EMC War Story

The knowledge of having an EMC background can help all of you; in particular, what I am going to talk about is how it helped me in my career. When I first began my career back in 1951, for the first few years all I did was make EMC measurements. And then, one day, my boss quit for greener pastures and there was just a younger engineer and myself there at a large engineering design and development organization. I really knew nothing about EMC principles. I knew about measurements, but I didn’t know about principles. I had joined the IRE at the time as a student in college. I became active in the IRE and I looked to those people to help me gain knowledge in EMC. I was really helped. It was very challenging to me. It was invigorating and frustrating, but I learned many things.
After I learned, a company in Massachusetts made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. So I left RCA and went to Massachusetts. I was there for a while and since it was not my cup of tea, I left. I eventually came back to RCA at the RCA Space Center in Hightstown, New Jersey. It was called the RCA Astro-Electronic Division. They didn’t pay any attention to EMC, and I didn’t work as an EMC engineer. I had gotten out of EMC, but I was sucked back in by an event that changed my career, and really helped me.
I was working as a Reliability Engineer on a weather satellite for about three years. At that time, the weather satellites were relatively simple. Later generations were designed to give you the five-day weather forecast, but in those days they primarily were built to give hurricane warnings. But they kept on being improved to give you more and more data. Anyway, they built this weather satellite for the U.S. Air Force, but before they could ship the satellite, it had to pass ground simulation tests. Now, you have to understand that the way these satellites work, when it is overhead, what it does is it transmits the data directly to the Earth. But when it goes over the horizon, at that point the data is put on a tape recorder and the tape recorder then feeds it to a transmitter that transmits it to the next ground station. During these final simulation tests, they turned on both the transmitter and the tape recorder. The transmitter, low and behold, kills the tape recorder. Nothing intelligible came out of the tape recorder. There was a panic because that satellite had to be shipped in several weeks. If they didn’t ship it, there would be a lot of penalties monetarily and they might lose their turn on the launching pad. So, they had a team of managers, including the Chief Engineer of the Division, trying to solve the problem. But they weren’t using EMC principles. They kept turning the antenna of the transmitter around and kept trying to operate the tape recorder in a different way. None of these things worked. Then, someone remembered that several years ago I had worked in EMC. I was told to put a “bunny-suit” on and go in the clean area and see what I could do about this satellite. Of course, they didn’t pay any attention to me at the time because I was just an engineer, and they were all high level managers. So after they got tired they all walked out. There was one manager there, the manager of the design review team (because at RCA Astro, before you could release a design for space it had to undergo a design review process). He asked me, “Can you really solve this problem?”
I said, “Gee...I haven’t done this work for three years so I don’t know whether or not I can solve it. But if you want me to try, I need several things. First of all, I need priority in purchasing. I don’t want to go through any red tape to buy anything I need. Second, I need priority in the model shop; I want to be able to build a fixture over night and try it right away. Third, I need a mechanical engineer assigned to me so that whatever we come up with we can implement as a final design. He said, “You got it.”
This tape recorder was actually a sealed unit because it had to be vacuum protected. That made it easy for me. We couldn’t change the tape recorder, so, what we did is we designed an add-on box. This add-on box had three compartments; one compartment was for signal wires separated from the other two compartments. The second compartment was for command and control wires. The third compartment was for power signals. Each of the compartmental wires had to go through a bulkhead that was within this add-on unit. There were filters mounted on the bulkhead and the filters were of different strength depending on whether it was a signal wire, or a command and control wire, or a power wire. Then the big day came. We turned on both the tape recorder and the data transmitter and it worked (readable data was coming from the tape recorder). Somebody said, “Oh, I bet someone forgot to turn the transmitter on.” The transmitter was turned on...and it worked.
Following that, I became the go-to guy. Whenever there was an EMC problem they came to me. Whenever there was a proposal, they put my name in the proposal. I came up with a set of ground rules for EMC principles that the division had to follow. I got the blessing of the chief engineer that they had to be followed. Twenty years later, when I left RCA to retire, they were still following those EMC principles. This really helped me because several weeks after this event I went back to work as a Reliability Engineer; that was my job. Two weeks later I got a commendation letter. Several months later I got a call from the chief engineer’s office. I was invited to a dinner and I was to bring my wife. I was presented with an engineering excellence achievement award.
This helped me in other ways. There was a brutal layoff later on and since I had received this engineering excellence award they couldn’t lay me off, so I survived. What happened later on, I believe happened because of the recognition I received from this event. I became a group manager where I had responsibility for parts engineering, both passive parts and active parts, and for materials engineering. I was also responsible for reliability analyses and predictions, and for the failure analysis lab. And, yes, last but not least I was also responsible for EMC. EMC

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