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So You Are a New EMC Engineer… Now What?

Some Thoughts from the Journey

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 EMI-novice to EMI-expert.


First, find a mentor

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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 engineers, 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. 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.

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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.


Books

While I have over a hundred EMC books on my bookshelves, there are four I regularly recommend for newcomers to EMC.

EDN Magazine Designer’s Guide to EMC – Written by 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. 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 the late 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.


Magazines

There are several publications serving the EMC community. The good news is that two are free, and both are filled with practical articles. I’ve also included a third publication, a specialty newsletter that is not free but quite useful for industry events and insights.

In Compliance (you’re 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 two additional guides throughout the year. Primarily test and regulatory issues, with an emphasis on EMC. Free. ITEM Publications.

Electromagnetic News Report (ENR) – Bi-monthly publication on EMC issues. Good coverage of EMC community news, products, and events. Paid Subscription. Seven Mountains Scientific.


Courses

These are an excellent way 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 (us) – EMC Design (2 days), EMC in Military Systems (3-days), plus an optional EMC Troubleshooting class (1-day). With Bill’s passing, primarily in-house with limited public offerings.10,000+ students over 25+ years.

Henry Ott Consultants EMC Design classes
(2-3 day). Typically, several public classes offered per year. Also provides in-house training classes. Has offered training for 30+ years.

WL Academy – Various EMC issues (length varies), with an emphasis on regulatory topics. Classes and webinars throughout the year at Washington Labs in Maryland.


Regulations

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. (Recommended reading.)

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 (www.assist.dla.mil)
  • Avionics – RTCA DO-160 (www.rtca.org)
  • Automotive – SAE J551 & SAE J1113 (www.sae.org)
  • Commercial/Industrial – FCC Part 15, EN55022/55011, EN61000-4-x (www.fcc.gov, www.ansi.org)
  • Telecommunications – Telecordia (formerly Bellcore) GR-1089 (www.telecorida.com)
  • Medical – EN60601-1-2, FDA “Reviewer Guidance” (www.ansi.org, www.fda.gov)


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 the 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.


Join an EMC Chapter

My first recommendation is to join your local IEEE EMC chapter. Go to 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. When I moved to Phoenix twenty years ago, I missed the camaraderie of the Minnesota chapter. So a couple of us EMC engineers reactivated the local chapter, which had been defunct for years. It is still active today. And, again, 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.

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 specifically aimed at the new EMC engineer.
  • 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 I’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.

Use LinkedIn

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

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 40+ years each, I’m still learning about EMC. What weird problem will I see next? Welcome to the wild and wacky world of EMC!

Note: This article was first published in the March 2014 issue of  In Compliance Magazine, and has been updated for this issue.


educator_gerke-darylDaryl Gerke, PE
is the surviving partner of Kimmel Gerke Associates. With Bill Kimmel’s passing, the firm now focuses on EMC training with limited consulting.

The firm was founded in 1978 and has been in full time EMC practice since 1987. Daryl and Bill solved or prevented hundreds of EMC problems in a wide range of industries – computers, medical, military, avionics, industrial controls, vehicular electronics and more. They also trained over 10,000 designers through their public and in-house EMC seminars.

Daryl has a BSEE, and is a registered Professional Engineer and a NARTE Certified EMC Engineer. He resides in Mesa, AZ.  For more information and resources, visit www.emiguru.com.

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