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