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Banana Skins – August 2019 (#205-207)

205.  Example of bad EMC practice – connecting cable screen to circuit 0V instead of enclosure

I was asked to do EMC tests on a multi-channel digital location recorder designed and built by the R&D department of a well-known record manufacturer. The recorder was housed in a 19” rack unit and controlled by software running on a laptop computer, via RS 422. The audio results were said to be excellent, but they invariably had problems with the control functions. On the last recording session, the machine went into record mode as requested, but during the session, control of the recorder was lost. No command would allow the engineers to stop the machine or come out of record mode. The whole system had to be re-booted before they got control back. This was a classical orchestral session with 80 musicians, so the problem could have been expensive.

I placed the recorder unit in the EMC test chamber, connecting the system up normally, but with the laptop computer outside in the control area. This was to isolate the two different parts of the system. The recorder unit passed the basic emission tests when running in record or playback mode on its own. But when the RS 422 line was connected between the laptop computer and the recorder rack, the system failed the radiated emission test by a wide margin.

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If the RS 422 cable radiated interference, it was very likely that the same cable would receive interference. I set up for the conducted immunity test. The cable, carrying signal or control data, is bombarded with a known level of RF from a computer-controlled oscillator/power amplifier, with the generated RF modulated by a 1kHz sine wave. The equipment under test is monitored to check if interference to the wanted signal can be detected in the main signal path or on the control data. Since the problems with the recorder involved the control data, we decided to test the RS 422 cable first.

The RF oscillator automatically sweeps through the test frequency range under computer control. Any problem that occurs is picked up by a volt meter/detector and logged in the test file. If necessary, fault events can be manually entered via the computer keyboard. The recorder unit was put into record mode and I started the test. At first all went well. But, as the modulated frequency approached 8 MHz, the time code display on the laptop screen stopped. All other controls seemed still to be working. However, at about 16 MHz, a second event was detected, and the laptop had lost control of the recorder unit. The recorder was permanently in record mode! I put the EMC test system in pause, and rebooted the recorder and laptop. Restarting the test at 18 MHz, everything was working properly until the modulated RF approached 33MHz (the bus/processor frequency of the recorder electronics). Multiple events were detected and control of the recorder system was lost once more and the laptop crashed. To cut a long series of tests short (similar problems were encountered on the other side of the recorder’s processor/bus frequency) – the problem was obviously interference on the RS 422 data communication circuit. But how could this be the case? RS 422 is a balanced transmission system and the cable was shielded.

An inspection of the RS 422 connectors at each end of the circuit revealed the following:

  • The connector at the laptop end had the cable shield correctly bonded to the chassis.
  • The connector at the recorder unit end was an insulated component. The cable shield connection was wired directly to the logic 0V track on the printed circuit board (the digital version of the pin 1 problem).
  • The custom made RS 422 cable had the cable shield connected to the recorder unit end only. The cable was constructed in this way, because the engineers had found that hum was introduced into the recorder when the RS422 cable was connected to the standard desktop PC used during the design phase of the project.

Thus, any interference current induced into the cable shield of the RS 422 data communication circuit was injected directly into the recorder unit’s ground conductor, allowing interference currents to flow in the RS 422 I/O electronics, resulting in poor or bad data on the RS 422 communications circuit. The laptop (or any other) computer, and the recorder was, at the very least compromised, by any interference induced on the RS 422 cable shield.

(From Tony Waldron, 8th Jan 02)

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ESD problems with CE-marked keypads and mouses

Dear Ann Landers. I’ve always had trouble with peripherals. Keyboards and mice that were CE marked and looked like such good prospects have mostly turned out to be fickle. Well, I’ve been involved with a touchpad for about five months now. When I first bought it, we were so happy. Whenever we were together it, it could read my mind. A tap of my finger and it knew just what to do. And then this ESD gun comes along. One zap and BOOM! The touchpad turns its back on me. It won’t respond at all! I tried talking to it…but it just gave me the cold shoulder. I suggested counseling…still no response. I threatened to go and get a mouse…no response. Well, I finally had to just take a deep breath and go through with it. I cycled power. Well it now responds to me… but I don’t know if I’ll ever trust it around an ESD gun again. I don’t know if our relationship will ever be the same. Signed “Out of touch in New York”   

OK, OK, the real question is… does anybody have some words of advice regarding touchpads. I am testing a unit which consists of a keyboard/touchpad combination. The touchpad is approx 1.5” x 1.5” and is able to sense a sliding or tapping finger. The touchpad is used to perform all of the functions that a mouse typically performs. I am assuming that it has some sort of capacitive sense circuit which can tell when your finger slides across the pad or taps on the pad. I have one that gets all out of whack with 8KV ESD. i.e. the touchpad becomes unresponsive and it stops software execution in our host system.

