In the last edition of this column (August, 2013) you may recall that I had an interview with Dr. Bogdan Adamczyk of Grand Valley State University (GVSU) about how he established an electrical engineering curriculum that includes the opportunity for students to become familiar and have lab experiences in EMC. One of the key aspects of that program is also the linkage to local industry.
For this edition, I have “flipped” that perspective around, and have interviewed an EMC Lab manager who has established a successful EMC group within his own company, by actively seeking out students that have taken EMC courses and have expressed an interest in EMC testing.
The lab is at the Hitachi Automotive Systems Americas, Inc., facility in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The lab manager is Mr. Barry Steltz, and three of the members of his group are Mr. Kevin McCarthy, Mr. Jon Rykalsky, and Mr. Paul Gojcaj. It is hoped that Mr. Steltz’ experiences and insights into the value of formal EMC education and the needs of industry will provide guidance to others.
from left to right: Barry Steltz, Paul Gojcaj, Kevin McCarthy, and Jon Rykalsky
Mark Steffka: Mr. Steltz, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Barry Steltz: I have a BSEE and MBA from the Pennsylvania State University. I am a NARTE certified EMC Engineer with 20+ years’ experience in Military, Commercial and Automotive, EMC design and testing.
Mark Steffka: How long have you been the EMC lab manager?
Barry Steltz: I have been at Hitachi for 9 years and prior to that, spent 4 years at Ballard power systems
Mark Steffka: Can you give us an overview of your background and how you came to Hitachi?
Barry Steltz: I worked at an independent EMC lab in Pennsylvania and in 1995 I moved to Michigan to work as a test engineer in the Ford Motor Company electronics division. When Visteon was created by Ford, I moved to the Advanced Interiors group (in Visteon) as an EMC applications engineer. Shortly after that – I transferred to the Ecostar division of Ford as the EMC senior engineer responsible for electric drives and then to Ballard with responsibilities for EMC on HEV and Fuel cell systems. When an opportunity came up at Hitachi, I joined the company as the EMC Manager.
Mark Steffka: Can you tell the readers a little about your lab and its capabilities?
Barry Steltz: The Hitachi EMC Lab is an A2LA accredited facility that is recognized by GM and Ford to perform various types’ product design validation and production validation EMC tests. Our work involves testing of Hitachi in-house projects.
Mark Steffka: You have an interesting approach to staffing your EMC lab – you search for students, instead of just focusing on experienced EMC engineers. Can you tell us what do you look for when considering hiring students for your lab?
Barry Steltz: At least (and preferably junior class standing) ideally with some EMC knowledge (perhaps having taken a formal course or have had co-op experience).
Mark Steffka: What skills do you consider most important that the students should know to allow them to “hit the ground running” when they start working in your lab?
Barry Steltz: I look for them to have knowledge of basic electronic devices and circuits, how to do “dB calculations” and understanding what those calculations mean. In addition, it helps if they are familiar with the basic “terms of EMC” such as radiated emissions (RE), conducted emissions (CE), radiated immunity/susceptibility (RI/RS), and “bulk current injection” (BCI), definitions. From a theory standpoint, it’s important that they know what Maxwell’s equations define and why they are important. Other items such as basics of shielding, filtering and grounding are beneficial. Essentially, for an undergraduate student, I am looking for their knowledge of the items that are covered in the book Electromagnetic Compatibility Engineering, by Henry Ott. Later as they progress in their career and even if they move to a design engineering role, I suggest they become familiar with the book Introduction to Electromagnetic Compatibility by Dr. Clayton Paul.
Mark Steffka: What do you prefer to have them “learn by doing”?
Barry Steltz: The process of EMC testing itself (such as the methodology, equipment setups, and relevant test specifications. I also like to have them explore various “design for EMC” methods including shielding, filtering and grounding approaches.
Mark Steffka: One of your current senior engineers, Kevin McCarthy, started in your lab as a student intern. This was also your first experience with hiring a student. What was your intention in looking for a student at that time?
