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Diode Maintenance

Diodes are rugged and efficient. They are also expected to be relatively trouble free. Protective encapsulation processes and special coating techniques have even further increased their life expectancies. In theory, a diode should last indefinitely. However, if diodes are subject to current overloads, their junctions will be damaged or destroyed. In addition, the application of excessively high operating voltages can damage or destroy junctions through arc-over, or excessive reverse currents. One of the greatest dangers to the diode is heat. Heat causes more electron-hole pairs to be generated, which in turn increases current flow. This increase in current generates more heat and the cycle repeats itself until the diode draws excessive current. This action is referred to as THERMAL RUNAWAY and eventually causes diode destruction. Extreme caution should be used when working with equipment containing diodes to ensure that these problems do not occur and cause irreparable diode damage.

The following is a list of some of the special safety precautions that should be observed when working with diodes:

  • Never remove or insert a diode into a circuit with voltage applied.
  • Never pry diodes to loosen them from their circuits.
  • Always be careful when soldering to ensure that excessive heat is not applied to the diode.
  • When testing a diode, ensure that the test voltage does not exceed the diode's maximum allowable voltage.
  • Never put your fingers across a signal diode because the static charge from your body could short it out.
  • Always replace a diode with a direct replacement, or with one of the same type.
  • Ensure a replacement diode is put into a circuit in the correct direction.
Diode checking
Checking a diode with an ohmmeter.

If a diode has been subjected to excessive voltage or temperature and is suspected of being defective, it can be checked in various ways. The most convenient and quickest way of testing a diode is with an ohmmeter (figure above). To make the check, simply disconnect one of the diode leads from the circuit wiring, and make resistance measurements across the leads of the diode. The resistance measurements obtained depend upon the test-lead polarity of the ohmmeter; therefore, two measurements must be taken. The first measurement is taken with the test leads connected to either end of the diode and the second measurement is taken with the test leads reversed on the diode. The larger resistance value is assumed to be the reverse (back) resistance of the diode, and the smaller resistance (front) value is assumed to be the forward resistance. Measurement can be made for comparison purposes using another identical-type diode (known to be good) as a standard. Two high-value resistance measurements indicate that the diode is open or has a high forward resistance. Two low-value resistance measurements indicate that the diode is shorted or has a low reverse resistance. A normal set of measurements will show a high resistance in the reverse direction and a low resistance in the forward direction. The diode's efficiency is determined by how low the forward resistance is compared with the reverse resistance. That is, it is desirable to have as great a ratio (often known as the front to back ratio or the back to front ratio) as possible between the reverse and forward resistance measurements. However, as a rule of thumb, a small signal diode will have a ratio of several hundred to one, while a power rectifier can operate satisfactorily with a ratio of 10 to 1.

One thing you should keep in mind about the ohmmeter check - it is not conclusive. It is still possible for a diode to check good under this test, but break down when placed back in the circuit. The problem is that the meter used to check the diode uses a lower voltage than the diode usually operates at in the circuit.

Another important point to remember is that a diode should not be condemned because two ohmmeters give different reading on the diode. This occurs because the different internal resistance of the ohmmeters and the different states of charge on the ohmmeter batteries. Because each ohmmeter sends a different current through the diode, the two resistance values read on the meters will not be the same.

Another way of checking a diode is with the substitution method. In this method, a good diode is substituted for a questionable diode. This technique should be used only after you have made voltage and resistance measurements to make certain that there is no circuit defect that might damage the substitution diode. If more than one defective diode is present in the equipment section where trouble has been localized, this method becomes cumbersome, since several diodes may have to be replaced before the trouble is corrected. To determine which stages failed and which diodes are not defective, all of the removed diodes must be tested. This can be accomplished by observing whether the equipment operates correctly as each of the removed diodes is reinserted into the equipment.

In conclusion, the only valid check of a diode is a dynamic electrical test that determines the diode's forward current (resistance) and reverse current (resistance) parameters. This test can be accomplished using various diode test sets that are readily available from many manufacturers.

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