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I Will Happily Spend Your Equipment Budget…

 

 

Customers sometimes ask me “what EMC pre-compliance equipment should we buy?”

My reply is that I’m more than happy to help them spend your equipment budget!

Here’s an email that I sent to a customer recently when they were asking for feedback on some test equipment that had been proposed to them

 

A good spectrum analyser is pretty indispensable when it comes to wrestling with EMC issues. The Siglent ones (available from I4E and Telonic) are pretty damn good for the money, I’d buy one if I was in the market.

Near field probes can be used to narrow down the emissions source pretty effectively. Either the Tekbox ones from Telonic or the Beehive ones from Farnell are pretty good.

I have just written a free ebook on the subject of near field probing which might be of interest.

Another good addition is a current probe like the one I brought during my visit. This lets you easily characterise emissions on cables. Add an attenuator set to protect the spectrum analyser input.

Challenges with on site pre-compliance measurements

  • Dealing with background noise (near field probes and current probes are pretty resistant)
  • Relating levels it to a formal measurement standard (not possible)
  • Interpreting the results and figuring out what to do about it (expert level!)

If you decide to go down the road of getting your own equipment I’d be happy to come up and do a day with you running through measurement setups, tips and tricks if you think that would be helpful.

Alternatively, if you want to make some antenna based on-site radiated measurements I can come up and do a day with you with our spectrum analyser and portable antennae.

 

 

 

 

One Ferrite Is Not Enough

This would be a great Bond film title…

“So Blofeld, do you expect me to talk?”

“No Mr. Bond, I expect you to solve this radiated emissions problem!”

* laser noises intensify *

 

I was doing some radiated emissions problem solving on a smart LCD module and found an issue that is not new but I haven’t encountered for a while.

In this case, the solution required two ferrites. One on the I/O cable to the module and one on the flexible cable between controller and LCD screen.

Adding only a single ferrite in some cases INCREASED the emissions rather than reducing them, presumably an effect where the addition of the ferrite changes the resonant frequency of either one leg or the entire antenna to the troublesome frequency at 192MHz.

This reinforces the approach of:

  1. Always add new fixes to existing fixes already implemented. Whilst it might be the fifth change that worked, it might not have worked without the previous four.
  2. Once the last fix is in place and validated as working only then can you try and figure out what combination is actually required to solve the problem

The last step can get very busy, particularly if there are a large number of modifications applied. It might only be worthwhile if some are particularly expensive or difficult for the customer to implement in production. Different fixes for different budgets!

 

Graphical Guide to EMC: Near Field Probing (free eBook)

 

Download “The Graphical Guide to EMC: Near Field Probing” eBook here (40MB)

 

I have a love / hate relationship with textbooks.

They are thick, have lots of words, make me feel clever, and stop my bookshelf from floating away. They often have the one thing that you are looking for.

On the other hand, they have far too many (big!) words, too many equations with no context or explanation. I find it very difficult to sit, read and quickly gain an intuitive understanding.

 

I prefer to communicate with pictures. This is why my presentations are image heavy and text light. I’ve sat through far too many “PowerPoint Karaoke” sessions where the presenter reads the words on the slide.

Also I love the format of cartoons and graphic novels but you rarely see them outside of the fiction sphere. I’ve recently been thinking about what a combination of a graphic novel and a text book would look like.

 

With the recent acquisition of an e-ink tablet with drawing stylus to replace my 74 different notebooks and notepads I started sketching out some ideas for a guide to using near field probes. A subject that I’m often asked about and is complementary to our free Pocket Probe Set that we give away at shows and to customers.

One thing turned into another and once I started drawing I couldn’t stop. You can download the full eBook from the link at the top of this page or by clicking here.

 

 

I’ve released this under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license. This means you can share or adapt this work but you must provide a credit / link back to the original source (here). Any adapted work must be shared with the same licence terms.

 

I’d be interested to hear your feedback on the format and content of this mini eBook – please get in touch and let me know. If there is a positive response then more content may follow.

Thanks and all the best

James

 

 

self interference demo USB3 and 2.4GHz

2.4GHz Intra-System (or Self/Platform) Interference Demonstration

In this blog we are going to take a short look at noise and interference in the 2.4GHz band. Our example victim is a Zigbee controller and the sources are nearby USB3.0 devices and Wi-Fi sources.

 

Background

One of our customers makes these rather useful USB Zigbee Coordinator sticks, frequently used for controlling smart home or IoT devices like light bulbs.

These devices operate at 2.4GHz, a very crowded frequency band with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee all fighting for a narrow, congested slice of spectrum.

One of the common issues faced by users of this band is that of intra-system interference, sometimes referred to as “self” or “platform” interference. This is where components in the same system interfere with each other, primarily due to their proximity.

[Note: The counterpart to intra-system (within the system) in this context would be inter-system interference (between separate systems), which is what the conventional EMC test regime of radiated and conducted emissions and immunity seek to characterise.]

This common problem is something that our customer knows all too well from helping their clients integrate these Zigbee products into the end application.

