Editor’s Note—Originally published in our March 2014 issue, this article remains one of the most popular articles among readers of In Compliance Magazine. The most recent version of this article was published in our January 2020 issue.
It’s been said that nobody grows up wanting to be an EMC engineer. Rather, it usually just happens. Maybe you had incriminating information on your resume, such as being a radio ham. “You’ve created interference, so you must know how to stop it, right?” Maybe you showed a knack for EMC troubleshooting, and suddenly you’re now the company expert – whether you want to be or not. Or maybe you just zigged when you should have zagged.
In any event, you’re now in the EMC trenches. In this article, we’ll discuss what to do next. It won’t happen overnight, but with a plan (and some work), you can move from EMC-novice to EMC-expert.
First, find a mentor…
If you are in a big company with an established EMC group, this may be your boss or a colleague. You need someone who has experience and who is willing and able to share it. Fortunately, most EMC engineers are happy to help – particularly the older ones, so don’t be afraid to approach the more senior members of your engineering staff.
If you are in a smaller company, identifying a mentor may be more difficult, particularly if you are the sole EMC practitioner. In this case, you may need to look outside the company. Good candidates for mentors are your local EMC test lab, or perhaps an EMC consultant. Since both sell their time, fees may or may not be involved, but your company should be willing to invest in your education. After all, they put you in this position, and they want you to do well.
Get some experience – fast…
If you are responsible for the front-end design work, get to know the design teams. Participate in design reviews even if you don’t feel you know a lot about EMC. Trust me, this is a quick way to accelerate learning, particularly if you are a young engineer.
Be curious and ask questions. Don’t worry that you don’t know the answers – you are in learning mode. And don’t limit yourself to EMC engineers. Designers in specialized areas like power electronics, RF or analog circuits often have valuable insights applicable to EMC issues.
Witness EMC tests. If you are hired into an EMC lab, you’ll be doing this anyway under the supervision of an experienced EMC test engineer. If you’re doing design work, get in as much test time as you reasonably can. It is amazing how much you can learn by just watching an EMC test. An added advantage – you’ll also get to know the good folks at the test lab.
Start on your self-education…
Unfortunately, undergraduate engineering classes on EMC are few and far between. Graduate programs are even more rare, and those that do exist usually focus on specific research. As a result, you may need to set up your own self-training program. Here are some ideas.
While I have over a hundred EMC books on my bookshelf, there are four I regularly recommend for newcomers to EMC.
- EDN Magazine Designer’s Guide to EMC – written by my late business partner Bill Kimmel and me as a beginner’s guide for non-EMC engineers. Simple explanations and recommendations, with no equations or complex math. A good place to start if you are new to EMC. Available in PDF and hard copy. Published by Kimmel Gerke Associates.
- Electromagnetic Compatibility Engineering – written by Henry Ott as a major update to his previous book (Noise Reduction Techniques in Electronics Systems). Well written, with all the equations you need without field theory or complex calculus. Published by Wiley & Sons.
- Introduction to Electromagnetic Compatibility, 2nd Edition – written by Clayton Paul, primarily as a college text, so it has lots of technical depth with all the field theory details. At the same time, very readable and practical. Published by Wiley Interscience.
- High Speed Digital Design – A Handbook of Black Magic – written by Howard Johnson as the definitive guide on Signal Integrity. Easy to read, with all the great design advice applies to EMC too. Published by Prentice Hall.
There are several publications serving the EMC community. The good news is that two are free, and all are filled with practical articles.
- In Compliance (you are reading it now) – monthly, with an annual buyers guide. Design, test and regulatory issues. Focus on commercial electronics, blanketing compliance related topics. Free on-line, free hard copy in North America. Same Page Publishing Co.
- Interference Technology (formerly ITEM) – annual buyers guide with additional guides throughout the year. Primarily test and regulatory issues, with an emphasis on EMC. Free. ITEM Publications.
- IEEE Electromagnetic Compatibility Magazine – Quarterly publication of the IEEE EMC Society. Included with membership the EMC Society.
These are excellent ways to gain focused practical information in a short time. They typically run from 2-5 days in duration and are offered throughout the US. In house classes are another option. Here are three major providers of EMC training.
- Kimmel Gerke Associates Ltd – EMC Design classes now offered primarily in-house, with schedule by mutual agreement. Over 12,000 past students.
- Wyatt Technical Services LLC – EMC Design classes offered both in-house and public. Part of an annual EMC Week in Las Vegas, NV.
