You are on page 1of 12

Electromagne c Compa bility Compliance Tes ng If

You Think Its Expensive Now, Wait Un l You See What

it Costs Later
David G. Fern, President
GoldSpire Design LLC

In my consul ng prac ce, the most important service I provide to my clients is

guidance -- many entrepreneurs have excellent ideas about products and services that will improve the lives of people, but have li1le to no knowledge
about the ni1y-gri1y details of actually transforming an idea into a product
that people will buy. That's where I come in -- product development is a fascina ng process, and over the course of my career I have seen numerous development eorts succeed and fail for many dierent reasons. These "sea stories" are extremely valuable lessons for my clients, who want to get their
2016 by GoldSpire Design LLC

products into the market as rapidly as possible while minimizing the number
of hiccups along the way. One of the rst things I do when engaging with a
client is to sit with them and talk about their product idea and their dream of
making it successful -- how do they envision the development process evolving and what are their expecta ons of this process in terms of me and money? I do this not with the inten on of scaring clients away, but with the objec ve of bringing my client "back to reality" -- it is very exci ng to have a
great new idea for a product and to get underway with developing it! Passion
and commitment in the face of adversity is an essen al characteris c for any
entrepreneur, and I do not begrudge any of my clients for their passion, as it
is their job. My
role as an engineer and consultIt is most unfortunate that, in
ant is to help
them navigate
product development, "There
the tortuous path
is never enough time to do it
of actually develright, but there is always
oping the product. This requires
enough time to do it again."
a set of combined
skills that include
design engineer,
economist, marketeer, and social worker.
One ques on that I am frequently asked by my clients early on in the product
development process is this -- "What do you think is the greatest risk on this
project?" My answer is always the same -- "The greatest risk to the overall
success of your product development eort is EMC compliance." Depending
upon the sophis ca on of my client, they may or may not have an understanding of EMC compliance. What o?en mes catches many of my clients by
surprise is the realiza on that they will be unable to sell their product without
passing a series of EMC compliance cer ca on tests. Breaking this news to
clients usually sets them back on their heels, and leads to an introductory
discussion of FCC Part 15, CISPR11 and CISPR22, radiated and conducted
emissions, and other things that cause one's eyes to glaze over just before
they roll back into one's head. "All of these things are en rely manageable," I
tell my clients, "However it is important that we deal with these issues at the
2016 by GoldSpire Design LLC

beginning, rather than at the end, of the design process. Doing this will add
several thousand dollars to the total development cost as well as adding some
development me, however inves ng that money now will save you many
thousands of dollars later. Trust me."
Without going into the details of EMC compliance, the essen al thing to understand about it is that any device which incorporates digital electronics (and
what device these days doesn't?) needs to comply with a series of regula ons
regarding how much electromagne c interference they generate, as this interference can degrade the performance of other devices in the immediate
vicinity, as well as introducing undesirable noise on the power lines to which
the device is connected. Determining whether or not a device meets these
regula ons is usually performed at a cer ca on tes ng facility, where the
device is placed in a specially shielded room that shields the area around the
device from any external electromagne c interference. Specially calibrated
antennas inside this chamber are used to measure the electromagne c noise
emana ng from the device itself, and this noise is compared against the maximum amount of noise allowed by the appropriate regula ons. If the noise
that emanates from the device exceeds these published limits, the device fails
the test, and cannot be cer ed as EMC compliant.
Numerous factors
enter into the
amount of electroGetting a certification test
magne c noise
generated by digifacility into the picture as
tal devices -- power
early as possible is an
supplies present
inside the product
important aspect of the
enclosure or
product development process.
mounted on printed circuit boards,
power cords and
other accessory cables that are connected to the device, high frequency signals from radio frequency circuits or high speed memory buses, LCD displays
(an especially nasty oender!), and the like. All too o?en, mechanical enclosure design, LCD selec on, and printed circuit board design ac vi es occur as