So, during a recent visit to our lab for some testing on a related product, we spent some time investigating this noise on a typical setup.

 

Demonstration Setup

The setup in the below image is common to many users with a Raspberry Pi Model B and lots of stuff plugged in to the USB ports. In this case, a Zigbee adaptor (black case) and an USB3.0 SSD in close proximity.

These parts, including the spectrum analyser, is part of the customers in-house electronics development laboratory.

 

self interference demo USB3 and 2.4GHz

 

The effects of USB3.0 on the 2.4GHz spectrum are well known. A good example is this 2012 paper from Intel which

For this demo, we used a near field capacitive probe and a 2.4GHz antenna to measure noise in the 2.4GHz to 2.5GHz band local to the Raspberry Pi.

This demonstrated the degradation of the noise floor with various levels of system activity including

  • Measurement of system noise floor
  • Presence of a USB3.0 SSD running a large file transfer using the dd Linux command
  • Activation of the Raspberry Pi internal Wi-Fi

The below image shows three traces under these different conditions.

 

spectrum of 2.4GHz band showing ambient noise, SSD noise and Wi-Fi emission

 

Experiment Conclusions

The conclusions we can draw about the in-band noise are:

  • Noise from the SSD raises the noise floor by approximately 10-20dB (a factor of x10 to x100)
  • The Wi-Fi transmission from the Pi is 40dB above the local noise floor. This will mask any received Zigbee signals from a remote transmitter.

 

In-Band vs Out-of-Band Sensitivity

Well designed radio systems are generally very robust to out-of-band interference i.e. anything outside of the narrow radio band that it is tuned to. For instance, a Zigbee radio system set to channel 20 (2.450GHz) will reject anything below 2.445GHz and above 2.455GHz.

 

Intra System Interference Diagnosis

Advice on diagnosing these issues is mostly outside the scope of this short blog. Differences in systems, components and ambient noise levels makes it impractical to offer guidance for all situations. However, some generic problem solving pointers are presented below.

A systematic approach to isolating the problem is required.

One of the primary rules of problem solving is to change only one thing at once and observe the effects.

In EMC terms, it is possible to change several things at once without realising it. Cable position, the specific port that a device is plugged into, location of nearby equipment and cables, even how firmly a connector is tightened will all make small differences that stack up. (Don’t use anything other than a torque spanner on those SMA connectors though!)

Another key rule is if you think something has made a difference, reverse the change and see if the problem re-occurs. Unless you can achieve consistency then you might be changing something else unintentionally, or the problem is caused by something outside of what you are changing.

Correlating the problem against time can help. Does it happen when something else happens (other devices on, or off, or switching, certain configurations, times of day, etc.) This can give clues.

Lastly, we should be looking for a significant step change in improvement to identify the issue. Phrases like “I think it made a bit of a difference but I’m not sure” indicates that we are dancing around the issue and not getting to the heart of it.

Ultimately, for a detailed understanding, the spectrum analyser is a key tool in gaining a proper grasp of this issue.

 

Solutions

The solutions to the problem are simple yet sometimes difficult – a technical balance needs to be struck.

Use of Ethernet rather than Wi-Fi on the Raspberry Pi.

It is not practicable to synchronise transmission from the Raspberry Pi Wi-Fi with that of the Zigbee stick. The simplest way of ensuring the Wi-Fi does not interrupt the Zigbee transmissions is to disable the Wi-Fi and provide network connectivity via Ethernet instead.

Depending on the installation this might not always be practicable but it certainly is more reliable.

 

Separation of components

Moving the antenna away from the noise source is usually the best way to achieve increased performance.

In this instance, placing the module at the end of a USB cable and away from other electronic items is a good start.

Another option that is not as ideal: a good quality SMA extension cable could be used to extend the antenna away from the problem area. This introduces loss into the RF channel, reducing signal quality.  Measurements made in our lab on a cheap extension cable from RS show a power reduction of 6.5dB at 2.4GHz for a 5m cable. This equates to a ratio of around 0.25 meaning we are broadcasting and receiving a quarter of the power we were before.

Also, it is still possible for the noise to couple onto the nearby module even without the antenna attached meaning the problem does not get entirely resolved.

 

Better quality components

Sourcing a bunch of cheap-as-possible parts from Amazon or eBay is likely to bring problems.

Using devices from big name manufacturers and buying from reputable sources helps. But, even reputable components are designed to a price point and can still cause problems if the other points in this blog are not taken into account.

USB cables can be a big source of the problem. Unshielded back shells (the part between cable screen and connector body) compromise the shielding to the point where their performance at high frequencies is equivalent to an unshielded cable.

The only way to tell if a cable is good quality is to perform an autopsy on the ends and check on the cable shielding

Remember that Pawson’s Law of Cable Quality states that the EMC performance is inversely proportional to the physical appearance. Braided covers, shiny plating, metal connector bodies, transparent mouldings etc are all indications of money spent on the OUTSIDE of the cable. EMC quality comes from the INSIDE and is not visible.

shiny usb cable vs boring usb cable

 

 

Hope this was useful! See you soon.

