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What is a DIAC - Tutorial

- the DIAC, Diode AC bi-directional switch is widely used with TRIACs to

improve operation of alternating current power switching systems
The DIAC is a full-wave or bi-directional semiconductor switch that can be turned on in both forward
and reverse polarities.
The DIAC gains its name from the contraction of the words DIode Alternating Current.
The DIAC is widely used to assist even triggering of a TRIAC when used in AC switches. DIACs are
mainly used in dimmer applications and also in starter circuits for florescent lamps.

Circuit symbol
The DIAC circuit symbol is generated from the two triangles held between two lines as shown below.
In some way this demonstrates the structure of the device which can be considered also as two

Circuit symbol for the DIAC

The two terminals of the device are normally designated either Anode 1 and Anode 2 or Main
Terminals 1 and 2, i.e. MT1 and MT2.

The DIAC is essentially a diode that conducts after a 'break-over' voltage, designated VBO, is
When the device exceeds this break-over voltage, it enters the region of negative dynamic
resistance. This results in a decrease in the voltage drop across the diode with increasing voltage.
Accordingly there is a sharp increase in the level of current that is conducted by the device.
The diode remains in its conduction state until the current through it drops below what is termed the
holding current, which is normally designated by the letters IH.
Below the holding current, the DIAC reverts to its high-resistance (non-conducting) state.
Its behaviour is bi-directional and therefore its operation occurs on both halves of an alternating

DIAC applications
Typically the DIAC is placed in series with the gate of a TRIAC. DIACs are often used in conjunction
with TRIACs because these devices do not fire symmetrically as a result of slight differences
between the two halves of the device. This results in harmonics being generated, and the less
symmetrical the device fires, the greater the level of harmonics produced. It is generally undesirable
to have high levels of harmonics in a power system.

Typical DIAC / TRIAC circuit configuration

To help in overcoming this problem, a DIAC is often placed in series with the gate. This device helps
make the switching more even for both halves of the cycle. This results from the fact that its
switching characteristic is far more even than that of the TRIAC. Since the DIAC prevents any gate
current flowing until the trigger voltage has reached a certain voltage in either direction, this makes
the firing point of the TRIAC more even in both directions.


The DIAC can be fabricated as either a two layer or a five layer structure. In the three layer structure
the switching occurs when the junction that is reverse biased experiences reverse breakdown. The
three layer version of the device is the more common and can have a break-over voltage of around
30 V. Operation is almost symmetrical owing to the symmetry of the device.
A five layer DIAC structure is also available. This does not act in quite the same manner, although it
produces an I-V curve that is very similar to the three layer version. It can be considered as two
break-over diodes connected back to back.

The structure of a DIAC

For most applications a three layer version of the DIAC is used. It provides sufficient improvement in
switching characteristics. For some applications the five layer device may be used.
By Ian Poole

riday, November 11, 2011

Digital Multiplexing - Time Division Multiplexing

In my last legacy Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) post I covered analog or frequency
multiplexing. Frequency division multiplexing is now considered obsolete technology on the
telecommunications network. Analog signals are more sensitive to noise and other signals which
can cause problems along the transmission path. They have been replaced with digital

Digital signals are combined or multiplexed typically using one of two techniques; Time Division
Multiplexing (TDM) and Statistical Time Division Multiplexing (STDM). Let's cover TDM in this post.

Time Division Multiplexing allows multiple devices to communicate over the same circuit by
assigning time slots for each device on the line. Devices communicating using TDM are typically
placed in groups that are multiples of 4.

Each device is assigned a time slot where the TDM will accept an 8 bit character from the device.
A TDM frame is then built and transmitted over the circuit. Another TDM on the other end of the
circuit de-multiplexes the frame.

TDM Framing

TDMs tend to waste time slots because a time slot is allocated for each device regardless of
whether that device has anything to send. For example, in a TDM system if only two of four
devices want to send and use frame space, the other two devices will not have anything to send.

TDM Framing Showing Wasted Slots

They do not require frame space but their time slot is still allocated and will be transmitted as
empty frames. This is not an efficient use of bandwidth.

In my next legacy PSTN post, I'll cover statistical time division multiplexing (STDM), a much more
efficient way to use bandwidth.