Designers often ask questions about the capability of an operational amplifier to withstand electrical overstress. These questions tend to focus on the device inputs, but can involve the supply voltage pins or even the output pin. Each of these different pin functions have electrical stress limits determined by the voltage breakdown characteristics of the particular semiconductor fabrication process and specific circuits connected to the pin. Additionally, internal electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection is built into these circuits for protection from accidental ESD events both before and during product assembly.
A good understanding of this basic ESD circuitry and the relevance to an electrical overstress event is helpful. Figure 40 shows the ESD circuits contained in the OPAx171 (indicated by the dashed line area). The ESD protection circuitry involves several current-steering diodes connected from the input and output pins and routed back to the internal power supply lines, where the diodes meet at an absorption device internal to the operational amplifier. This protection circuitry is intended to remain inactive during normal circuit operation.
An ESD event produces a short duration, high-voltage pulse that is transformed into a short duration, high-current pulse when discharging through a semiconductor device. The ESD protection circuits are designed to provide a current path around the operational amplifier core to prevent damage. The energy absorbed by the protection circuitry is then dissipated as heat.
When an ESD voltage develops across two or more amplifier device pins, current flows through one or more steering diodes. Depending on the path that the current takes, the absorption device can activate. The absorption device contains a trigger (or threshold voltage) that is above the normal operating voltage of the OPAx171 but below the device breakdown level. When this threshold is exceeded, the absorption device quickly activates and clamps the voltage across the supply rails to a safe level.
When the operational amplifier connects into a circuit (as shown in Figure 40), the ESD protection components are intended to remain inactive and do not become involved in the application circuit operation. However, circumstances may arise when an applied voltage exceeds the operating voltage of a given pin. If this condition occurs, there is a risk that some internal ESD protection circuits can turn on and conduct current. Any such current flow occurs through steering-diode paths and rarely involves the absorption device.
Figure 40 shows a specific example where the input voltage (VIN) exceeds the positive supply voltage (V+) by 500 mV or more. Much of what happens in the circuit depends on the supply characteristics. If V+ can sink the current, one of the upper steering diodes conducts and directs current to V+. Excessively high current levels can flow with increasingly higher VIN. As a result, the data sheet specifications recommend that applications limit the input current to 10 mA.
If the supply is not capable of sinking the current, VIN begins sourcing current to the operational amplifier and then take over as the source of positive supply voltage. The danger in this case is that the voltage can rise to levels that exceed the operational amplifier absolute maximum ratings.
Another common question involves what happens to the amplifier if an input signal is applied to the input when the power supplies (V+ or V–) are at 0 V. This question depends on the supply characteristic when at 0 V, or at a level below the input signal amplitude. If the supplies appear to be high-impedance, then the input source supplies the operational amplifier current through the current-steering diodes. This state is not a normal bias condition. Most likely, the amplifier does not operate normally. If the supplies are low-impedance, then the current through the steering diodes can be quite high. The current level depends on the ability of the input source to deliver current and any resistance in the input path.
If there is any uncertainty about the ability of the supply to absorb this current, add external Zener diodes to the supply pins; see Figure 40. Select the Zener voltage so that the diode does not turn on during normal operation. However, the Zener voltage must be low enough so that the Zener diode conducts if the supply pin begins to rise above the safe operating, supply-voltage level.
The OPAx171 input pins are protected from excessive differential voltage with back-to-back diodes; see Figure 40. In most circuit applications, the input protection circuitry does not affect the application. However, in low gain or G = 1 circuits, fast-ramping input signals can forward bias these diodes because the output of the amplifier cannot respond rapidly enough to the input ramp. If the input signal is fast enough to create this forward-bias condition, limit the input signal current to 10 mA or less. If the input signal current is not inherently limited, an input series resistor can be used to limit the input signal current. This input series resistor degrades the low noise performance of the OPAx171. Figure 40 shows an example configuration that implements a current-limiting feedback resistor.