James

 

 

 

RCWL-0516 - board image from github.com-jdesbonnet

Compliance Assessment of a RWCL-0516 Doppler Radar Motion Detector

I’ve been helping a customer out with some EMC pre-compliance testing of their new domestic product which included a range of 3rd party modules.

One of these modules was an “RCWL-0516” 3GHz radar for motion detection. These modules are widely available but technical information is mostly reverse engineered by enthusiasts and hobbyists. The best collection of information seems to exist on this GitHub page.

RCWL-0516 - board image from github.com-jdesbonnet

The customer was very keen to use these devices but making some measurements and looking into the regulatory side meant that it got a Big Fat No from me.

 

EMC Radiated Emissions

Radiated emissions in the 1-6GHz band were in excess of the Average limit line by over 17dB.

RCWL-0516 - radiated emissions Class B domestic

This is normally OK for a radio system, as exceeding these limits is often required to achieve the desired range and operation. However this only works if there is a counter-part radio standard to refer to…

 

Analysis of the Regulatory Status of this device

  • No CE / UKCA marking applied to these devices – should not be sold in the EU / UK
  • No CE / UKCA marking Declaration of Conformity supplied by manufacturer – should not be sold in the EU / UK
  • No reference to technical standards used to assess the device to the Radio Equipment Directive
  • At present there are no radio standards published by ETSI for the use of this 3.1GHz band for this kind of application in the EU or UK.
  • This document from CEPT on the use of Short Range Devices gives more details about what radio bands can be used
  • 3.1GHz is not a Harmonised Frequency band. Instead, it is licensed, and operation is only permitted in some countries. The key to the table is at the bottom.

RCWL-0516 - CEPT radio band table

  • Even when taking this table into account, this band is only for UWB Location Tracking Systems.

RCWL-0516 - CEPT radio band table part 2

  • Following the documents further down the chain, the ECC/REC/(11)09 mentioned above refers to two documents:
    • TR 102 495-5 for use of Ultra Wide Band for location tracking operating in 3.4 to 4.8GHz. This device is not UWB and not operating entirely in this band.
    • ECC REPORT 120 requirements for UWB Detect-and-Avoid for operation in this band. This device has not such capabilities.
  • The only way that this radar device can be considered legal to operate is if it meets the Class B (domestic) emissions limits in the 1-6GHz band.
  • Currently this is not the case. With this example product, emissions will need to be reduced by 17dB or more to comply.
  • The oscillator used relies on parasitic components between PCB elements. Tolerance of components, PCB manufacturing tolerance, values over temperature means that frequency stable operation is not practicable.
  • From a regulatory standpoint, these devices should not be touched with a barge pole
  • Other motion detector products exist – I’ve not linked to any as I don’t want to unfairly endorse anything I’ve not investigated further or tested myself.

 

Summary

Anyway, I hope this clears up some of the questions about this device.

I can’t recommend using these devices at all. If you are going to use one of these then keep an eye out for interference with other systems. Don’t even bother if you want to make something that you can sell at the end of the process.

Cheap 3rd party modules like this are usually cheap for a reason.

Thanks to Charlie Blackham for pointing me in the right direction with the radio standards.

 

 

 

A Bag of Water.

This is a very useful analogy to use when considering an EMC emissions problem, particularly true for radiated emissions in the (often problematic) 30MHz to 1GHz band.

 

Lets get squeezing.

Many of you will have experienced this before. Making a change to an emitting structure inside the equipment by changing the electrical connection between two points results in some emissions going down and some going up.

radiated emissions plot

Then you make another change and this has the opposite effect.

This is like squeezing our bag of water. We can move the water around in the bag much like we can emissions around in the spectrum. The harder we press down in one area, the more it pops up in another.

Emission goes up.

Emission goes down.

 

Reducing the volume

But unless we reduce the amount of water in the bag we will nearly always have a problem. The water is incompressible and it just finds new places to appear.

To achieve this in an EMC context we need to reduce the overall energy in the system.

This could be achieved either by keeping the energy controlled on a PCB away from the radiating structure or by adding lossy components (filters, ferrites, etc) to reduce the amount of energy coupling into the radiating structure.

Changing grounding and bonding within a system without reducing the energy is going to be an exercise in frustration and probably wasted time. Better to address the problem at source where possible.

 

Caveats inbound

There will always be a requirement for us to have to try and achieve the goal of “shaping” our bag of water to fit the radiated emissions limits.

A good example is a manufacturer that has already built a production run of units and needs a quick fix to get them onto the market.

Whilst this is often achievable, there are often significant rework / modification costs involved.

There is also the question of repeatability and consistency. If small changes in bonding of parts can make a large difference to emissions, how can you guarantee that each unit will be compliant? Testing multiple samples can help. As can having good production inspection points during the manufacturing process.

