Vacuum Fluorescent Display (VFD) Reference Design for Automotive Applications

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This reference design shows a solution for obtaining the drive voltage required for a vacuum fluorescent display (VFD) power supply in automotive applications. The design includes the complete schematic, and presents the bill of materials (BOM), load/line regulation measurements, and test results.

VFD Basics

A vacuum fluorescent display (VFD) is a type of display used commonly on consumer-electronics equipment such as video cassette recorders, car radios, and microwave ovens. Unlike liquid crystal displays (LCDs), a VFD emits a very bright light with clear contrast and can easily support display elements of various colors. The technology is related to both the cathode ray tube and the nixie tube. Unlike LCDs, however, most VFDs continue to function normally in subzero temperatures, making them ideal for outdoor devices in cold climates.

The VFD is composed of three basic electrodes—the cathode filaments, anodes (phosphor), and grids—under a high-vacuum condition in a glass envelope. The cathode consists of fine tungsten wires, coated by alkaline earth metal oxides which emit electrons. The grids are a thin metal mesh, which controls and diffuses electrons emitted from the cathode. The anodes are conductive electrodes on which the phosphor is printed to indicate characters, icons, or symbols. Electrons emitted from the cathode are accelerated with positive potential applied to both grid and anode; upon collision with the anode the electrons excite the phosphor to emit light. The desired illuminated patterns can be achieved by controlling the positive or negative potentials on each grid and anode. The anode and grid require a DC-regulated voltage to avoid flickering of the display. For driving large VFDs, the cathode requires AC drive to prevent luminance slant, i.e., the difference in brightness from one side of the display to the other. A frequency range of 20kHz to 200kHz is recommended to avoid audible noise and flicker.

Design Specifications and Setup

This reference design features the MAX15005 power-supply controller optimized for automotive and VFD applications. The application circuit is designed to meet the following specifications:

  • VIN: 9V to 16V continuous, 5.5V to 40V transient
  • VANODE: 77VDC±10% at 18mA (typ), 58mA (max)
  • VGRID: 55VDC±10% at 14mA (typ), 41mA (max)
  • VFILAMENT: 3.1VAC±10% at 350mA (typ), 385mA (max)
  • Output ripple: 77V: 1VP-P; 55V: 0.5VP-P
  • Line regulation, VIN= 9V to 16V:
    VANODE= ±3%
    VGRID= ±3%
    VFILAMENT= ±5%
  • Load regulation: (see Line/Load Regulation Data section below)
  • Switching frequency: 22kHz
  • Temperature: -40°C to 125°C

The schematic for the above specifications is shown in Figure 1. In this design MAX15005B is used in the flyback configuration for obtaining three output voltages.

Figure 1. Schematic of the MAX15005B flyback converter for FSW= 22kHz.

The bill of materials (BOM) for this reference design is given in Table 1.


Designed, Built, Tested

Board pictured here has been fully assembled and tested. Not available for sale.


Maxim Devices (1)

Part Number Name Product Family Order Design kits and evaluation modules
MAX15005B 4.5V to 40V Input Automotive Flyback/Boost/SEPIC Power-Supply Controllers Switching Regulators Design Kits Not Available

Maxim Devices (1)

Part Number Product Family
Not Available
Switching Regulators
4.5V to 40V Input Automotive Flyback/Boost/SEPIC Power-Supply Controllers

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