The Need for EMC Education

Kenneth Wyatt

Wyatt Technical Services

As a product designer, a long time EMC engineer for HP and Agilent Technologies (now Keysight), and currently a consultant to hundreds of companies over the last ten years, I understand very well, the issues product designers face when it comes to EMC and EMI issues.

As companies worldwide have consolidated, merged, and generally downsized, the days of having a dedicated EMC engineer on staff for many companies has literally disappeared. Now product designers are being asked to wear many hats - product compliance for EMC - is just one more of many. Unfortunately (but with a handful of exceptions worldwide), this subject is rarely taught in most colleges or universities.

During my own consulting over many years, I find most manufacturers continue to leave EMC compliance to the end of development cycles with the resulting panic as their "baby" fails various EMC compliance testing. Whenever my phone rings, oftentimes it's a project manager with a subtle, but underlying, panic in their voices calling for a quick resolution please! Sometimes we can offer a quick fix, but all too often, the only sure fix is a redesign.

Despite all of us dozens of consultants worldwide who endeavor to train those designers "in the trenches" to deal with product compliance earlier in the design cycle, many simply aren't getting the word. The issues always seem to revolve around the same old list of design issues: poor circuit board layout, inadequate shielding, lack of filtering, cables penetrating shielded enclosures, and other simple design features that could have easily been incorporated more cheaply into the design early on.

After commiserating with my friend and colleague, Patrick André on having to deal with the same old issues time and again for our clients, we decided to write our best selling book, EMI Troubleshooting Cookbook for Product Designers! This book covers practical product design issues that will help designers pass EMC compliance testing the first time. It also includes specific troubleshooting techniques for those products that are having trouble passing certain compliance tests and demonstrates how to perform in-house pre-compliance testing.

While many professors (especially those who have worked in industry) would like to incorporate practical topics in EMC basics, test, and product design for compliance, there is a reluctance within the academic administration to add new subject matter. Their argument is typically "we need to teach the basic principles and theory of electronic engineering and there's just no time to fit extra subjects into a four (or even five) year curriculum". There's also the issue of resistance to change or the "not invented here" syndrome.

I mentioned some exceptions and the Missouri University of Technology (MST) - Rolla (Missouri) is an excellent example of a forward-thinking curriculum. They've developed a dedicated EMC lab with as many as 50 grad or post-grad students and a staff of a half-dozen professors. One of the reasons for their success is their close ties with industry, where companies fund specific projects and work closely with the students and staff. Dozens of practical academic papers are generated every year and released back to industry.

Clemson University is another top-ranked institution with an EMC lab focused on automotive electronics. This was developed by Dr. Todd Hubing (an MST graduate and now retired and teaching privately), and again, their recipe for success is working closely with industry. Another example is Oklahoma State College (Tulsa), which has developed an EMC program and does a lot of work with reverberation chambers.

In other parts of the world, Dr. Arturo Mediano has developed an EMC program for the University of Zaragosa (Spain) and regularly teaches public and in-house seminars. Oxford University regularly hosts EMC experts, Doug Smith and Lee Hill (also an alum from MST). There are likely many other examples.

Some companies have taken the reins on EMC/EMI education and provide public seminars and webinars. Würth Elektronik is a good example and have published numerous EMI-specific application notes, published their popular Trilogy Of Magnetics book of basic ferrite physics and applications (now in its 5th edition), as well as hosting numerous webinars and on-line videos.

The larger test and measurement companies, such as Keysight, Rhode & Schwarz, Rigol, Siglent, Tektronix, and Teledyne-LeCroy have published EMC-related application notes and some have sponsored webinars and other public seminars on the subject.

I see a number of trends in technology that I believe will keep us EMC engineers and product designers busy for years to come. Some of the new technology includes vehicle wireless and vehicle-to-vehicle systems, continued advances in healthcare instruments and mobile health systems, smart home and Internet of Things (IoT), mobile and wireless systems (including 5G), and incorporating new instruments and techniques for faster EMI measurements.

Unfortunately, most product designers are forced to learn EMC design the hard way - through trial and error and going through an endless cycle of 3rd-party "test - redesign - test - redesign" - etc. Because EMC compliance often ends up as the last "gateway" to successful product launches, failing to design for compliance at the start costs companies time and money. Failing to launch products on time also gives their competitors who do understand the importance of EMC compliance a significant competitive advantage.

I believe it would benefit us all if industry would partner more closely with colleges and universities in their regions to provide opportunities like extension classes that teach some of the product compliance subjects, such as product design for EMC.

We could also encourage students to join organizations like the IEEE's EMC Society and to participate in their local EMC Society chapter. A good example of this symbiotic relationship between industry and local IEEE EMC Society chapters is the annual "mini-symposia" the Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Santa Clara, and Seattle chapters are organizing. I'm sure there are other similar small-scale symposia worldwide.

Hopefully, in time, EMC design for compliance will be more at the forefront of thinking and a more integral part of the product design cycle. In the meantime, there's plenty of work for us trainers and consultants!

References:

1. Missouri University of Science & Technology EMC Lab, https://emclab.mst.edu

2. Clemson University Vehicular Electronics Laboratory, https://cecas.clemson.edu/cvel/emc/

3. IEEE EMC Society, http://www.emcs.org

4. André and Wyatt, EMI Troubleshooting Cookbook for Product Designers, SciTech Publishing (an IET imprint), 2014, ISBN 9781613530191

Kenneth Wyatt is principal consultant of Wyatt Technical Services LLC, as well as past senior technical editor for Interference Technology Magazine (2016 to 2018). He is based in Colorado and has worked in the field of EMC engineering for over 30 years with a specialty is EMI troubleshooting and pre-compliance testing. He trains and speaks internationally, is widely published, and is the co-author of the popular EMI Troubleshooting Cookbook for Product Designers. He may be contacted through his web site, http://www.emc-seminars.com.

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