This post will discuss the last of my four tenets of EMC troubleshooting (see my 8/28/11 blog), Fix Implementation. When dealing with frequencies in the tens or hundreds of megacycle range, you are dealing with rf frequencies and cannot get sloppy in the way you implement EMC fixes. For example, if you believe that adding a capacitor at a certain point in your system will fix a problem, tack soldering the capacitor in with 2″ or 3″ leads, may work at audio frequencies, however, it will be completely useless at rf frequencies. The inductive reactance (impedance) of two half-inch long leads on a capacitor, at 200 MHz, will be about 20 Ω. Many times capacitor lead lengths must be 1/8″ or less in order to be effective.
Therefore, at the frequencies involved with most EMC problems, a fix must be implemented almost perfectly in order to be effective. This is often very difficult to do on an existing product, having many constraints. A poorly implemented fix can have no effect at all, thereby, leading one to draw the wrong conclusion and leading you astray.
I learned this principle many years ago while troubleshooting a 600 MHz emission problem. I was convinced that the emission was coming directly from one of the IC chips on the board. The IC was about one inch square. I fashioned a shield out of copper tape to cover the offending IC, and grounded it to the PCB ground plane (with very short wires) at the four corners. The EMC measurements were repeated with absolutely no improvement, which lead me to believe that I was wrong about the IC being the source of the emission.
After 4 or 5 hours of trying all kind of other fixes, non of which worked, I (out of frustration) revisited my original idea that the IC was the source of the emission. This time a made a similar shield to cover the IC, but grounded it at eight points, the four corners plus half-way along each side. Wala! The emission dropped 6 dB–problem solved!
Sometimes a fix cannot be implemented perfectly enough on an existing product. For example, if in the above case, there were no accessible ground points on the PCB to connect the shield to. In these cases you may just have to redesign the PCB, based on faith and knowledge that it is the correct thing to do, in order to implement the fix correctly. More often than not, it works.
This ends this series discussing the four basic tenants of EMC troubleshooting. Just understanding these four principles should make you a better EMC troubleshooter.