Latch-up pertains to a failure mechanism wherein a parasitic thyristor (such as a parasitic silicon controlled rectifier, or SCR) is inadvertently created within a circuit, causing a high amount of current to continuously flow through it once it is accidentally triggered or turned on. Depending on the circuits involved, the amount of current flow produced by this mechanism can be large enough to result in permanent destruction of the device due to electrical overstress (EOS)


An SCR is a 3-terminal 4-layered p-n-p-n device that basically consists of a PNP transistor and an NPN transistor as shown in Figure 1. An SCR is 'off' during its normal state but will conduct current in one direction (from anode to cathode) once triggered at its gate, and will do so continuously as long as the current through it stays above a 'holding' level. 


This is easily seen in Figure 1, which shows that 'triggering' the emitter of T1 into conduction would inject current into the base of T2.  This would drive T2 into conduction, which would forward bias the emitter-base junction of T1 further, causing T1 to feed more current into the base of T2.  Thus, T1 and T2 would feed each other with currents that would keep both of them saturated.



Fig. 1. A parasitic thyristor that can result in latch-up


A parasitic SCR is a pseudo-SCR device that is formed by parasitic bipolar transistors in the active circuit. These parasitic bipolar transistors, in turn, result from various p-n junctions found in the circuit. Latch-up is more widely associated with CMOS circuits because CMOS structures tend to contain several parasitic bipolar transistors which, depending on their lay-out, can form a parasitic SCR by chance.  


Examples of parasitic bipolar transistors that may be found in CMOS circuits are as follows: 1) vertical PNP transistors formed by a p-substrate, an n-well, and a p-source or p-drain; and 2) lateral NPN transistors formed by an n-source or n-drain, a p-substrate, and an n-well.  These parasitic PNP and NPN transistors may be coupled with point-to-point stray resistances within the substrate and the wells, completing the SCR configuration in Figure 1.  If such an SCR device is formed from these parasitic transistors and resistors, then latch-up can occur within the device.


Events that can trigger parasitic thyristors into latch-up condition include:  excessive supply voltages, voltages at the I/O pins that exceed the supply rails by more than a diode drop, improper sequencing of multiple power supplies, and various spikes and transients.  Once triggered into conduction, the amount of current flow that results would depend on current limiting factors along the current path.  In cases where the current is not sufficiently limited, EOS damage such as metal burn-out can occur.


The best defense against latch-up is good product design.  There are now many design-for-reliability guidelines for reducing the risk of latch-up, many of which can be as simple as putting diodes in the right places to prevent parasitic devices from turning on.  Of course, preventing a device from being subjected to voltages that exceed the absolute maximum ratings is also to be observed at all times.


See Also:  Failure AnalysisDie FailuresEOS




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