But common mode noise is a slippery customer and these kind of fixes should only ever be considered as temporary pending design changes to address the root cause of the issue.

 

A small plug.

Help is available.

We are really good at this kind of work

We’ve been through the cycle many many times with many many different products.

Using Unit 3 Compliance to help with your emissions problems gets you access to our years of accumulated experience.

Our on site test lab allows us to have a rapid cycle time between analysis of a problem on the bench, developing a fix, and testing in the chamber.

 

Hope this was interesting!

James

dc dc converter emissions before and after with notes on sources

Li-Ion Battery Charger DC/DC Converter – Radiated Emissions Problem Solving

I had a challenging EMC problem solving project in the lab this week.

A customer making a miniaturised 4 cm^3 buck-boost DC/DC converter for Li-Ion battery charging was having radiated emissions issues. The small size meant that adding common mode chokes to filter the input and output connections wasn’t practicable so a more in depth investigation was required.

 

How bad is it?

Here are the emissions for the EUT without any modifications. The green reference trace is the AC/DC mains power supply being used to power the EUT. It is failing the Class B limit (blue) by some margin.

unmodified dc dc converter radiated emissions

Initial Isolation and Investigation

To investigate the emission radiation source (not the cause yet), I placed large clip on ferrite cores around the DC input cable and the battery output cable to reduce emissions directly from the cables.

 

dc dc converter with ferrites on cables

This improves some of the frequencies but not all of them. If the radiation was entirely cable related then this would have dropped the emissions significantly. As it hasn’t, we can conclude that the majority of the emissions are coming from the PCB.

The three peaks we’ll focus on are 180MHz, 300MHz and 500MHz.

Next step is to turn on the spectrum analyser and break out the near field probes. I’ve got a selection of commercial and home made probes but the ones I keep coming back to are the give-away probe cards that I have on my exhibition stand at trade shows.

 

Switching Noise Investigation

The location of the emissions for the 180MHz and 300MHz emissions was initially puzzling. Mostly it was centred around the drain of Q1. If we consider the operation of the circuit, Q1 is turned on permanently in boost mode with Q3 acting as the normal switching element and Q4 acting as a synchronous rectifier. Where is this switching noise coming from?

 

buck boost in boost mode

 

Those of you familiar with synchronous switching converter operation will be shouting at the screen right now. Of course, the answer is bootstrapping.

The high side N channel MOSFETs Q1 and Q4 need a gate voltage higher than their source voltage + their threshold voltage to turn on. In this kind of circuit, this voltage is derived from the switching node via a bootstrap circuit.

This explanation on bootstrap circuit operation from Rohm saves me from re-inventing the wheel.

Even though Q1 is nominally on all the time it still needs to perform a switching operation with Q2 to charge up the bootstrap capacitor powering it’s gate driver circuit.

Checking the datasheet, this switching operation takes just 100ns. That’s very fast indeed and explains the source of our switching noise!

The same bootstrap operation is happening to provide the drive voltage for Q4 but because the boost node is continuously switching this voltage is being provided without such a short switching event.

Due to space constraints it wasn’t easy, but I managed to get the microscope out and modify the board to accept a small but high current ferrite bead in series with Q1 drain.

 

 

500MHz Emission

It didn’t take long to narrow down the 500MHz emissions to the boost output diode D1 with a large amount of ringing on the cathode.

The interesting thing about this diode is that it is only conducting for a very brief period in the dead-time between Q3 turning off and Q4 turning on. Dead time between these parts is set at 75ns, again a very short time period. Good for reducing switching losses, disadvantageous for EMC emission.

 

dead time turn on for the parallel boost diode

 

The part selected for this was a slightly electrically over-rated 40V 1A, SMB packaged part with a reasonable capacitance. Switching 1 amp of current through this part for only a brief period of time before shorting it out and discharging the diode capacitance was causing the ringing to occur.

A ferrite bead was added in series to damp this as the customer wasn’t too keen to head down the rabbit hole of investigating specifying a lower capacitance rated new diode or looking at whether the diode could have been removed altogether at the expense of slightly higher power dissipation in Q4.

Interestingly, this is what the emissions looked like with the diode removed but still with the lower frequency emissions present from the input transistor drain. Note the wideband reduction in emissions above 300MHz.

 

dc dc converter emissions plot with the parallel diode d1 removed from the circuit

Solution

With both of the ferrite beads in place the emissions profile of the EUT was reduced to meet the Class B limits. With more time the peak at 160MHz could be investigated and further reduced but project time pressures and the customer understandably wanting a “good enough” result meant we concluded this investigation here.

 

dc dc converter emissions before and after with notes on sources

The end.

DC/DC converters are often provide a challenging EMC opponent when it comes to radiated emissions. I was glad of the opportunity to work on this project and provide a successful result for the customer. This is the kind of work that I love.

The advantage of being an EMC-consultant-with-a-test-lab combined is that this kind of work can be compressed into hours of work rather than days/weeks oscillating between your lab and the test lab. Problems Fixed Fast!

