Cats, grasshoppers & the challenges of ESD/EMI

April 09, 2012

Bernard Cole-April 09, 2012

Embedded systems developers remind me of a cat in a field full of grasshoppers, faced as they are with innumerable transient electrical problems in their designs. Early on, before the numbers have gotten too large, the cat jumps from spot to spot, munching away happily on an unexpected source of protein. But as the day progresses and things heat up, there are so many insects that the cat is immobile with indecision. With an insect under each paw and another in its mouth, when it reaches for a nearby flying locust it loses one it already has.

Similarly, with complex system-on-chip designs of high density but increasing transient electrical sensitivities, embedded developers are faced with so many diverse transient system faults that I am surprised they are able to cope. But in "A standards-based approach to capacitive-sensor EMC problems," the authors remind us of the one thing that human engineers have – each other – and their ability and desire to communicate with each other about problems and potential solutions in the form of standards organizations. In their article the Azoteq engineers describe how by following basic principles based on industry standards, it is possible to implement designs with high signal-to-noise ratios that will withstand a barrage of noisy abuse.

Embedded developers also have online venues where they can learn about how to deal with such challenges. There are a number of useful recent tutorials and tip sheets on EMI/ESD transient challenges published recently on Embedded.com. Topics include EMC-aware PCB design, an ESD/EMC design guide, a series on EMC basics, and an article on treating your IC as an ESD test chip. Also included are a range of other useful columns, webinars, classes, and white papers, of which my Editor's Top Picks are:

Improving the transient immunity of your MCU-based design
Testing system design components for EMI problems
Reduce EMI with spread spectrum clock generators
Does EMC stand for exasperating, magic or confusing?
Why EMC testing is insufficient, and what is necessary

As devices get more complex and designs move into consumer, home, and industrial environments as full of electrical transients as a field full of grasshoppers, this topic deserves ongoing coverage and discussion. I am continuing my search for more on such issues, but if you have any ideas for blogs, columns, and articles you would like to read – or write - keep in contact with me.

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