[tinfever] needed a high-power benchtop electronic load for an upcoming project, and by their own admission decided foolishly to build their own. And we’re glad they did. The thing is, whilst this isn’t exactly a super-cheap project to build, buying a commercial offering with a capability of 10 kW and up to 30 kW pulsed, is going to cost an absolute fortune.
Built inside a cubic frame using what appears to be standard 2020 aluminum rails and fixturing, the modular construction is nice and clean, with plenty of space around the load boards to allow the cooling air to circulate.
The operating principle is very simple; custom PCBs act in parallel to provide any load needed, by switching in the on-board load resistor. Each load board handles all the details of switching and dumping the power due to the inductance in the system wiring and the wire-wound resistors themselves.
Whilst we know that wire-wound resistors are reverse-wound to minimize inductance, there will still be some, and each load board will contribute a little more when the whole system is scaled up. Also, each load PCB handles its own temperature sensing, and current measurement passing these data off to the control PCB. A front-end connector PCB provides a variety of connection options to interface to the DUT (Device Under Test.) The system controller is based around an STM32 processor which deals with quite a lot more than you might think is needed on a first look.
The sense currents from each load need to be sensed, scaled, and summed to keep the overall load accuracy within the 1% spec. Also, it is on duty for PWM control of the cooling fans, handling the user interface, and any other remote connectivity. There are a lot of details on the project page, as we’re only skimming the surface here. If you’re interested in building an active load, this is a project you really should be digging into.
We shall watch with interest for when [tinfever] scales up this eight-slot prototype to the full specification of 52 stages! When working with power applications, there comes a point when you really need an electronic load, and to that end, here’s one with a very specific use case to get you started.
There is also the option of buying something cheap from the usual sources and hacking on some custom firmware to adapt it a little to your needs.