I hope you found this piece useful, get in touch via the usual channels if you have any questions.

Cheers,

James

 

 

 

HDMI? More like HDM-WHY? Thoughts on Cable Shield Grounding

Ladies and gentlemen, I present this week’s episode of “Crimes Against Cables”

 

Example 1: “I had some leftover components to use”

I’ve seen plenty of interesting EMC “solutions” over the last several years to deal with radiation from cables.

A common one is to separate the shield ground from the signal ground with some combination of components (beads, capacitors, resistors). This approach appears to be particularly common on industrial touch screen display modules for some reason.

poor USB cable grounding suggestions

 

This is (in 99% of cases) a bad idea. I’m not sure what you are hoping to achieve by this and, probably, neither are you 😉

In fact I dedicated a small part of a recent talk to discussing grounds and grounding – you might want to check it out.

 

Example 2: How to Break a Shield

Another notable poor example was an otherwise well crafted piece of military equipment. Shielded connectors and cables all over, it looked like it would be survive some serious electromagnetic abuse (as anything being tested to MIL-STD-461 should).

However,

insulating plastic insert bad idea

insulating plastic insert cross section detail

 

This ends up being not only an emissions problem but an immunity one as well as the cables are just as capable of conducting noise into the shielded case.

This sort of thing can be solved with something like an EESeal type component or by a secondary external screen over the entire assembly.

 

Example 3: Plastic Fantastic

I’ve even seen ferrite cores that were just a moulded plastic lump to appear like cores. Maybe it was a “special” plastic? I never found out, it didn’t help the emissions either.

vga cable ferrite just plastic

But this next one was a first even for me.

 

Example 4 – The Strangest Decision Yet

I was performing a full set of EMC tests to EN 55032 and EN 55035 for a customer. The product had a HDMI interface so obviously there were radiated emissions problems.

The first step as a diagnostic was to use some copper tape to make a connection between the connector shell and the metal back plate – the anodised chassis and EMI gasket material provided was not making a good contact.

This didn’t help so I buzzed the connection with the multimeter to make sure I had some continuity and… nothing.

No connection between the connector shell and PCB Ground.

OK, so there must be a capacitor in series with the shield connection. Fetch the capacitance meter and… 1.2pF.

The board designer had neglected to connect the shield of the HDMI to PCB Ground. It’s a new one for me!

The addition of copper foil to bridge the connector pins to nearby solved the emissions problem but left me wondering why someone thought that was a good idea.

 

I’m going to leave you with this closing thought:

I’ve yet to come across an EMC problem where floating or not connecting a shield ground has improved the situation.

 

 

 

By James Heilman, MD - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34056919

Ventilator Projects and EMC Testing (EN 60601-1-2:2014)

Summary

If you haven’t already, check out part 1 of this blog Part 1: Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator (RMV) Projects and EMC Regulations

We’re going to take a look at the EMC requirements for RMVs, consider some of the risks posed by EMC and propose some methods of mitigating them.

Probably the biggest EMC risks are Radiated RF Immunity and ESD due to their higher than normal test levels.

If you need any fast turnaround design support and testing services for your Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator project then get in touch.

Background

As noted in the MHRA RMVS specification on page 24:

“EMC Testing (TBC): Must comply with IEC 60601-1-2:2014, Medical electrical equipment — Part 1-2: General requirements for basic safety and essential performance — Collateral Standard: Electromagnetic disturbances — Requirements and tests”

So lets take a look at a the EMC tests that might be required for a typical Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator project.

This is with the view of meeting the Essential Performance / Basic Safety requirements of EN 60601 whilst addressing the highest risk items first. This is prioritising speed of testing instead of performing a belt and braces, test everything approach that would be the common approach for Medical Devices.

Emissions

These ventilators are going to be used in a hospital / clinical care environment under medical supervised use and not in a home environment.

60601-1-2 classifies a hospital as a Class A emissions environment for Radiated and Conducted emissions. This means that less time needs to be spent fighting to get the emissions below Class B.

Risk items to radiated emissions could include any brushed DC pump motors as these are notoriously noisy. Ferrite cores may be required around motor cables to mitigate this noise.

Following the design guidelines further down this article for any PCBs is recommended and will greatly assist with reducing EMC radiated emissions.

Most RMVs will be using an off the shelf power supply already approved to EN 60601 for Safety and EMC. AC Power conducted emissions should therefore look after itself and won’t be a significant worry for testing.

For Harmonic Distortion and Flicker, there is an interesting note in EN 60601-1-2 in Annex A

“It is assumed that ME EQUIPMENT and ME SYSTEMS used in hospitals (and large clinics) are not connected to the PUBLIC MAINS NETWORK.”

If this is the case, then Harmonics and Flicker requirements and tests need not apply as these only relate to the public mains network.

Immunity

Overview

Most ventilator systems have no external electrical ports apart from the power supply. They are mostly self contained units. This greatly speeds up and simplifies the testing, and reduces the risk of problems with Signal Input / Signal Output Ports (SIP/SOP Ports in the standard, analogous to a Signal Port from other EMC standards).

