signal. The total turn-on time depends on the anode circuit parameters, the gate signal amplitude, and its rise time.
A conducting SCR can be switched off only by reducing its conduction current below the holding current (a few mA) and being reverse-biased (i.e., the cathode positive with respect to the anode) for a minimum turn-off time (10–100 microseconds). Also, the rate of rising of the anode voltage after turn-off must be limited, otherwise, the device may start conducting again.
An important consideration in the use of SCRs in motor control is how turn-off or commutation is achieved and the associated commutation circuitry—its complexity, cost, and weight. In ac circuits, the current goes through a natural zero value causing the device to be automatically turned off. This is known as natural or line commutation.
Here the SCR has to be triggered synchronously with or without delay with the zero crossing of the voltage across it whenever it is positively biased. In a dc circuit application, there is no natural current zero, the forward current through the SCR can be reduced by shunting it with a low impedance path or by applying a reverse voltage across it forcing the forward current to zero value—this is known as forced commutation.
An SCR gets fired spuriously by an excessive rate of rising (dv/dt) of the anode voltage. System transient voltages of a spike waveform have to be suppressed by input filters. The necessary protective features are (i) temperature limitation to avoid thermal run-away, (ii) protection against overcurrent (e.g., caused by a short circuit), and (iii) suppression of impulsive transient voltages and currents.
Since the introduction of SCRs, their power and voltage ratings and their characteristics have considerably improved. Further, several variations of thyristors such as gate-assisted turnoff thyristors (GATT), asymmetrical silicon-controlled rectifier (ASCR), and reverse conducting thyristors (RCT) are used in certain applications.