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Grounding: Engineering, not black magic

By Lee Stephens

Grounding and shielding is many times referred to as being almost mystic, but effective grounding and shields work on solid engineering principles. There are four paths that let undesired signals get into a system: magnetic or inductive coupling, capacitive coupling from high-speed voltage changes (dV/dt), direct coupling, and radiated, or RF, coupling. One may not be able to predict the exact path a noise signal takes, just as one cannot predict the exact path of lightning. But one knows how to limit the chances of getting struck. Lightning is nothing more than one of the most powerful EMI events. Manufacturers typically provide connection recommendations on how to minimize EMI and other electrical noise issues on their products. In EMI terms, there is the receiver (referred to as the victim), and the source of the signals. Sometimes the victim of an EMI problem is also the source of the problem. It may be difficult trying to determine the source of the noise in circuits that contain feedback loops, as do most motor-speed controls and power supplies. In the case of power supplies or servo amplifiers, tracking down noise sources can be a daunting task. Current and voltage feedback in these types of devices use relatively high-gain stages that can easily feed back upon themselves. Care must be taken to preserve the integrity of the intended signal with robust rejection of undesired signals. Many switch-mode power supplies contain both current and voltage feedback. Often, they operate at higher frequencies (typically 400 kHz and up) that can create capacitive, magnetic (inductive), and RF-type interference problems. Inadequate shielding, or a poor layout of the voltage sense line, may let interference from the pulse-width-modulated (PWM) output interfere with proper sensing. The power supply becomes both the source and victim of the problem. The only solution here is to isolate the signals with layout and shielding changes. Shield the noise source with a 360° coverage braided cable. The PWM edges can also be substantially tamed with either common or differential-mode inductors, depending on the cause. The inductors slow the rise and fall times of the wave, reducing dV/dt and dI/dt effects. The slower rise time also reduces the harmonic frequencies. This in turn may break the coupling since the receiving antenna may not be able to receive the lower frequency.

Shields merely act as an isolation barrier to a signal. Using one barrier on the source of the noise and one barrier on the receiver typically delivers the greatest integrity. Shields may be necessary, but, ideally, there should be no signal to shield against. It is important to understand what is causing the noise and whether it can be resolved. There are many techniques relating to noise that truly resolve the source of the problem, not just reduce noise levels. For example, the high dV/dt signals seen in pulse-width-modulations may be impacted by slowing the rise time. The change in dV/dt may break any capacitance-coupling factor should the rise time fall below the reactance level.

RF signals

There are two fields present on any working antenna: an E-field that represents voltage and an H-field. For example. it takes an antenna to transmit or receive a radiated signal. An egregious example is the PWM output from servodrive systems. In a majority of cases. The complex model of a motor amplifier. and connections. This complex reactive load may not function as one thinks. Typically. the EMI noise is broadcast where its reception may interfere with proper operation of other nearby equipment. E and H. This is sometimes referred to as sympathetic oscillation. these outputs are sent via long cables to motors that effectively represent an inductive load in electrical terms. in the far or radiative field area. The RF signal within the near field shows a 90° shift between the E-field and the Hfield. in some cases. but any type of conducting surface can function as an antenna. but it is possible to use it to resolve the interference issues. they will support each other and maintain their resonant relationship. When they are in phase on the antenna. grounding. electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) labs measure signals 30 MHz and higher at distances over 10 m from the unit under test (UUT). For example. this type of system is prone to the H-field or magnetic effect of the PWM signals. For example. thus.Unfortunately. the electric field has the predominant effect. Interference is typically eliminated by surrounding this cable with a magnetic shield grounded at both the amplifier and motor terminals. a magnetic shield is more effective to block the transmission source and prevent reception. shielding. a high-magnetic field across a device may illuminate LEDs within the field. respectively. any solid-state device connected to the same circuit may partially conduct at the wrong time. Characteristics of the signal are plainly visible. Fortunately. First. making a true analysis (called characterization) of the signal unreliable due to cancellations and intermodulation. Magnetic coupling Pulse-width-modulation signals from servoamplifiers and power supplies are often noise culprits. An understanding of the transmission and reception mechanism of a radiated signal makes it possible to devise techniques that effectively eliminate their associated problems. Relays are common culprits. actually turn on nearby devices. Ten meters is the 1-λ wavelength for 30 MHz. Beyond 1/2 λ. These unwanted signals have sufficient power to. along with back-EMF voltages. The magnetic and voltage fields. cable. it is fairly easy to create RF signals. answers do exist to control this well-known combination of problems. At the same time. which is magnetic. they use an E-field (voltage) antenna as a receiver. . the magnetic field is the primary affecter. However. and current. an electric arc jumping across a spark gap generates a wide range of frequencies. resistance. The subsequent electromagnetic field generated by the spark may cause major interference problems within the equipment. Typically. or orthogonal are 90° apart and are sympathetic or supportive of one another. as contact arcing may arise when the relay opens. In addition. and motor includes elements of inductance. projecting their signals into unwanted areas. The combined effect of these factors generates a perfect storm for careless cable selection. The area within one half wavelength (1/2 λ) of the source is called the near field or inductive area. capacitance.