Barry Steltz: My goal at that time was to find someone with new ideas that also had an interest in EMC. The intern or co-op program is the perfect way to evaluate a possible employee, because they are essentially in a “long term interview”, and the cost of their employment is less than a full time employee. Before I came to Hitachi, I had some experiences with students that unfortunately did not work out well, so I looked at how I could prevent those situations, and so far, I have been successful.
Mark Steffka: In the number of years since Kevin began working for you, what has worked well, and what has “surprised” you?
Barry Steltz: Three (3) out of the five (5) employees in the EMC department are or have been interns with Hitachi. Even though I have used this method of selecting employees at this and my previous employer, I was surprised that I didn’t regret not hiring more experience EMC professionals.
Mark Steffka: What would you like universities to emphasize when preparing students for their career (in general or in EMC specifically)?
Barry Steltz: In general I believe all colleges should require a co-op program for their engineering students to graduate. From my experience, at a minimum, an EMC course using the Henry Ott book (previously discussed) should be available for students interested in EMC. Although some college EMC lab exposure would be desirable, the key item is knowledge of basic instrumentation used in any type of electronics lab facilities.
Mark Steffka: Mr. McCarthy, would you also tell us a little about yourself?
Kevin McCarthy: I received a B.S.E. in Electrical Engineering and a B.S.E. in Computer Engineering from the University of Michigan – Dearborn in 2006. I have eight years of experience in EMC testing and design here at Hitachi, and I am a member of the IEEE EMC Society.
Mark Steffka: EMC is typically a “career path” that is NOT anticipated by most engineering students. Why were you interested in this?
Kevin McCarthy: One of the reasons I took the EMC course at the University of Michigan – Dearborn was frankly, that it fit my schedule! After I was in the course, I found out that the topic piqued my interest. Since I have started at Hitachi, I realize that more students should be encouraged to participate in an intern or co-op program.
Mark Steffka: What about your education has served you well, and what has “surprised” you?
Kevin McCarthy: Courses on signals, DSP and communications have been a great benefit along with the EMC course. They complement each other well. The surprise is how much you are continually learning after you leave school.
Mark Steffka: Why have you stayed in the EMC field?
Kevin McCarthy: Designing and testing for EMC is needed as we integrate technology into everything we do. This is especially true in the automotive industry with the continual increase in electronic control, sensors, and wireless communication on-board vehicles.
Mark Steffka: Now that you have a number of years of experience – what advice would you give to students that are completing their undergraduate education about how they should prepare for their career?
Kevin McCarthy: The best preparation for me was on-the-job experience. Get an internship or a Co-Op position and work hard at learning from experienced engineers.
Mark Steffka: What are the biggest challenges that you experience on a typical basis in your EMC work?
Kevin McCarthy: Some challenges include implementing new test stands, finding ways to improve test capabilities, and helping to solve EMC issues that arise during component testing. These are areas that can benefit from students’ having basic EMC lab work as a part of their education.
Mark Steffka: What would you recommend to new graduates who may be considering working in EMC?
Kevin McCarthy: Ask a lot of questions and learn as much as possible from the EMC community. There are a lot of knowledgeable people that are willing to help you in getting started with EMC.
Mark Steffka: How do you stay on top of the current advances in EMC?
Kevin McCarthy: By attending the Symposium, EMC Fest and the occasional local chapter meetings.
Mark Steffka: What is the best part of your job?
Kevin McCarthy: That it’s hands-on and it’s always presenting interesting problems to solve.
Mark Steffka: You are in the process of completing your studies, is that correct?
Jon Rykalsky: Yes, I am attending the University of Michigan – Dearborn and am pursuing my bachelor degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Mark Steffka: In the few months since you’ve started here, what have you learned that you consider most important to your work?
Jon Rykalsky: I have learned details about the various tests that EMC labs perform such as BCI, electrostatic discharge (ESD), and the methods for conducted and radiated conditions. I have also learned about the various types of equipment used in these tests as well as how they work together.
Mark Steffka: Why were you interested in pursuing a job in an EMC lab?
