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When ESD Protection Gets Bypassed

ESD protection is essential to control the Electro-Static Discharge event from damaging sensitive circuitry within a product. But its location within the system needs to be considered carefully and is sometimes not obvious at the schematic level.

I’d like to share with you a great example of this that I found whilst working on a customer’s system. I probably wouldn’t have spotted this without testing but I will certainly have it in mind for future design reviews.

 

The EUT

In this instance, the Equipment Under Test is formed from a 2 part metal chassis consisting a large base and a hinged lid. On the lid there is a membrane keypad that interfaces via a Flat Flexible Cable (FFC) to the front panel PCB. There is a second ribbon cable from front panel PCB to CPU board carrying the button presses to the processor.

The ESD protection is on the front panel cable, next to the point where the unit is likely to be touched – the keys. So far, so good.

system under test showing front panel, esd protection and cables

The base and lid are connected elsewhere via the typical long piece of green and yellow wire for electrical safety purposes. The inductance of this connection (long wire, single point) means that it has minimal effect at the high frequencies present in an ESD waveform. Also, the case halves are separated by a rubber environmental seal meaning there is no contact around the edge of the case.

 

EUT + ESD = ???

So what happens when the EUT is subject to an ESD event? There is no discharge to the plastic membrane keypad on the top and discharges to the Vertical Coupling Plane don’t have any effect. However, when a discharge is made to the seam between the lid and base, something interesting happens.

Because of the conditions mentioned earlier (large seam with a significant, remote impedance connecting the lid to the base) the pulse is free to couple to the internal cable assembly as shown below.

Because the ESD protection is on the front panel display board it is unable to prevent the flow of high frequency current down the cable and into the CPU.

The effect of the discharge is to cause the entire system to reset and eventually the GPIO lines responsible for monitoring the front panel keys were damaged to the point of non functionality.

Analysis

On the face of it, the designers had acted sensibly; the ESD protection was right next to the interface that was likely to be touched by the user. However, the design of the case and the routing of the cable proved to be a problem – something that was not anticipated.

With the addition of some simple capacitive filtering or ESD protection at the point at which the cable enters the CPU board this problem was overcome.

 

Lessons

There are lessons for us all here that I would summarise as:

  1. Consider every cable as a risk, even internal ones
  2. Watch out for cables crossing enclosure seams or apertures where coupling is a risk. Not a dissimilar situation to a PCB trace crossing a split in a ground plane – and we all know how bad those can be, right?
  3. Consider how the PCBs and cables will be integrated within the system through a mechanical design review (with your EMC hat on)
  4. It doesn’t matter how well designed you think your system is, testing is necessary to find these problems

 

 

 

TWITL – Vibration Testing Automotive ECU

This Week In The Lab: This fuel injector controller has to withstand significant levels of vibration being mounted inside the engine bay of a high performance racing car.

The manufacturer and end user can’t afford a field failure so we are giving it a literal shakedown.

We are also monitoring the live performance during testing of the ECU to check for failure points or changes in the characteristics of the system

Vibration and shock testing applies to a wide range of products e.g.

  • Anything that is mobile or at risk of knocks and shocks in it’s end application
  • Industrial equipment working in a plant room or similar environment
  • Anything with moving parts; how robust is it? Are there unknown resonant modes lurking?

Get in touch to discuss your vibration testing requirements, we’d be happy to help.

 

 

 

TWITL – Shield Prototyping for Sensitive Detectors

This Week In The Lab: prototyping a shielding can for some sensitive detectors.

The customer’s equipment contained some hazardous gas detectors. Despite a good circuit design, one of these sensors wasn’t too happy when tested at industrial 10V/m levels for radiated RF immunity.

EN 50270:2015 imposes some fairly tight limits on the allowed measurement deviation under immunity conditions (depending on the type of gas).

This “fabri-cobbled” shield proved to be a success and a good proof of concept for the customer to take their design forward.

Despite the less than ideal connection made to the PCB ground plane via the screws it was sufficient to achieve a pass.

copper shield for emc emi

 

stainless steel camera system

TWITL – Underwater Camera System Industrial EMC Testing

This Week In The Lab: a nicely engineered underwater camera and lighting system. All beautifully turned, milled and TIG welded stainless steel, this thing can go deep and withstand some rough treatment. It was seriously heavy!

stainless steel camera system

The exact installation environment wasn’t known. Since it was expected to be operated in harsh conditions we opted to test to the generic industrial standards EN 61000-6-2 for immunity and EN 61000-6-4 for emissions.

A Simple EMC Fix

Just one fix required: under 10V/m radiated RF immunity testing one of the positioning motors wasn’t responding to it’s control signals. The control from user to motor was all digital so interference on those lines was unlikely.

The fault finding process was relatively straightforward this time.

We quickly figured out that the problem lay with the optical sensor that detected the shaft position and set the end stops for the range of motion. It was being triggered by the noise which caused it to think that the shaft was simultaneously at both of its end positions.

A ferrite core around the cable and a decoupling/filtering capacitor on the sensor input to the controller stopped the noise from affecting performance.