it most likely would operate. the power line inputs of the equipment should also contain filters that block sensitive devices from power-line disturbances. Any load imbalance results in current flow from the oscillation source to ground via this RLC circuit. Given this propensity to oscillate. These oscillations are prevalent on the PWM of all transistors in the output power bridge. PWM simulation The complex conditions for EMI noise are related. This is especially prevalent in sensitive high-gain circuits. reduce the emissions. shield the receiver to break the coupling. Earth or safety ground and the neutral wire connect to the same potential in the power box. Second. but you would not on the ground connection. and the fact that each transistor will produce ringing. It happens at a substantially higher frequency than that of the PWM waveform and is usually only on the rising edge of the pulse. Motor capacitance is lumped in with the cables. If the power return line of the equipment were inadvertently connected to ground instead of neutral. The standard simulation produces an indication of ringing on the leading edge of the PWM output. capacitance) characteristics. force a current path to ground via the intended connections. While the proper answer to this problem is to connect the system correctly. it would likely put unintended noise on the ground line. as well as voltage spikes from the di/dt through the inductance of the motor winding. Analysis of the PWM signal shows there is some improvement. can damage insulation. producing an electrical failure in the motor or drive. but not enough to . And third. motor resistance. you would most likely see voltage fluctuations using the neutral line as reference. An example is a power system where a neutral line serves as the ground reference. inductive. and the possibilities become numerous. But besides creating an electrical danger. to motor inductance. One drive model places an inductor in series to slow the rise time of the PWM signal and reduce oscillations. negatively affecting all of the devices connected to that ground. A model of the PWM technique can be illustrated by way of an electronic simulation program. Common-mode noise. Add to this the unpredictable nature of what the PWM will do with back-EMF voltages. First. while onethird of the PWM bridge drive is modeled using IGBTs to simulate a single phase of the drive. cable capacitance. it is easy to see how the frequencies involved can couple into a load that contains uneven RLC (resistive. but not limited. If the inductance path to ground is a lower impedance. the motor’s complex electrical qualities are modeled as an inductor in series with the resistance of the motor. The difference is that neutral is a current-carrying conductor while an earth ground should never carry current under normal circumstances. To correct this problem requires a threefold attack. To start.When a ground is not a ground One of the most common direct-coupled noise sources arises when the ground used for reference or return is not referenced to earth as expected. These powerline disturbances are quite common and filters from a number of different manufacturers sufficiently address this issue. and the capacitive effects of the motor windings. shielding. it usually results in some of those leading-edge oscillations leaking onto the signal returns. If the signal was monitored at this point.

even accidentally. there may be catastrophic results. .consider this an effective answer. This model includes both a common-mode inductor as well as a series mode matched to cable capacitance. Should this happen. inductance. This often results in a well-controlled PWM pulse without the wild oscillating rising edge that can lead to EMI noise. however. The combination of cable capacitance and motor inductance can produce a “tank circuit” that resonates at a frequency related to the rise time of the PWM. Now with a good connection to ground and a lower frequency of ringing. The oscillation of this PWM edge is benign. Manufacturers that are CE compliant should have an intimate understanding of EMI and EMC compliance. including mechatronic design engineering for systems in use in electronic glass manufacturing. The drawback of this design. as well as how to supply external products for special cases. Do not forget that cables also contribute to the effect. with minimal impact on delivering a sound product. there are still some significant oscillations that could couple into the system. This is the best answer for an existing design. textile. and capacitance in the right areas. Drives displaying the CE mark should come with information about how to maintain compatibility. Reducing the amplitude and frequency of these oscillations further should be the goal here. both transmission and reception of EMI can be taken care of with shields. For more information. is that it slows PWM power changes in the drive. They are part of the circuit. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Lee Stephens is a senior motion control engineer at Kollmorgen. with more than 20 years of motion control engineering experience. While they are easier to shield than the original oscillations. A straightforward shield and ground are likely adequate to minimize the EMI infiltration without significantly adding to the cost of the system. As can be seen from the final model. An alternative solution is to add a snubbing circuit. and printing industries. it is significantly easier to eliminate the noise. contact support@kollmorgen.