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Book Review: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About EMC…But Were Afraid to Ask

Many years ago, I first met Michel Mardiguian.

It was in Gainesville, Virginia in 1984. Sometime in the summer, at “The Farm,” as it was known.

I was a green engineer with a bachelor’s degree and a head full of nothing, assigned a task to check the computations of an EMC model for wire-to-wire crosstalk that Michel was developing, as I recall (to make six hundred bucks, or so). You see, in that time, the early computers could do nothing more than FORTRAN or BASIC. Code was written on green-screen CRTs; graphics were unknown; syntax the most critical and the computers couldn’t “guess” what you wanted, not like today where the machines are learning a lot about us.

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Elaborate models were pie-eyed constructs of theoreticians and dreamers.

EMC was in its formative stages and, joining my dad just out of college, we were just trying to form up a business around this ‘black magic’ of engineering.

Alors, I first met Michel, who was fresh from France and working for an icon in the industry, a fellow named Don White, a fellow worth remembering with some honor.

A long string of books came from the Gaineseville “EMC Machine” and Michel wrote, reviewed and penned much, contributing to many volumes.

It’s important to recognize the impact of these early pioneers in the mysterious arts of electromagnetic engineering, but Michel–and my father–were early contributors, sorting out fact from notion, applying physics to the problems and untangling the mysteries of common-mode coupling and grounding and bonding. New practitioners of this art and engineering should pay heed to paths already proved.

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Engineering is not Art, it is Physics–with cream cheese.

Hence, to Michel’s latest book “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About EMC…But Were Afraid to Ask.” This neat volume compiles a lifetime of learning and instruction in a 200+ page handbook that covers many aspects of Electromagnetic Compatibility, compiled with a nice dose of wit and charm.

The energy of Michel’s passion for teaching brings me back to a very fond memory, and to that early task, which I messed up.

Back to an earlier thought, I was hired to check these ‘calculations of common-mode coupling’ and forthrightly crunched the numbers.

I handed my results to Michel.

A nervous moment as he checked my calculations, wrought on a TI calculator, hours scratched on a yellow pad and copied hastily to lined notebook paper (no Excel, at that time, y’all), hand-written as neatly as I could.

“You messed up. Here, and here.” He said gently, with a raised eyebrow and a gentle smile. “It never arrives…” Pointing out the mistake, propagating through, what I thought, was the validation that he hired me for. “Voila! Please re-compute.” He walked me to his office door, patted me on the shoulder and said “It’s OK, come back and we’ll have another look.”

A first encounter with a raconteur, the memories are misty with time, but a lifetime of fondness remains.

An aside, my father, a story-teller in his own right, used to chat with Michel in mixed French and English, le “franglais” they would joke, and would part with a wink and a nod on their journey in EMC, an unanticipated passage that makes the world part of a whole.

“Norm, you speak the French of Louis IV!” Michel poked at my father’s patois de langue, French-Canadian and old and, like preserved fruit, sweet and savory at the same time.

Years have flown by and, since then, Michel has crafted numerous books and missives on EMC, giving the best of his experience and engineering truth-telling.

The “Everything…” book is a reference and a guide to use as one explores our engineering universe.

The Acknowledgments state it succinctly, and with a bit of whimsy: “EMC is a strange discipline and EMC engineers are strange people.” To that I can attest, however, “the time has come to de-mystify” as Michel states. Because it is all about the physics.

For the first-time reader, Chapter One lays out the issue of EMC in a straightforward manner: “What is EMI/EMC?” The introduction to Interference Control lays out the practical matters of why EMC is important. Let’s ask: “Does your cell phone work most of the time?” Thanks EMC folks. Does your car get you to the mall?” “Thanks EMC folks. “Does your GPS get you through that tricky hike?” Thanks EMC folks.

EMC is, really, everywhere there is a transistor and the billions of transistors in the computer/tablet/phone you’re holding needs an EMC minder. Be grateful for the practitioners of this “strange discipline.”

Michel’s book proceeds with the important notions that every engineer (and some laymen) must comprehend, from radiation to conduction to power to filtering to shielding to standards to fixing the messes that mechanical engineers dream up (just kidding).

There are examples and computations and models that shine to the EMC problem. My father used to say “the math is important. It may not solve the problem, but it gives you insight.”

Design is critical, but at some point, one must test the product, lugging it to a lab for its ‘blessing’ (or some call it a ‘curse’).

Thus, an important chapter and an important issue, when one comes to a laboratory with a fresh product and hopes—often dashed—is troubleshooting.

As a practitioner of EMC, this is probably the number one issue that designers need to consider: how to troubleshoot, and fix, their EMC issues. If you’re going to be in the engineering industry, at some point, EMC/EMI/Noise will be an issue.

Michel’s book lays out a nice groundwork for PC Board-level designers up to system-level, case and cable, grounding and bonding guidelines based on the ever-important frequency dependency of the EMC environment.

For the novice, this book provides many friendly illustrations of EMC and EMI mitigation. One should, however, dig a little deeper into the physics of the issues of EMC. That is the core of this book: Physics Matters. EMC is not a black art, it is physics. This book underscores this notion.

Finally, if one would, here, indulge me for a moment (if you haven’t noticed, I am a sentimental fellow) the last time we met, Michel, my wife and I enjoyed an appetizer and an aperitif at a buzzy, busy Paris café, the starched jackets of the garçons cutting the sharp light from the westering sun blazing through the windows a place not far from cathedral of Notre Dame.

We enjoyed a toast in my dad’s memory.

Michel left, a bittersweet memory: “Adieu, à bientôt, mon ami.”

“See you soon, Michel thank you for your work.”


P.S. Oh, as an aside, many engineer friends I have enjoy a passion for making music. Michel is one of these talented individuals.

He plays a wonderful clarinet. Request “Satin Doll” and you’ll be enthralled.

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