Unfortunately, this is one of those instances where we don’t build the keyboard/touchpad; so my bag of fix tricks is limited. Probably limited to seeing if another manufacturer produces a keyboard/touchpad with better performance. Or, am I slamming my head against the wall on this one? The keyboard/touchpad is already CE marked by its manufacturer. Is his typical? Are all touchpads (even CE marked ones) ESD sensitive? Do I just live with it? Am I over-testing this touchpad?

Overall… I have had REALLY bad experiences with CE marked keyboards and mouses. Now I have trouble with our first touchpad. We typically use a capacitive filter on our inputs and we typically put a ferrite on the cable…yet still trouble. Is this typical of what others see?

(From Chris Maxwell 02/01/02 21:56:34 via emc-pstc. Note: Ann Landers is a U.S. magazine’s well-known ‘Agony Aunt’.)

Interference and jamming threats to GPS

Over the past couple of years, there has been extensive discussions of the potential interference that ultra-wideband (UWB) radio signals might cause to GPS once UWB devices proliferate across the planet. But GPS is also susceptible to interference from more conventional transmissions both accidental and intentional (jamming). For example, a particular directional television receiving antenna widely available in the consumer market contains an amplifier which can emit spurious radiation in the GPS L1 frequency band with sufficient power to interfere with GPS reception at distances of 200 meters or more.

Harmonic emissions from high-power television transmitters might also be a threat to GPS. Furthermore, the GPS L2 frequency is susceptible to interference from out-of-band signals from transmitters operating in the lower part of the 1240 to 1300 MHz band which is shared by terrestrial radiolocation services and amateur radio operators. As for intentional interference, the weak GPS signals can be readily jammed either by hostile forces during conflicts or by hackers who could easily construct a GPS jammer from a surplus home-satellite receiver.

I have experienced the effects if RFI on GPS in Germany and some neighbouring countries since 1995. During this time I only experienced RFI to the GPS L1 frequency twice. In 1997 near the Swiss airport of Lugano, signals emitted from a permanent transmitter operated by the Italian military were detected. In February 2002, for 20 to 30 seconds an unknown interfering signal with a frequency of 1570.96 MHz disturbed the reception of L1 at Frankfurt Airport and surrounding areas up to a distance of 150 kilometres.

While Geodetic receivers exhibited a loss-of-lock, a certified aviation receiver merely experienced a degradation of the S/N. Dual-frequency GPS users routinely detect interference to the GPS L2 frequency in Germany, Switzerland, and The Netherlands. In all cases the sources are amateur packet radio transmitters in the frequency band between 1240 and 1243.25 MHz.

Such transmitters are called “digipeaters” (short for digital repeaters or relays). They are part of a Europe-wide network of a kind of wireless Internet operated by radio amateurs (see Figure 5). They cause interference to dual-frequency GPS receivers operated by researchers at several universities as well as by geodesists and surveyors. Figure 6 shows a comparison of the spectrum of such signals with a susceptibility curve representing the interference power required to degrade the S/N by 10dB.

(Two extracts from the text of: “A Growing Concern –  Radiofrequency Interference and GPS” by Dr-Ing Felix Butsch of Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH (DFS) in GPS World, October 2002, pages 40-50.)

The regular “Banana Skins” column was published in the EMC Journal, starting in January 1998. Alan E. Hutley, a prominent member of the electronics community, distinguished publisher of the EMC Journal, founder of the EMCIA EMC Industry Association and the EMCUK Exhibition & Conference, has graciously given his permission for In Compliance to republish this reader-favorite column.

The Banana Skin columns were compiled by Keith Armstrong, of Cherry Clough Consultants Ltd, from items he found in various publications, and anecdotes and links sent in by the many fans of the column. All of the EMC Journal columns are available at:, indexed both by application and type of EM disturbance, and new ones have recently begun being added. Keith has also given his permission for these stories to be shared through In Compliance as a service to the worldwide EMC community.

We are proud to carry on the tradition of sharing Banana Skins for the purpose of promoting education for EMI/EMC engineers.

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