Mains borne interference (EFT, Surge, Conducted RF) should be handled by the EN 60601 pre-approved power supply without issue. It will still need checking but ultimately the risk is low.

Dips and Interrupts and the hold up time of the power supply is something that would need considering at the Risk Analysis level to derive the correct immunity criteria for each of the individual tests.

If this needs improving then selecting a slightly larger power supply than nominally required could help. More likely, additional bulk decoupling on the main power rail (e.g. 1000uF) will help maintain the system DC voltage under these conditions.

Immunity Performance Criteria

Caveat: This section is me thinking aloud as I have no domain specific knowledge for Risk Management and Medical Devices. I’m trying to approach this from a common sense perspective to aid anyone working on a RMV.

The function of the EMC Immunity tests for Medical Devices is to ensure that the Essential Functions continue to operate and that Basic Safety condition is maintained.

Normally the immunity performance criteria would be based on the type of EM phenomena being simulated in the test. This is normally Criteria A for continuous phenomena (radiated or conducted RF immunity) or Criteria B for momentary phenomena (ESD, EFT, Surge, Dips/Interrupts). Criteria C only tends to crop up for longer duration power interruptions.

In the case of a Medical Device, maintaining the Essential Performance is the key parameter. If a momentary EM phenomena causes this to happen then this is a major problem.

Therefore immunity performance criteria must be considered for the key function of the device as well as the duration of the EM phenomena.

Based on this thought process, a sensible starting point for the immunity criteria is:

Assume criteria A (unaffected performance) for:

  • Key function of assisting patient breathing for all tests. This includes momentary EM phenomena tests = ESD, EFT, Surge, Dips/Interrupts.
  • Non-critical functions under continuous EM phenomena tests = Radiated and Conducted RF Immunity

Assume Criteria B for:

  • Key function performance for this means that there should be a function in the RVM firmware that remembers its last current operating state and settings and that it starts up in that state from a power cycle. This creates a requirement for programmable non-volatile memory (some kind of EEPROM) in the RVM.
  • All momentary EM phenomena tests for non-critical functions e.g. display readout may temporarily distort or flicker so long as it recovers

Assume Criteria C for:

  • Non-critical functions from momentary power loss e.g. screen/display readout or setting

Immunity Risks

There are two big risks to the immunity performance: Radiated RF Immunity and ESD.

Radiated RF Immunity

Test Requirements

The basic requirement for radiated RF immunity is a flat 3V/m from 80MHz to 2.7GHz. So far so good, this is a fairly easy test to meet.

Now the bad news. Table 9 gives a list of spot frequencies to be tested to simulate close range exposure to common wireless technology standards. The table is summarised here:

Frequency (MHz)ModulationTest Level (V/m)
38518 Hz pulse, 50%27
450FM +/- 5kHz dev.
1kHz sine
28
710, 745, 780217 Hz pulse, 50%9
810, 870, 930 18 Hz pulse, 50% 28
1720, 1845, 1970 217 Hz pulse, 50% 28
2450 217 Hz pulse, 50% 28
5240, 5500, 5785 217 Hz pulse, 50% 9

As you can see, this has testing up to 28V/m, a significantly higher field strength than 3V/m!

Risks to the EUT

This test loves to mess with analogue sensors. In the case of ventilators, the pressure sensors used frequently have an analogue output to a DAC on the CPU. This presents two risk areas:

  1. Demodulation of noise inside the pressure sensor amplifier. This takes the small transducer signals and amplifies it up to the output voltage. Noise demodulated here would cause the carrier to be superimposed on the pressure readings.
  2. The input of the ADC could be susceptible to noise picked up on the analogue voltage from the pressure sensor, even if the pressure sensor itself is unaffected. This will affect the readings.

Since the airflow and pressure sensors are a key component to the operation of the ventilator, these must be protected at all cost.

Design Recommendations

Design ideas to mitigate this interference include

  1. Keep traces/connection as short as possible between sensors and ADC
  2. If you can mount them all on the same circuit board then do so
  3. This circuit board will have one layer dedicated to a solid ground plane fill over the entire plane. All ground pins

    Check out my video presentation on PCB grounding and HF current flow.
  4. Cables = antennas that are good at receiving the interference. Minimise use of cables where possible.
  5. Figure out what your minimum bandwith requirements for airflow are and filter the signal appropriately. You probably won’t need to sample the airflow faster than 10kHz so put a low pass filter right next to the ADC input. Something like a 4k7 and a 1nF will give you a 3dB of 34kHz. This will reduce the risk of RF noise being demodulated by the ADC input.
  6. Decouple the supply lines to the pressure sensor well
  7. Add a small filter to the pressure sensor input, perhaps another RC filter as shown above. This will help prevent the pressure sensor from being affected by the test.
  8. It is possible that the pressure sensor will be directly affected by the radiated noise picked up by the sensor body itself and not by the traces. It would be prudent to provide a PCB footprint for a shielding can near the sensor. I have seen this effect on gas sensors in the past.

