In another discord moment, someone was asking about the difference between electrolytic capacitors and multi-layer ceramic capacitors. That, plus some desire to re-rate the moteus, inspired me to do another sweep and measure the DC bus voltage ripple for various power levels. I captured this plot with a 24V power supply, with a 5008 motor with 0.061 ohm of winding resistance or so, and each current being applied for 300ms. The voltage ripple is peak to peak measured at the power connector.
At the peak power I tested of around 740W, the phase current was 114A. At that level, the motor coil was getting hot much faster than the FETs on the moteus, which implies I need even more capacitance to take advantage of the full current capability of the FETs on the board. Also, the voltage ripple at the peak power I tested was higher than some applications could support.
It seems that I’m learning much about PCB design the very hard way. Back last year I wrote up my discovery of MLCC bias derating. Now I’ll share some of my experiences with MLCC cracking on the first production moteus controllers.
When I was first putting the production moteus controllers through their test and programming sequence, I observed a failure mode that I had yet to have observe in my career (which admittedly doesn’t include much board manufacturing). When applying voltage, I got a spark and puff of magic smoke from near one of the DC link capacitors on the left hand side. In the first batch of 40 I programmed, a full 20% failed in this way, some at 24V, and a few more at a 38V test. I initially thought the problem might have been an etching issue resulting in voltage breakdown between a via and an internal ground plane, but after examining the results under the microscope and conferring with MacroFab determined the most likely cause was cracking of the MLCCs during PCB depanelization.
Here’s a video describing the problem and potential solutions in way more detail than I’ll go into:
Needless to say, I hadn’t managed to see this failure in the 100 or so previous moteus controllers I’ve built, or I would have figured this out and resolved it!
For this first round of production controllers, I went and replaced every single capacitor near the edge of the board with a TDK variant that has internal soft termination, then tested them all at max voltage and a little beyond. Future revisions will use that variant of capacitor everywhere, as well as relocating the capacitors to reduce the mechanical stress they experience during manufacturing, handling, and installation.