- Washington Labs Academy – various EMC issues (length varies), with an emphasis on test and regulatory topics. Classes on-line and throughout the year at Washington Labs in Maryland.
Last, but not least, you want to get copies of the EMC regulations applicable to your industry.
Most are copyrighted and have a fee, but government regulations such as MIL-STD-461 and MIL-STD-464 are in the public domain and are free. The latter also have detailed appendices that are great tutorials on the “why” along with the ‘’how” of the various tests.
Here are the main EMC requirement by industry (with web sites.) Many of these are tailored by individual companies as internal EMC requirements.
- Military – MIL-STD-461 & MIL-STD-464
- Avionics – RTCA DO-160
- Automotive – SAE J551 & SAE J1113
- Commercial/Industrial – FCC Part 15, EN55022/55011, EN61000-4-x
- Telecommunications – Telcordia (now owned by Ericsson) GR-1089
- Medical – EN60601-1-2, FDA “Reviewer Guidance”
Participate in the EMC Community…
The community is small but tight. Don’t worry – fresh recruits are always welcome. Maybe it is a case of “misery likes company”, but you will find most EMC folks are friendly to newcomers.
This is especially true of many EMC old-timers. Most of us have enjoyed the journey and are happy to share what we have learned. Since little of this is taught in schools, most of us learned (and continue to learn) directly from colleagues and those before us. So if you are a new EMC engineer, don’t hesitate to ask for help.
The IEEE EMC Society is probably the biggest community resource. Among the smallest of the IEEE professional societies, the EMC Society is very active. It hosts chapters throughout the world, along with annual symposiums. Both provide excellent opportunities for ongoing education and professional networking.
If you have graduated within the last 15 years, check out the IEEE EMC Young Professionals, which has their own IEEE affinity group. (If you are an old coot like me, just hang out at the bar at the next EMC symposium — you will be in good company.)
Join an EMC Chapter
My first recommendation is to join your local IEEE EMC chapter. Go to http://www.emcs.org for a list of chapters, many with links to their local pages. Most chapters host at least four meetings a year, and usually include a speaker discussing a technical topic. Finally, you don’t need to be an IEEE member to attend – if you are interested in EMC, you are always welcome.
If you don’t have a local chapter, consider forming your own. Upon moving to Phoenix 22 years ago, I missed the camaraderie of the Minnesota chapter. So two other EMC engineers and I reactivated the local chapter, which had been defunct for years. It is still active 22 years later.
And, you are not alone. The EMC Society will help with its Angel and Distinguished Lecturer programs.
Attend EMC Symposiums
My next recommendation is to attend an IEEE EMC Symposium. These are held annually around the US, with additional international symposiums around the world.
A word of caution – you may need to convince your management of the value of attending. Trade shows are often seen as a boondoggle, but this can be an excellent educational opportunity.
Even after almost 50 years in this business, I learn something new from every show.
Here are some suggestions for attending the symposium:
- Attend all five days. While the main technical sessions are Tuesday through Thursday, tutorial sessions are held on Monday and Friday. These tutorials sessions are often aimed at the new EMC engineer, but I find them useful too.
- The Tuesday through Thursday technical sessions are usually heavy on analysis and modeling, so make these a lower priority. Now this may irk the academics, but you can always read the papers later. If a particular paper interests you, by all means attend. Sometimes there are special sessions, and we’ve found those to be very useful. The point is – don’t spend all your time in the meeting rooms.
- Spend time on the show floor. Talk with the vendors to find out about new products, and attend the special tutorial demos. Both can be particularly beneficial to the new EMC engineer.
- Attend the social events. Remember, “All work and no play…” Besides, this is a chance to rub shoulders with those in the business. Although many engineers are introverts, try to mingle, meet and ask questions. Most of those you meet will be fellow engineers.
Finally, use your on-line resources. At this time, LinkedIn is the preferred venue for professional activities. There are several EMC special interest groups which you can join. Your participation can be as much or as little as you prefer. These are also great places to post those perplexing EMC questions.
Make a plan, and then work it…
First, be patient. It may take a couple of years until you feel like you have really mastered the craft. If you are new, there is a lot to learn. Often this learning is piecemeal, like working a puzzle. But if you study, learn and participate, one day in the not too distant future the overall picture will make sense.
At that point, you’ll realize you are finally there – you’re no longer an EMC novice, but have become an EMC expert.
A final piece of advice. When you reach that point, don’t stop learning. Even after almost 50 years, I still learn new things about EMC. It keeps the game interesting. What weird problem will crop up next? Welcome to the wild and wacky world of EMC!