Finding the right EMC seminar
By Richard A. Quinnell, Contributing Technical Editor- September 1, 2004
A decision tree can help you choose the right EMC seminar.
Most test engineers working in the EMC field started the same way: A supervisor appointed them to the task, regardless of whether they had the background for it. If you find yourself in that situation, or if you simply want to expand on skills you already have, taking an EMC seminar seems like a quick path to knowledge. It can be—if you take the time to choose the right seminar. A decision tree (see figure) can help you zero in on the training you need.
Daryl Gerke, a partner in Kimmel & Gerke Associates (Mesa, AZ), an EMC consulting and training firm, said that your first step should be to identify which aspect of EMC you need help with. "EMC engineers wear three hats: design, test, and troubleshooting," Gerke explained.
Under the design hat, you need to forestall EMC problems before they manifest. Under test, you must check an existing design for EMC. Under the troubleshooting hat, you look for ways to mitigate EMC problems, including signal-integrity concerns that you already have. Although they are interrelated, each requires a different approach and body of knowledge, and there are seminars available for each.
The second step, according to Gerke, is to identify more specifics about the task. Under test, for example, determine if you are interested in learning about specifications (the "why" of EMC testing) or in learning how to perform specific types of tests and interpret results. If you need to learn about specifications, are you concerned with military or commercial requirements, US or European? Do you want to learn about certain specifications or get a general overview?
Another element to consider is the industry in which you are working. Military systems tend to focus on EMC at the system level, particularly given the trend toward use of COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) board-level products. The computer and telecom industries, on the other hand, are more concerned about high-speed design issues and signal integrity with frequencies above 1 GHz. Industrial control works at much lower frequencies but is concerned with the interactions of mixed technologies such as analog, digital, and power systems.
Talk with colleagues
With a thorough understanding of your situation, you can begin looking for training. EMC consultant Doug Smith of D.C. Smith Consultants (Los Gatos, CA) said talking with colleagues is the best way to find quality training. "Evaluation of seminars based on their listed contents is tough because you often don't know what it is you need to know," Smith explained. Also, most marketing for seminars is based on direct mail and referrals, according to Gerke, so there are few public listings that describe what is available. One possible lead is to contact the IEEE EMC Society (www.ewh.ieee.org/soc/emcs/).
When you have identified a candidate seminar, examine the instructor's background to gain insight into the probable slant the instruction will take. Instructors tend to gravitate to their comfort areas. (No one does EMC training full-time, noted Gerke, so look at the instructor's other job.)
Seminars from academic institutions, such as colleges, typically focus on theoretical concepts. An instructor from a test lab would concentrate more on regulations and test procedures, while a consultant might tend toward design concepts and practical nuts-and-bolts tips.
Finally, consider the time frame and cost of the seminar. Free seminars are typically half-day affairs that provide high-level overviews and focus on one viewpoint, typically from an equipment vendor. They can provide valuable information, however, as long as your expectations are modest.
To gain something more substantial, look for a seminar that runs for two or three days. Don't forget to network with your fellow students during lunch. Their insights can be as valuable as the formal instruction.
Both Smith and Gerke recommend that you consult with the instructor prior to registering to learn what topics the seminar will cover. If the seminar doesn't meet your needs, most instructors can refer you to another opportunity.