Risk Analysis

Assuming that the advice above is followed, the risk to the EUT is manageable.

One of the interesting features of Radiated RF Immunity testing is that of the Problem Band where most issues occur.

radiated rf immunity susceptibility characteristics

Most of the time, the problem band is in the 100MHz to 300MHz area (I’ll cover this in more detail in a future article). Cables tend to be the best antennae at these frequencies and, hopefully, our ventilator only has one cable of interest – the AC power cable. This has plenty of filtering for conducted emissions reduction which should handle this noise.

Probably the two biggest problem frequencies from the spot frequencies above are going to be 385 MHz and 450 MHz.

Then we are into the realms of direct pickup on internal signal cables and PCB traces at higher frequencies. If we’ve laid out our PCB well as highlighted above (short analogue traces, filtering, good ground plane, shielding provision) then this will help mitigate our risks.

ESD

Overview

The levels of ESD testing are almost twice that of the regular EMC standards with a requirement for 8kV contact and 15kV air discharges.

ESD is very good at upsetting digital systems and it has a particular fondness for edge triggered pins e.g. reset lines and interrupts.

Design Recommendations

If the reset line for the CPU controlling the RVM is shared with other digital circuit blocks or supervisory controllers then an RC low pass filter at the input to the CPU is highly recommended. This helps prevents unwanted resets.

Checking can be implemented in the Interrupt Service Routine to ensure that an interrupt condition actually exists, effectively de-bouncing the input.

Thankfully the Ingress Protection requirements for the RVM of IP22 and the requirement to provide flat, easily cleanable surfaces will probably dictate the use of some kind sealed membrane keyswitch panel. These have good ESD immunity as no direct contact discharge can take place on an switch where the plastic covering remains in place.

Whatever user interface technology the RVM employs, this will be a key risk area for ESD. If this is on a separate PCB to the main controller, all interfaces will need some kind of filtering. A small capacitor to ground on each of the lines that goes to the keypad would be a good idea. 0603, 100pF usually works well here.

Lastly on the mechanical design, keeping the electronics well away from the enclosure seams will also reduce the risks of creepage of any discharge into the circuit board.

Summary Test Plan

Emissions

  • Radiated Emissions, Class A, 30MHz to 1GHz (EN 55011)
  • Mains Conducted Emissions, Class A, 150kHz to 30MHz (EN 55011)

Immunity

Text in bold is highlighted as a risk item.

  • ESD, (EN 61000-4-2), 8kV contact, 2/4/8/15kV air. Test to connectors as well.
  • Radiated RF Immunity (EN 61000-4-3)
    • 80MHz to 2.7GHz @ 3V/m
    • Various spot frequencies at up to 27V/m
  • EFT (EN 61000-4-4), AC Mains Port, 2kV
  • Surge (EN 61000-4-5), AC Mains Port, 1kV line-to-line, 2kV line-to-ground
  • Conducted RF Immunity (EN 61000-4-6), AC Mains Port, 3V/m (6V/m in ISM bands)
  • Dips and Interrupts (EN 61000-4-11), AC Mains Port, various

Conclusions

Not only has this article identified key EMC risks to Rapidly Manufactured Ventilators but also provided some design guidelines to dealing with the problems that might arise.

Some of the guidelines within might be useful to anyone designing a Medical Device. We haven’t covered the requirements for Patient Coupled Ports or SIP/SOP ports from an EMC perspective as they aren’t of too critical a concern for an RVM.

We can see how looking at the standard and pulling out the required tests can help us understand the risks involved in the design.

Experience of knowing how the tests will typically affect the EUT is the key to unlocking good design practices. In my case, this comes from having worked on many designs with problems and the learning that comes from fixing the issues that crop up.

Remember EMC test success comes from good EMC design. For a time critical RVM there is one chance to get it right – no do-overs!

I hope you found this article useful. See you when all this has calmed down.
All the best,
James.

Networking Equipment – EMC Radiated Emissions Problem Solving

I had an email from a customer that I’m working on some design consultancy work with, saying that one of their prototype products was having some radiated emissions problems at an accredited lab. Could I take a look?

Absolutely, EMC radiated emissions problem solving is my favourite part of the job! Ironically, it is usually the customers least favourite part!

Thankfully I had a slot free the next week so they bundled their kit into the car for the long drive “Up North” from their base in the South West of the UK.

After some tinkering, the equipment was set up in the chamber for some radiated emissions work. The first scan confirmed the problem levels and frequencies that had been observed at the other laboratory.

The problem areas from their last scan were at 35MHz, 80-90MHz and a broad band between 150MHz and 220MHz.

 

System Overview

The system was housed inside a nice aluminium case that was being used for CPU heatsinking and environmental protection as well as EMC shielding. A rough diagram of the internals shows a main PCB with a large CPU / memory block in the centre and a variety of cables leaving the PCB and the casing.

