A fire control panel was not working and I was tasked with fixing it. I discovered that a large mechanical relay was throwing off some energy. In my experiments to discover how much, I ended up routinely disconnecting my mouse and resetting my PC with the relay's discharge.
I added the proper relay suppression system, and the panel work perfectly after.
Unfortunately, I was a victim of the afterthought.
Static discharge has caused a few accidents with missiles. in `84 there was a fatal accident of a Pershing II that burned its 4 tons of propellant. The motor was being removed from the casing at the time of the accident and the discharge ignited the motor from the inside. The unfired igniter was recovered from the scene.
Charles, this is an extremely important article. When I was in the aerospace industry we would frequently visit Titan II silos to affect repairs. As a member of AFLC, I worked on the thrust chamber and the turbopumps for that defense system. Initiation of launch required the firing electrical "squibs". This was accomplished with a 28 volt DC source. With this low voltage, it would not be impossible to ignite the squibs with static discharges. This has happened. Due to this possibility, we were not allowed to bring or wear metal objects into certain levels of the silos. No belt buckles, no wedding rings, no watches, no jewelry of any kind. Even the eyelets in our shoes had to be taped or booties worn. For some areas, special clothing was also a necessity. I can certainly understand the need for proper circuit protection regarding electronic devices such as the ones you mentioned. This will be an ongoing problem unless engineers and engineering managers address the possibilities.
Reading this article brought back a lot of memories. At one place I worked we had an automated ESD tester for our ram chips - you could seat the part in the fixture and program in the voltages and it would both zap and test the part. In product engineering at another company we would do ESD testing on our discrete hall effects with a handheld tester. You would adjust the voltage and then place the tip on the lead and give it a zap - then test it afterwards. While it is important to have protection circuitry - hopefully the problem is also being addressed at the discrete level like we were doing. We always cracked up laughing at our hand held ESD "Zapper" - the instructions specifically directed the user "Do Not Use As A Cattle Prod."
In addition to circuit protection, power supplies are an afterthought as well. Being an engineer, I'm guilty of focusing on the key subcircuits of the products I've design and realized they needed clean efficient power to operate. To eliminate this afterthought mindset, I'll include in my system architecture design a sub-block for power supplies, interconnectors, and circuit protection devices.
Avnet Electronics is hosting its annual virtual Power Forum conference. Circuit Protection, power supplies, interconnectors, batteries, and electromechanical devices lectures will be presented in this virtual event. For additional information the weblink is shown below.
Designs must also take into account suppression of electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference, and compatibility with other devices. Lack of attention to these effects can cause an expensive failure when a product undergoes compliance testing.
I recall an engineer telling me a device would not pass an emissions test because someone had cut ventillation slots in a metal case for the device. Thise openings served as perfect slot antennas for signals generated inside the box. If you don't think about this "stuff" you can get into trouble rather quickly.
It's funny what people think about as an afterthought. Earlier in the mobile era, people said it was always the battery that was an afterthought. Hence, we had more OEM battery shapes and sizes than the battery OEMs would care to remember. Then it was the wireless technology, which designers often thought of (for good reason) as being a black box that they could simply drop into their design. Now it's the circuit protection. What's next?
It typically isn't too complicated to make a device immune static discharge and surges, but it should certainly not be an afterthought. Something as simple as adding a little series resistance to keyboard lines may be all it takes to keep from turning your silicon back into sand. It's worth investing in, or renting a static discharge (simulator) gun.
As a side note, I was performing static discharge tests on a device with a membrane switch panel. The device passed several tests, I turned off the gun and the reached for the device to turn it off. I was greeted by a very hearty jolt, as the front panel was holding a healthy charge and using the switch panel as a capacitor.
Engineers at Fuel Cell Energy have found a way to take advantage of a side reaction, unique to their carbonate fuel cell that has nothing to do with energy production, as a potential, cost-effective solution to capturing carbon from fossil fuel power plants.
To get to a trillion sensors in the IoT that we all look forward to, there are many challenges to commercialization that still remain, including interoperability, the lack of standards, and the issue of security, to name a few.
This is part one of an article discussing the University of Washington’s nationally ranked FSAE electric car (eCar) and combustible car (cCar). Stay tuned for part two, tomorrow, which will discuss the four unique PCBs used in both the eCar and cCars.
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