There’s no doubt about it: the world is moving into the era of smart, connected products. Alongside IoT, smart connected products are affecting practically every industry, transforming business models, and impacting almost every phase of a product’s lifecycle.
Unfortunately, many companies are finding that developing smart, connected products is no easy task. Sensors pick up the wrong readings. Harnesses don’t transmit signals fast enough. Processors produce errors. The source of these problems is often elusive. As a result, many companies experience significant delays in getting products to market.
In this post, we’ll look at a common problem in the development of smart connected products, Electromagnetic Interference (EMI), and how simulation can help you avoid it.
Crowded Electronics: The Root of the Problem
When you think it about it, the emergence of these kinds of problems isn’t some great surprise. Today’s smart connected products have an immense amount of electronics packed into them. They often include a plethora of sensors mounted here, there, and everywhere. They include numerous control systems that house circuit boards with powerful processors. They employ many actuated components like electric motors. On top of all of this, you have electrical routed systems that carry power and signals between these electronics.
Each and every one of these items emits an electromagnetic field with varied strength and power. That, of course, can directly affect the networking and function of those electrical components. Those problems must be resolved, sooner or later, by changing the electrical design, mechanical design, or something like EMI shielding.
Identifying these issues through physical prototyping is frequently the source of significant delays in product development. Finding the root cause during a test isn’t a serious challenge. However, coming up with a change that is proven to work is a serious challenge. Frankly, such modifications are highly educated guesses. In some cases, making more fundamental changes, involving a redesign of the electronics, electrical routed system, and mechanical design, may be required.
The broader point here is that uncovering EMI issues, which will only increase in frequency as more electronics are packed into products, late in the development process will continue to disrupt a company’s attempt to get to markets fast.
Get It Right the First Time
The alternative in this case is the application of get it right the first time principle. The idea here is to uncover and fix these issues during design instead of during prototyping and testing. This principle has been used in many areas of engineering, but is equally applicable on this front.
In this case, simulation tools are used to analyze the design for EMI. Engineers, armed with this knowledge, can make a design change that they think will address the issue. Then, they run the simulation again. This process, which involves iterative modifications to the design along with analyses that check the issue, continues until the problem is resolved. By the time the design reaches prototyping and testing, the issues are resolved.
Why is this approach successful? There’s a number of reasons.
EMI Simulation Uncovers Issues Early
Regardless of when this kind of simulation is run, it provides immense value with respect to EMI issues. Electrical engineers gain a high fidelity view of how the electromagnetic fields play out across the product. They gain insight into how those fields overlay on both electronics and electrical systems. As a result, they understand how such fields will affect performance. This sort of knowledge is valuable even after a failed prototype. Such information can empower engineers to make the right design change after a failure instead of experimenting with more potential missteps.
Here, however, we are talking about applying EMI simulations during design. These analyses can be run very early, even when the architecture of the overall electrical system is being developed. It can impact what electronics are included. It can influence where embedded systems are placed. It can affect how wires and harnesses are routed. This kind of insight can be invaluable when making those key decisions that have serious downstream implications.
EMI Simulations Support Design Exploration
Of course, there’s no reason that EMI analyses can’t be used more than once. Engineering, we know, is a highly iterative process. You try one thing. See it fail. You try another thing. See it succeed. You try yet another thing to see if it works even better.
Running EMI simulations progressively on those iterations not only allows you to verify if they are viable, but also gives you directional guidance. Over time, you gain insight into which design variables affect electromagnetic fields and which ones do not. That is why these kinds of analyses, over time, help electrical engineers make better decisions on today’s designs, but also tomorrow’s designs as well.
Today’s smart connected products have an immense amount of electronics and electrical systems. Both generate electromagnetic fields that can interfere with product performance.
Uncovering electromagnetic issues during prototyping and testing is disruptive, as it forces companies to iterate and retest until the problems are resolved.
EMI simulations run during the design phase allows engineers to identify and resolve such issues long before prototyping and testing.
EMI simulations support the progressive exploration of more designs, providing timely guidance on which design choices work or don’t.
I believe this will be a very important issues for companies going forward. What’s your take? Drop a comment below.