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I'm aware of how Zener diodes can work as voltage clamps, but how do TVS diodes work in terms of physical construction?

The Wikipedia article explains what they are used for, and a bit about their capabilities and parameters, but doesn't really explain how they're constructed or what their detailed physical behaviour is.

Is there a way to describe them with a discrete representation, or are they a unique construction?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ think of them as diodes that can reverse break-down without sustaining damage. some zeners work that way too. \$\endgroup\$ – dannyf Jan 20 '17 at 22:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of How to decide between a TVS or Zener diode for overvoltage protection? \$\endgroup\$ – Rev1.0 Jan 20 '17 at 22:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rev1.0 Not at all. I'm asking about the physical construction of the TVS device, not the difference in properties between a TVS and a Zener. \$\endgroup\$ – Polynomial Jan 20 '17 at 23:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just judging by their behavior, they are most likely fabricated as two back-to-back zener diodes (how they do that part is outside my area of expertise though) \$\endgroup\$ – Sam Jan 21 '17 at 7:06
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In theory (in the land of spherical cows), TVS diodes are the same as other Zener diodes.

In practice, Semtech says:

The electrical characteristics of the transient protection circuit are determined by factors such as junction area, doping concentration, and substrate resistivity. The surge power and surge current capability of the TVS diode are proportional to the junction area. TVS diodes are constructed with large cross sectional area junctions for absorbing high transient current. While the VI characteristic curve of the TVS diode is similar to that of a zener diode, TVS diodes are specifically designed, characterized, and tested for transient voltage suppression. By contrast, zener diodes are designed and specified for voltage regulation.

In other words, normal Zener diodes are designed for a small current (i.e., with a small junction area), which flows continuously. The larger junction in TVS diodes can endure much larger breakdown currents, but only for a short time.

Furthermore, normal Zener diodes are designed to get an accurate breakdown voltage at a specific current. TVS diodes have somewhat looser tolerances, but this does not matter because they have to handle wildly varying currents, and the voltage varies with current anyway. (This is not as much a difference in construction but in testing.)

Bidirectional TVS diodes are constructed as two diodes connected back-to-back (often on the same die). Such a construction would not make sense for voltage-regulating Zener diodes.

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