What is a DC to DC Converter Used for

Looking to convert one DC voltage to another? This is actually more commonplace than you may realize - and it requires the use of a specialized DC-DC converter.

Wait - what is a DC to DC converter? And what are they used for? How do they work? You have questions and we've got the answers. Today, we'll cover all this and a whole lot more. You'll learn everything there is to know about these converters - including the different types on the market, and how to choose one for your unique application. We'll even explain where you can find efficient, reliable DC-DC converters no matter the use-case.

Let's get started with the first question at hand today...what is a DC to DC converter in the first place?

What is a DC to DC Converter? 

A DC to DC converter is an electronic device that converts direct current (DC) from one voltage level to another. They are also known as DC-DC converters or DC/DC converters.  These converters can be used to increase or decrease the voltage level. The most common type is the step-down converter, which takes a higher DC voltage and converts it to a lower one - but there are also step-up converters that do the reverse.

There are multiple uses for DC to DC converters. They can be used in electronic devices like cell phones and laptops where different voltages are required for different components. For example, a laptop typically requires 19 volts to charge its battery but only 12 volts to run its display. A DC to DC converter steps down the 19 volts from the charger to 12 volts for the display. 

We'll take a deeper look at the use cases for these converters later on. First, let's explain how these work.

How Does a DC to DC Converter Work?

How does a DC to DC converter work? Similar to how you would convert DC to AC power, you simply plug the converter in and let it work its magic. But what's going on in that little device? While the DC to DC converters mechanism is best explained visually with a graphic showing the conversion process, we'll detail the process below.

The first step is to rectify the AC input voltage into DC. This is done by passing it through a diode bridge that only allows current flow in one direction. Once the AC power has been converted to DC, it's time to smooth out the fluctuations with a capacitor. The capacitor evens out any spikes or dips in voltage so the DC power is nice and steady.

Now that we have clean DC power, we can start manipulating it to get the desired output voltage level. For this example, let's say we want to convert 12 volts DC to 24 volts DC - aka, increase the voltage level by doubling it. In order for us to do this, we need what's called an inductor. The inductor stores energy in the form of a magnetic field and then releases it when necessary.

The next step is to increase the voltage level with a switch. The switch is opened and closed at high speeds, allowing current to flow through the inductor - which in turn creates a magnetic field. This stored energy is released into the output circuit, increasing the voltage level to 24 volts DC.

And that's how it works! Now that we've explained how these devices work, let's look at some of the different types.

What are the Different Types of DC to DC Converters?

There are four main types of DC to DC converters: boost, buck, buck-boost, and isolated.

The first two - boost and buck - are the most common. A boost converter steps up voltage while a buck converter steps it down. For example, if you wanted to convert 12v DC current into 24v DC current, you’d need to use a boost converter. On the other hand, a buck converter would be used to convert 48v DC current into 24v DC current. Pretty simply, right? So, what is a buck-boost converter then?

This third type - the buck-boost converter - is a combination of the two. That means these types can be used to either step up or down voltage levels as needed. They’re the more versatile choice among these three styles. So, how do isolated DC-DC converts work?

Isolated converters are slightly different in that they use magnetic induction instead of electronic components to transfer energy between input and output voltages. This makes them more expensive but also more efficient. Isolated converters are typically used in applications where there is a need for complete electrical isolation between input and output voltages.

What is a DC to DC Converter Used for? 

Now comes a big question - what is a DC to DC converter used for, exactly? You’ve probably used one of these before without even realizing it. They have a number of different applications. As we touched on earlier, they can be used in electronic devices like laptops and cell phones where different voltages are required for different components. But there are other uses as well. We'll touch on every single one down below:

  • Transportation: DC to DC converters are used in everything from cars and buses to trains and boats. They help manage the different voltages required for various onboard systems like lights, GPS, and entertainment systems.
  • Renewable Energy: These converters are often used in solar power systems to convert the direct current (DC) output of solar panels into the alternating current (AC) needed to run most appliances and devices.
  • Telecommunications: Isolated DC to DC converters are commonly used in telecom applications where complete electrical isolation is required between circuits.
  • Medical Devices: Many medical power supplies require multiple voltages for different components. DC to DC converters allow manufacturers to use a single power source for these devices by stepped-up or stepped-down voltages as needed. Learn more about what medical power supplies are in our blog.

As you can see, there are a variety of different ways these devices can be used. And this is just scratching the surface! With so many different applications, it's no wonder that the demand for DC to DC converters is on the rise. This leads to the next question we want to address...what should you look for in a converter? What separates the best from the rest? And, which specific product is right for your unique needs? Let's discuss below...

Important Considerations for DC to DC Converters: Ratings, Regulation, Size, & More

There are a few key factors you'll want to consider when shopping for a DC-to-DC converter. Below, we've listed some of the most important ones:

  • Efficiency: how much energy is lost as heat? You'll want to look for a converter with high efficiency - typically above 90%.
  • Current Rating: how much current can the device handle? You'll need to make sure this number is at least equal to the maximum current draw of your system.
  • Voltage Rating: what's the maximum input and output voltage that the converter can handle? Again, you'll need to make sure these numbers are at least equal to the voltages you're working with.
  • Temperature Rating: what's the maximum temperature the converter can withstand? This is important to consider if you'll be using the device in a high-temperature environment.
  • Ripple Voltage: how much voltage variation can you expect from the output of the converter? A low ripple voltage is ideal as it results in less electrical noise.
  • Regulation: how well does the converter maintain a constant output voltage? You'll want to look for a device with tight regulation (low voltage variation) over a wide range of load conditions.
  • Transient Response: how quickly does the converter respond to changes in load current? A fast transient response is desirable as it results in less fluctuations in output voltage.
  • Size & Weight: how large and heavy is the converter? This is important to consider if you'll be using the device in a portable application.

As you can see, there are a variety of different factors to consider when shopping for a DC to DC converter. And, unfortunately, there's no such thing as the "perfect" converter - it all depends on your specific needs and requirements. That's why it's so important to work with an experienced provider who can help you select the right product for your application.

Where Can You Find Efficient, Reliable DC-DC Converters?

There's just one question left to answer in today's complete guide to DC-DC converters - where can you find efficient products you can rely on? There is only one place to shop for all your DC-DC converter needs: Bravo Electro. 

Not only do we have products from industry-leading manufacturers like Mean-Well - but you'll experience unparalleled customer support every step of the way. We know that power supply can get complicated, which is why we're on standby ready to answer any other questions you have. We can even assist you in a custom project - we have engineers on staff for this reason!

Plus, we have a full range of AC DC power supply products - including 12v DC power supplies, 24v  DC power supplies, and even 48v DC power supplies. Explore our full catalog today - or reach out for a product recommendation and we'll point you in the right direction!

What is a DC-DC Converter? Wrapping Things Up

That concludes our complete guide on DC-DC converters. We answered the most commonly asked questions on this topic:

  • What is a DC to DC converter?
  • How does a DC to DC converter work?
  • What is a DC to DC converter used for?

We also addressed important considerations to keep in mind when shopping for your own converters - including product types, ratings, regulations, and more. At this point, there's only one thing left to do. Head over to Bravo Electro to find all your electrical components and product supply essentials!

Or, to learn more about power supply in general, explore our blog. We have great resources such as our take on the constant current vs constant voltage LED driver debate, how to stop RFI from power supplies, and even how to troubleshoot power supplies.