2016 by GoldSpire Design LLC

independent eorts, when in reality all these things will ul mately be working
together as a complete system.
It is for this reason that I strongly advocate bringing EMC compliance into the
picture at the earliest stages of the design process. Poten al sources of interference need to be iden ed during the preliminary electrical design phase,
so that the circuit design that is captured in the rst prototype schema c includes ltering circuitry, shielding, or any other components thought to be
needed to assist in noise reduc on. Printed circuit board stackup planning
should also be commenced at this me -- it is at this point that I bring in a
CAD engineer whose work quality I trust -- to consult with both the electrical
and mechanical design teams. Proper layer placement on the printed circuit
board is a cri cal factor in the overall noise performance of a digital device,
especially as the signal density on PCBs con nue to increase as well as microprocessor clock rates. For designs that I feel will present uniquely dicult
problems, I o?en will bring an EMC compliance engineer onto the team to act
as a reviewer, not only of the PCB layout planning process, but also the en re
electromechanical integra on plan. It is at these early stages of the design
where the benet of past experience is most valuable -- iden fying aspects of
the design that accentuate the genera on of electromagne c noise before
they are commi1ed to PCB fabrica on or cuIng metal for plas c tooling can
o?en mean the dierence between success and failure of the en re development project.
GeIng a cer ca on test facility into the
picture as early as possible is an important
aspect of the product development process. I strongly suggest to my clients that as
soon as the rst electrical prototype is available -- usually long before the rst mechanical enclosure prototype appears on the scene -- the design be subjected to a series of
"pre-scan" measurements at the test facility. At the request of the customer,
any cer ca on test facility will be happy to perform the iden cal set of
measurements that the device will undergo during an actual cer ca on run,
but without all of the rigor that is involved when a full compliance report is
being generated. The importance of these ini al pre-scan measurements
cannot be overemphasized, as they are the very rst glimpse the en re devel2016 by GoldSpire Design LLC

opment team has into the behavior of the device electronics. Problems that
are uncovered during this rst round of tests can be addressed right then and
there -- having the electrical design team be present during these tests and
allowing them to experiment with the prototype while it is in the test chamber provides immeasurable value in geIng to the root cause of any problems
that exist.
Pre-scan measurements can o?en be completed in a day or even less me
than that, incurring a cost in the vicinity of $1000 to $3000, depending upon
the amount of laboratory support requested from the test facility. The results
obtained from this tes ng should be used to guide the design process as it
moves forward towards the second prototype, which will hopefully include
the rst electromechanical integra on
test. Once the rst prototype of the
device enclosure is ready, I recommend
to my client that the pre-scan measurements be repeated with the second prototype electronics contained in the enclosure. These measurements allow the
team to ascertain that the problems (if
any) that were iden ed in the rst
electrical prototype have been successfully addressed. In addi on these measurements will uncover any electromagne c noise problems that have arisen
because of changes in physical placement of the electronics resul ng from
their placement in the enclosure itself. As before, the results of these measurements should guide both the electrical and mechanical design team as
they proceed towards the development of a produc on-ready prototype.
Many clients balk at this approach when they see the cost involved with
it. Two, or perhaps three (or maybe even four!) rounds of pre-scan measurements at $2000 a pop, and at least three electrical prototypes? "These kinds
of machina ons are going to add more than $20k to my budget!", my client
tells me. "Yes, that is certainly possible," I tell them, "And if you decide that
going along this path is unacceptable to your budget, that is ne. It is my job
as a consultant for you (as well as an advocate) to give you the benet of my
experience and help you mi gate your overall risk to the best of my abil2016 by GoldSpire Design LLC

ity." This does not mean that my company is careless when it comes to our
"design for EMC" approach to product development -- we always have this in
mind and apply techniques that are well-known in the industry to provide
design robustness. We are emphasizing to the client that there are many variables that contribute to overall EMC performance, many of which are specic
to the actual electromechanical design implementa on, and cannot be predicted in advance. The only way to uncover issues like this is through exhausve tes ng throughout the development process.
Too many mes I have seen companies rush the design process -- pressures
from marke ng, sales, and execu ve management to "get the product out the
door!" o?en mes force development teams to cut corners on the design process and proceed "at risk". This is certainly an acceptable prac ce, and somemes it does work -- but this is usually a1ributable to luck more than anything
else. The look of horror that shows in the faces of management when they
learn that "the PCB needs another spin" because the product failed emissions
tes ng and purchasing has already cut a check for 5000 pieces, is a sight to
behold. What's worse, the PCB changes that are required will alter the physical size of the board, necessita ng a change to the plas cs tooling (that dull
thud heard in the background is the mechanical engineering manager hiIng
the oor a?er losing consciousness). In the interest of saving me to market,
and perhaps $20k or so of addi onal cost, the company has saddled itself with
poten ally hundreds of thousands of dollars of unusable printed circuit board
assemblies and plas cs tooling molds -- collec vely known as "garbage".
It is most unfortunate that, in product development, "There is never enough
me to do it right, but there is always enough me to do it again."
One of the worst disasters I have seen in my career I experienced recently. I
was brought into a project that had been in the works for quite some
me. The client had proceeded to go into produc on (against the advice of
engineering) with a printed circuit board design that was known at the outset
to be at high risk of failing EMC cer ca on tes ng. Hundreds of PCB assemblies had been ordered as part of an ini al product rollout that was to consist
of several thousand units -- and their client had already placed a purchase
order! No pre-scan measurements had been conducted on the design. When
the client nally got around to puIng one of the "produc on" units into a
test chamber at the cer ca on house, the device failed emissions tes ng in
2016 by GoldSpire Design LLC

