I have been attending the EMC Symposium since 1982, and it has consistently been one of my favorite events of the year. It was held last week in Long Beach in 80 degree weather. I could not have been more excited.
But as I walked in the door and settled in, I noticed that there was something missing. Something about this year’s symposium was not quite right; something was lacking. There wasn’t the same buzz or energy that had previously made the event so attractive. I noticed that many of the engineers I have known for years didn’t show up, and out of the approximately 1700 engineers that were in attendance, very few were under the age of 40. I began to ask myself, “Where have all the EMC engineers gone?”
For those of you who do not know, EMC stands for electromagnetic compatibility. As defined by Wikipedia, electromagnetic compatibility is defined as “the ability of equipment or a system to perform satisfactorily in its electromagnetic environment without introducing intolerable interference into anything in that environment.”
In short, it is the science of resolving competing electrical signals in the same environment. EMC is why the airlines insist that “you turn off and stow all electrical and electronic devices” before takeoff and landing. Now, there probably isn’t any real threat of a single cell phone taking down a 737, but none of the airlines want to accept the risk of 200+ electronic devices (working simultaneously) interfering with the extremely sophisticated on-board navigation systems.
To this topic, the Today Show recently aired a segment: “Can our electronics interfere with flights?” Here is the video of their story:
The first known EMC issues had to do with lightning strikes on buildings. After World War II the military became more and more concerned with the effects of electromagnetic interference (EMI), electrostatic discharge (ESD), and high radio frequency (RF) emission levels. Also as computerized devices and systems became more and more complex, the problems revolving around EMI (in other words, the lack of EMC) increased, causing many issues for manufacturers and designers.
In the early 1980′s, the FCC introduced Regulation 15, Part J, primarily for information technology equipment and did so in order to protect the broadcast spectrum. Those of us who remember the early days of mass produced electronics can recall how Dad’s electric razor used to interfere with the television and caused an annoying buzzing sound.
This problem hasn’t gone away, either. EMC is still a big part of electronics engineering, so again, I ask “Where Have All the EMC Engineers Gone?” Until recently, the IEEE (the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers) EMC Society has always included hundreds of very talented, highly experienced and knowledgeable EMC engineers. But now, they are retiring, have been downsized, and fallen victim to corporate restructuring. Does this mean that we no longer need that wealth of knowledge?
On the contrary, we need that knowledge and expertise now more than ever. Most, if not all, countries have regulatory requirements for EMC compliance. A large range of new and used electrical and electronic products and systems must meet those requirements in order to be imported for sale or placed on the market in those countries.
So in this high tech world in which we take so much for granted, the next time you buy a car machined by a robot, or purchase a new electronic gadget at Best Buy or Target, be sure to thank an EMC engineer that it works so well…if you can find one.
-Penny Caran Kervill
Penny is the CEO of Phoenix Technical Group, which provides EMC, product safety consulting, and risk assessment services to commercial and military customers. She knows where the experienced EMC engineers are today.