The “Kill it Dead” Strategy

In my 8/28/11 blog I listed the four basic principles of EMC troubleshooting, the third of which I will discuss in this post. This principle gets its name from a short one-page article written by Scott Roleson in 1992.* I often refer to this method as the “Giant Step versus Baby Step” approach to EMC troubleshooting. The analogy being, if I want to walk across a room, it will take me longer to do it if I take baby steps, than if I take giant steps.

When troubleshooting an EMC problem, especially on an existing product, the client always wants to make the minimal, least costly, change possible (taking baby steps). My approach is to do whatever is required to make the product compliant first, without regard to the cost or complexity (taking a giant step), then go back and refine the fix to be less costly and/or complex. In the meantime the product is compliant! Many times, potential EMC solutions are not tried because they are considered, at first glance, to be too complex or costly.

For example, let’s consider the case of radiation coming from a metallic enclose which has six different apertures. The “baby step” approach to troubleshooting this product is to cover one of the apertures with copper tape and then repeat the emission test to see if that solved the problem. Nope–that did not work, so let’s put copper tape over another aperture and repeat the emission test again, etc, etc, etc.

The “Kill it Dead” approach, on-the-other-hand, is to put copper tape over all the apertures and redo the emission test, in most cases the problem is now solved in one step. Then you can go back and see if the tape can be removed from some of the apertures without the problem reappearing. One should also see how this approach meshes with the Predominate Effect principal discussed in my  9/11/11 blog.

Another example might be, a four-layer PCB which has many traces that are routed over splits in the power and ground planes. A quick fix would be to add two more solid ground plane layers adjacent to the trace layers, a fix that almost always works but is costly since it makes the four-layer board a six-layer board. This also quickly proves the point that the traces crossing the splits in the planes are the problem. One can then, in many cases, cost reduce the fix by completely relaying-out the four-layer board to avoid the traces crossing the splits in the planes, and accomplish the same objective, without adding the two additional layers. This is a less costly but more time-consuming fix.

I think that you will find by taking the “Kill it Dead” approach, the time required to troubleshoot an EMC problem will be significantly reduced.

In my next blog I will discuss the last of the four tenets of EMC troubleshooting, Fix Implementation.

* Roleson, Scott, ‘The “Kill it Dead” Strategy,’ EMC Test and Design, September/October, 1992.

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