a truly spectacular manner. It was at about this point that my team was
called in to help with the project. The pressure was on to get a solu on quickly, as customers needed units badly to keep their deployment program on
schedule, and the client was anxious to recapture the tremendous investment
they had made in building a very signicant amount of product inventory. Unfortunately, the EMC performance for this par cular product was so
poor that a very signicant eort was required to correct the numerous problems that existed. Two more printed circuit board revisions were done (at a
cost of over $10k each), which fortunately did not require any changes to the
plas c enclosure tooling. My team nally achieved success and was able to
get the en re system to pass all the required cer ca on tests -- a er nine
months of full- me work. The client was overjoyed and relieved that they
were nally back in business, however the total cost to the company -- nine
months of lost revenue plus loss of goodwill with their customers, will probably never be known. I can guarantee, however, that it was far in excess of the
extra cost of "doing it right the rst me."
As electronic products become increasingly integrated and complex in response to consumer demand for ever greater performance and integra on,
taking a comprehensive approach to EMC at the earliest phases of design is
crucial. As physical device packaging sizes con nue to shrink, printed circuit
board fabrica on and assembly becomes increasingly complex, making each
prototype cycle take longer and cost more. By adop ng a "design for EMC"
approach at the beginning of a project, and budge ng the me and the capital for exhaus ve tes ng star ng with the very rst engineering prototype,
the chances of avoiding a signicant show-stopper right as the product goes
into produc on is greatly increased.

About the Author

GoldSpire Design LLC was founded by David G. Fern, an
electrical engineer with over thirty years of experience in
communica on systems engineering, embedded systems
product development for commercial and industrial applica ons, project management, and engineering educa on.
Mr. Fern completed his undergraduate studies at New York
University and The Cooper Union for the Advancement of
Science and Art, obtaining Bachelor of Science degrees in

2016 by GoldSpire Design LLC

Electrical Engineering and Physics. A?er working in industry for a year, he con nued
his post-graduate educa on at University of California, San Diego, obtaining a Master
of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics. In addi on, Mr. Fern
has completed a Master of Business Administra on degree in Interna onal Business
from University of Phoenix in San Diego.
Mr. Fern's industry experience includes a wide range of technical and managerial roles
in both the public and private sectors. The rst decade of his career was devoted to
public service as an antenna and communica on systems engineer for the United
States Navy, where he specialized in very low frequency (VLF) radio systems used for
communica on with submarines. Upon entering the private sector, Mr. Fern con nued to leverage his deep experience in communica on systems with numerous startup companies engaged in the development of wireless machine-to-machine (M2M)
technology. During this period, Mr. Fern developed numerous wireless communica on
embedded system products for automo ve security, u lity submetering, specialty
chemical inventory management, ba1ery monitoring, and power distribu on monitoring. His managerial experience includes Senior Product Development Manager at Graviton Inc., Engineering Group Manager at RainBird Inc., Director of Engineering and
Product Development at Ideal Industries Inc., and Senior Sta Engineering Manager at
Qualcomm Inc. Mr. Fern has also been ac ve in engineering educa on as Adjunct Instructor at University of California, San Diego Extension and Na onal University, where
he developed and presented courses in communica on engineering, embedded systems design, engineering mathema cs, computer architecture, and antenna engineering.
An avid lover of avia on, Mr. Fern is an instrument-rated private pilot, and is also an
ac ve amateur radio operator who enjoys building his own communica ons equipment. He has two grown children, and two terribly spoiled Black Labrador Retrievers.

2016 by GoldSpire Design LLC

2016 by GoldSpire Design LLC

2016 by GoldSpire Design LLC

2016 by GoldSpire Design LLC

GoldSpire Design LLC

9053 Inverness Road
Santee, California 92071
+1 (619) 368-7390

2016 by GoldSpire Design LLC