Jon Rykalsky: I was most interested due to the following reasons – it’s a “hands on” opportunity, it gives me a chance to understand why (and when) calculations and measurements don’t seem to match up, and EMC is an expanding field, especially in automotive systems due to more electric components on vehicles.
Mark Steffka: What has “surprised” you about this job?
Jon Rykalsky: I was surprised to find out that although to outsiders EMC is a relatively unknown topic; it is actually much larger than I thought. Not only do more people than the EMC lab team know about it, but even on a national scale there are always EMC events going on as well as EMC dedicated magazines.
Mark Steffka: How do you see the work you’ve done in the lab helping you in your studies?
Jon Rykalsky: It definitely helps in circuit classes. I recently had a circuit design class and one of the points of emphasis when doing our projects was to avoid large ground loops and try to use shorter wires. Also on a more general scale, it has helped with being a part of a team as well as learning to find things on my own.
Mark Steffka: What skills have you acquired that you feel will make you a better engineering student?
Jon Rykalsky: Having to follow directions from multiple sources. For example a specification referencing multiple ISO standards. Sometimes these directions seem to be saying different things but you have to figure out what the goal is. Getting more experience with this helps when looking things up and doing research.
Mark Steffka: How does the classroom experience compare with the EMC lab experience?
Jon Rykalsky: Courses should include more exposure to engineering standards in the classroom, because that is what lab work is like. The difference I do see is due to financial resources. Classroom experiments are typically very inexpensive and basic, whereas professional lab projects use expensive EMC chambers, “top of the line” spectrum analyzers, signal generators, etc. The advanced equipment is key to obtaining detailed results instead of in the classroom, the experiment results were based more on general changes.
Mark Steffka: What are your additional thoughts or advice?
Jon Rykalsky: I think EMC is definitely a topic for students to look into. If possible, they should take a course in it, but there are also other ways to learn about it. It is a growing field and even if an EMC specific career isn’t desired, how it affects other aspects of electrical engineering will help.
Mark Steffka: Please tell us about your background.
Paul Gojcaj: I am a graduate of Oakland University with and received a degree in Electrical Engineering in 2012 (I was hired in as an intern at Hitachi’s EMC lab in the summer of 2011). My training and role as an intern certainly helped me gain a full time position within the company upon graduation.
Mark Steffka: It is my understanding you did not have an opportunity to take a formal EMC course. What aspects of your education have helped you in your EMC work and what suggestions do you have?
Paul Gojcaj: Although I had exposure to many of the concepts and theory that is used in EMC work (primarily in physics and circuits courses), much of the work I am doing now is lab work – and this is something that really provides a different perspective than the classroom experiences.
Mark Steffka: Does your university have a formal EMC course?
Paul Gojcaj: Yes, it happens to be a graduate level course. One thing that I think could help at the undergraduate level is to perhaps have some EMC content in various courses.
Well – there’s really nothing more to say! I hope this discussion on what EMC employers are looking for and how students can prepare for jobs in EMC has helped you. As usual, if you have comment or questions you’d like to share about your experiences, please contact me.
September 24, 2013: Mark Steffka’s University of Michigan class on Electromagnetic Compatibility – a real-live view of THE Chalkboard with special visitor Mr. Henry Ott (far right). click image for a larger view
|Mark Steffka, B.S.E., M.S.
is a Lecturer (at the University of Michigan – Dearborn), an Adjunct Professor (at the University of Detroit – Mercy) and an automotive company Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) Technical Specialist. His university experience includes teaching undergraduate, graduate, and professional development courses on EMC, antennas, and electronic communications. His extensive industry background consists of over 30 years’ experience with military and aerospace communications, industrial electronics, and automotive systems.Mr. Steffka is the author and/or co-author of numerous technical papers and publications on EMC presented at various Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) conferences. He has also written about and has been an invited conference speaker on topics related to effective methods in university engineering education. He is an IEEE member, has served as a technical session chair for SAE and IEEE conferences and has served as an IEEE EMC Society Distinguished Lecturer. He holds a radio communications license issued by the United States’ Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and holds the call sign WW8MS.