Investigation of Multiphase Coupled Inductor Topologies for Point-of-Load Applications


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Virginia Tech


As a scalable, high-efficiency, and simple converter topology, an interleaved, multiphase buck converter has been widely used to power microprocessors in information industry. As modern microprocessors continuously advance, the required current for high-performance microprocessors used in data center applications could be several hundreds of amperes with a current slew rate larger than 1000 A/μs. This poses great challenges for a high-efficiency, high-power-density voltage regulator design with a fast transient response. On the other hand, the design challenges of voltage regulators in mobile applications are also increasing due to the stringent requirement on the device thickness and the battery life. In a multiphase buck converter, discrete inductors are widely used as energy storage elements. However, this solution has a limited transient response with a large size of magnetic components. To overcome these issues, coupled inductor is proposed to realize a small steady-state current ripple, a fast transient response, and a small inductor size at the same time. Although lots of studies have been conducted in the topic of the coupled inductor, there are still several challenges unsolved in this area. These challenges are addressed through a comprehensive study in this dissertation. First, a comprehensive analysis of different coupled inductor structures is crucial to identify the benefits and limitations of each inductor structure and provide design guidance under different application requirements. Based on the coupling mechanism, different coupled inductor structures are categorized as a direct-coupled inductor (DCL), an indirect-coupled inductor (ICL) or a hybrid-coupled inductor (HCL) in this work. The performance of these three types of coupled inductors is analyzed in detail through the equivalent inductance analysis and the magnetic flux analysis. For the applications that require a small phase number, a DCL can achieve the smallest inductor size with a given inductance requirement. As the phase number increases, it is beneficial to use an ICL and an HCL due to their symmetrical, simple, and scalable inductor structures. As compared to an ICL, an HCL can achieve a smaller inductor size due to the flux-cancellation effect. The difference between a DCL, an ICL and an HCL are revealed quantitively with several design examples through this study. Second, the steady-state inductance (Lss) and the transient inductance (Ltr) are two key design parameters for coupled inductors. A large Lss and a small Ltr are preferred from the circuit performance point of view. However, there is a design conflict in an ICL and an HCL under the inductor size constraint, where reducing Ltr also results in a smaller Lss. A variable coupling coefficient concept is proposed to overcome this issue. With the same Lss, the proposed method can achieve a smaller Ltr during load transients as compared with the conventional method. This concept is realized by applying a nonlinear inductor in the additional winding loop with the current in this loop as the control source. Compared with the conventional structure, the proposed structure can achieve a great output voltage spike reduction and output capacitance reduction. Third, although an ICL and an HCL are promising candidates for multiphase coupled inductors, an extra inductor is required in the additional winding loop to adjust the coupling coefficient. This additional inductor occupies extra space. To shrink the total inductor size, several improved magnetic core structures are proposed to achieve the controllable coupling through the magnetic integration for an ICL and an HCL. Furthermore, the thickness of the core plate can be significantly reduced by the improved core structure for an HCL. Overall, it is demonstrated that the inductor footprint is greatly reduced by the proposed core structure, as compared with the conventional solution. Lastly, a novel PCB-embedded coupled inductor structure is proposed for a 20MHz integrated voltage regulator (IVR) for mobile applications. To achieve a small inductor footprint and a low profile, the inductor structure with a lateral flux pattern and direct coupling is adopted. Compared with the state-of-the-art solution, the proposed structure can adjust the coupling in a simple core structure by changing the inductor winding pattern. The proposed structure integrates multiple inductors into one magnetic core and is embedded into PCB with a total thickness of 0.54 mm. In contrast to prior arts, the proposed inductor structure features a large inductance density and quality factor with a much smaller DC resistance (DCR), thus is seen as a promising candidate for IVR applications.



Multiphase coupled inductor, fast transient response, magnetic integration, nonlinear inductor, multiphase buck converter, point-of-load application