The main power cable housing also had two debug connections inside the same housing that weren’t being used in the field but were available for updating software and such like.

rwns overview diagram

As is so often the case, this product was in it’s final stages of the development life cycle, meaning that no major design changes were possible. These EMC problems would have to be resolved using easy to fit additional components. Thankfully I have plenty of things in stock to try out.

 

Emissions Analysis

There are two important characteristics about these emissions that show us where to look

  1. They are predominantly broadband, an indication of analogue noise e.g. DC/DC converter / power supply. Sometimes this broadband noise is generated by digital switching but this can be less common.
  2. They are all low in frequency, where large or long structures are the most efficient antennae. This usually means cables.

So power noise and cables…. hmmm…. any good ideas?

 

OK Kids, Let’s Take a Look at the Cables.

In a very sensible move by the designer, both the DC power and Ethernet cables had some common mode filtering on the PCB.

Ethernet magnetics have common mode chokes built into the transformer stack which reduces the noise emitted and increases the susceptibility performance of Ethernet despite the often unshielded twisted pair cables used.

The caveat is that once the cables have left the magnetics that they must be protected from other interference sources. Noise coupling on to these lines is going to be heading straight out of the enclosure using these lines as the antenna. Similarly, if common mode noise gets onto the centre-tap of the output side of the magnetics then this can also cause similar issues.

I have experienced system noise coupling on internally routed Ethernet cables before and it nearly always results in lots of low frequency emissions.

The power cable had a small surface mount Murata filter in place with excellent attenuation at the frequencies of interest.

murata filter characteristics and equivalent circuit

Both the Ethernet and power cables pass through the shielded enclosure with no connection or filtering to the case. In bypassing the quite nice Faraday cage of the enclosure, any noise current on these lines will inevitably appear as radiated emissions and be picked up by the receive antenna..

Now to find out some more info.

 

Radiated Emissions Experiments

First, unplugging the Ethernet cable dropped the emissions significantly from 30MHz to 120MHz.

Secondly, some messing around with ferrite cores on the power cable reduced the 150MHz to 220MHz hump down to sensible levels.

This left a single peak at 270MHz that was traced to noise using the coaxial RF cables to the antenna to radiate.

Lets look at each of the points in a bit more detail:

 

Ethernet

The only practical method of dealing with the Ethernet emissions was to change the bulkhead connector to a metallic screened version and the external cable to a SSTP (Screened Shielded Twisted Pair) type of cable. No exciting analysis here I’m afraid.

 

Details of the Power Cable Noise Coupling

The most interesting coupling mechanism was happening inside the un-screened bulkhead power connector. Thanks to the power filter on the PCB, there was very little noise being conducted back down the cable from this line. However, the debug connections to the CPU are picking up all kinds of noise and carrying that noise to the connector.

rwns cable coupling close up

Disconnecting and bundling the debug cables near the connector cuts the radiated emissions down to next to nothing.

What’s most interesting is that the capacitive coupling region between the power cable and the internal debug cables is so small. The connector is only 20mm long and the cables run parallel with each other for barely any distance. And yet there is enough noise current being coupled onto these lines that it causes a radiated emissions problem.

 

Details of the RF Antennae Noise Coupling

By the time that all of the cables had been filtered or removed, there remained just one emission at 270MHz that was failing the Class B limit. An investigation with RF current probes showed a lack of noise on the main output cables listed above, even when they were screened or filtered appropriately.

A wander round the enclosure with an electric near field probe and spectrum analyser showed a spike in emissions near the RF antenna housing on the side of the EUT.

 

rwns antenna spurious

Checking the antenna feed cables showed them connected to the PCB pretty centrally. Disconnecting the coaxial cables from their mating halves dropped the emissions down to the noise floor.

Even though the noise isn’t in-band for the antennae themselves, they still perform well enough to radiate the noise and cause an emissions problem.

 

Summary of Fixes Applied

The below diagram shows the fixes applied to the EUT to achieve a Class B pass.

rwns applied modifications

Firstly, a fully screened metal bulkhead Ethernet connector was chosen for use with a shielded cable. This isn’t ideal from the installation point of view but is ultimately unavoidable without more significant modifications to the EUT.

Secondly, a Wurth ferrite was equipped around all three of the cables connected to the power bulkhead connector. As detailed above, it is necessary to put the ferrite around all three cables and not just the power to reduce the noise entering the capacitive coupling region around the connector.

Thirdly, a small ferrite was placed around each of the UFL cables at the point at which the antenna cables left the housing. This is a fairly common modification for radiated emissions, one I’ve employed several times before, and there are numerous suppliers of ferrites of various lengths with just the right inside diameter for the type of thin coaxial cable used with UFL connectors.

 

Results

Closing Thoughts

Any time your cable passes through a shielded enclosure with no RF termination at that point, you can pretty much guarantee its going to need some filtering.

Nothing particularly in depth in this analysis of the EUT, but I did find the coupling in and around the power connector particularly interesting.

At the end of the day, the best outcome was a happier customer with a path forward for their product.