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Thoughts on In House Pre-Compliance Test Equipment

From an email sent to a customer who asked for some feedback on their list of proposed EMC pre-compliance test equipment.

 

“On the subject of equipment, sounds like you’ve identified a nice little pre-compliance setup there! I agree that investing in equipment is a much better long term view than just hiring some in (for the common tests at least).

Com-Power stuff is very good, I use some of their kit myself. The TekBox stuff is very reasonably priced for pre-compliance and again, I use some of their equipment in my test setups. If you are making conducted emissions measurements with a LISN you’d be wise to put a limiter in series with your spectrum analyser input to prevent costly damage. Armoured cable isn’t strictly necessary as it can be difficult to handle, just regular good quality coax is fine.

As a substitute for radiated measurements you can use a current probe around cables as these tend to be excellent emitters of radiated noise. It helps if you already know what the problematic frequencies are. Again, Tekbox make some very reasonably priced probes.

I would also consider the Signal Hound SA44B or BB60C (I have one and I really like it) spectrum analysers as an alternative to the Tektronix one. There’s quite an in depth review of the BB60C here. Their software is easy to use and crucially is free with an EMC pre-compliance option.

If you need test equipment support, I usually talk to Joy Torres at Instruments 4 Engineers in Stockport. She is very helpful and can often get you access to good prices. joyt@instruments4engineers.com. I know she represents Tek, Com-Power and Signal Hound.

The main downsides of making your own emissions measurements is the amount of ambient noise from other electronics, radio sources, reflections off nearby surfaces, etc. It is good for “is A better than B” testing, but it doesn’t really get you to a “but does it pass?” kind of answer. This takes some practice to get right and to get to know your equipment.

The question you could ask yourself is “do I have both the capital and the time to invest in this solution?”. I’ve talked to other companies about their setting up of pre-compliance facilities in house and their struggles tend to be:

  • Engineers lack time to work on the EMC project aspects as well as their regular project work
  • A lot of up front time required to learn the variables of the test setups and standards
  • How to make useful measurements and interpret the results
  • How to match the results from this testing to predicted test lab pass/fail results (spoiler: it is very tricky)
  • EMC knowledge is not well shared amongst employees or the engineer who has the knowledge is on holiday / off sick / unavailable / working on something else

None of these obstacles are insurmountable with good planning and management  🙂  but it is worth going in with eyes open.

In my experience, the best weapon in the EMC armoury is not a spectrum analyser, nor an antenna, not even a full test lab. It is a design review. When we design something we define its EMC characteristics. Getting this up-front bit right is the key to shorter design cycles, fewer prototype runs, reduced time to market and much less stress. Working together to catch the problems before they become problems gives experience in how to design for EMC and the lessons learned can be carried forward from project to project. We’ve helped many customers this way and we’d be happy to help out on your future product ideas.

Similarly, if you want to run quick checks on equipment that needs equipment that you don’t have then we are happy for you to send us the kit via courier and to run the tests on your behalf. I appreciate that our office isn’t exactly nextdoor so anything we can do to help minimise disruption to you and your team would be our pleasure.”

 

Hope some of this is useful

All the best

James

 

Q4/17 Updates – A good variety of work!

It feels like it has been a busy couple of months here at Unit 3 Compliance with a wide variety of projects coming through the door.

Q1/18 is already shaping up to be busy with some really interesting products booked in for pre-compliance testing and some nice meaty problems to get our teeth into. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the insights I gain from this work with you.

Here’s a quick roundup of what’s been happening…

EMC Pre-Compliance

Our key area of expertise and always the cornerstone of what we do here at Unit 3 Compliance is EMC pre-compliance testing. In the chambers recently we’ve had ticket machines, water boilers, development kits, and a light/motion sensor. Some with problems that we quickly fixed and some sailed through first time.

One particularly interesting product was an industrial lighting system that needed radiated RF immunity testing at 20V/m. This test loves to mess with products by turning on or off semiconductors that were quite happy as they were thank you very much. In this case, there was an transistor based current limiting circuit that, thanks to one of the transistors demodulating the RF carrier, decided to shut down key parts of the circuit. Replacing it with a resistor removed the problem allowing the customers development cycle to continue.

Microwave Antenna Pattern Measurement

A customer has been leasing the anechoic chamber to make some antenna pattern measurements on a complex microwave antenna system. By loading up the quiet zone of the chamber with extra microwave absorber we were able to provide a highly anechoic (low reflection) environment all the way up to 18GHz.

As part of this exercise we made some rough background noise measurements from 2GHz up to 18GHz revealing very little. This suggests that when we reassembled the chamber in its new home we didn’t leave any gaps!

Vibration Testing

The vibration shaker and amplifier have been fully commissioned after their move. They’ve been getting a good run in performing a 2g sine sweep test on a large 25kg rack mount power supply.

Jigging equipment onto the vibration table is always a challenge, especially for a large and heavy piece of equipment like this one. I like to use 1″ x 1″ x 1/8″ wall aluminium box section (really stiff and light) along with high tensile M10 threaded bar to clamp an EUT of this size. Smaller EUTs can be easily secured to lighter platforms using hot-melt glue, surprisingly effective!

I always find vibration testing fascinating, especially watching various components come in and out of resonance during a sine sweep test. It’s fun to draw parallels between mechanical and electrical resonance, stiffness, impedance and damping.

In this case we found a large resonance that caused a fracture of the base plate due to excessive motion. We suggested a few approaches to stiffening that area, one of which was implemented and successfully removed the resonance.

One piece of equipment I’m going to be designing soon is an LED strobe lamp that synchronises to the output of the vibration controller so that any flexing in resonant modes can be easily spotted. That will make analysis much easier.

Design Reviews

We’ve carried our several sets of schematic and PCB design reviews, from motion sensors to heater controllers, from pump monitors to semiconductor development kits.

Our approach is not only to look at EMC / system level but also to question and educate designers on alternative circuit choices based on our long experience in electronics design. This is part of the value that we give to our customers.

In each case we’ve addressed the circuit design, considering the EMI phenomena and levels that the ports of the design will be exposed to. This is where understanding the tests themselves is so important otherwise the circuit could be susceptible to problems.

We also look at design partitioning in some detail. This is one of the easiest ways to achieve good system level performance (and not just from an EMC perspective) by segregating the design into digital, analogue, power supply and I/O areas with the aim of keeping noise currents where they should be and away from their potential victims.