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What is a floating power supply output?

Blog Post created by StevenLee Employee on Aug 9, 2018

What is a floating power supply output?

First let me tell you that a floating power supply output is NOT what is shown below in Figure 1 (haha).

 


Now some background: "earth ground" is the voltage potential of the earth. To greatly reduce the risk of subjecting a person to an electrical shock, the outer covering (chassis) of most electrical devices is internally connected to a wire that is connected to earth ground. Most devices connect to earth ground through their power cord. The idea here is to ensure that all surfaces a person can touch are at the same voltage potential - earth ground.

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As long as that is true, the person can freely touch things without the risk of getting shocked due to two of the things he touches at the same time being at different voltage potentials, or one of the things being at a high voltage potential with respect to the earth. If the voltage difference is high enough, the person could be shocked.
Earth grounding the chassis also protects the user if there is an internal problem with an electrical device causing its chassis to inadvertently come in contact with an internal high voltage wire. Since the chassis is earth grounded, an internal short to the chassis is really a short to ground and will blow a fuse or trip a circuit breaker to protect the user instead of putting the chassis at the high voltage. If you touched a chassis that had a high voltage with respect to ground on it, your body completes the path to ground and you get shocked!

 

So to protect the user (and for some other reasons), the chassis of Agilent power supplies are grounded internally through the ground wire (the third wire) in the AC input line cord. Additionally, most if not all of our Agilent power supplies have isolated (floating) outputs. That means that neither the positive output terminal nor the negative output terminal is connected to earth (chassis) ground. See Figure 2.

 


Figure 3 shows an example of non-floating outputs with the negative output terminal grounded.
For floating DC power supplies, the voltage potential appears from the positive output terminal to the negative output terminal. There is no voltage potential (at least, none with any power behind it) from either the positive terminal to earth ground or from the negative output terminal to earth ground. A power supply with a floating output is more flexible since, if desired, either the positive or negative terminal (or neither) can be connected to earth ground. Some devices under test (DUT) have a DC input with either the positive or negative input terminal connected to earth ground. If one of the power supply outputs was also internally connected to earth ground, when connected to the DUT, it could short out the power supply output. So power supplies with floating output terminals (no connections to earth ground) are more versatile.
If the outputs are floating from earth ground, we need to specify how far above or below earth ground you can float the output terminals. Our power supply documentation provides this information. For example, most Agilent power supply output terminals can float to +/-240 Vdc off of ground. You will frequently see the following in our documentation:
Also, some power supplies have different float ratings for the positive and negative output terminals. For example, for Agilent N5700 models rated for more than 60 Vdc, the following note in the manual means you can float the positive output terminal up to +/-600 Vdc from ground or the negative output terminal up to +/-400 Vdc from ground:
The output characteristic table may list this as “Output Terminal Isolation” as shown below which means the same thing as maximum float voltage:
Figure 4 shows an example of floating a power supply to 200 V above ground. The power supply output is set to 40 V.
You can see from the last example that you have to take the power supply output voltage into consideration when ensuring you are not violating the float voltage rating. If you exceed the float voltage rating of the power supply, you are potentially exceeding the voltage rating of internal parts that could cause the internal parts to fail or break down and present a shock hazard, so don’t violate the float voltage rating!

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