In today's digitised, electronic world, electromagnetic interference (EMI) has come to be something of a double-edged sword. On the the one hand, EMI gives users the opportunity to easily connect one device with another, streamlining the way professionals work. On the other, however, EMI can be of a serious detriment to a host of electronic systems, causing them to malfunction, or even rendering them completely inoperable.
In this article, we're going to examine EMI, and take a look at what causes the problem. Additionally, we'll break down how to best defend against EMI (whether malicious or naturally occurring), and just why it is so important to do so.
So, what exactly is electromagnetic interference?
EMI is an interference caused by an electromagnetic irregularity emitted by one device, that subsequently alters the way in which another works. Sometimes, EMI is referred to as radio frequency interference (RFI) when such interference occurs in radio systems. EMI occurs in everyday life, almost everywhere in the world.
Life-sustaining medical equipment, mass transit signalling systems and even nuclear operations can all be affected by EMI.
Has your television screen ever flickered when an aircraft flies overhead? That's EMI. Perhaps your mobile phone has made a buzzing sound when placed too close to a stereo system. That, too, is EMI. Now amplify these two innocuous scenarios a little. Life-sustaining medical equipment, mass transit signalling systems and even nuclear operations can all be affected by EMI, making it easy to see why protecting against the phenomena is so important.
You can see that EMI is almost permanently around us, and it's something that can never be fully eliminated. However, there are ways to defend against it.
How is EMI transmitted?
There are two separate ways that EMI is transmitted. The first is via conduction, when two (or several) electronic devices physically touch one another, or are placed in close proximity. Secondly, EMI can be transmitted by radiation via induction.
EMI can be separated into two distinct forms. Man-made is one of them, which is more often than not created by electronic circuits. The second is that which naturally occurs. The most obvious example here is a lightning strike, which can wreak havoc with electronic equipment, but solar flares and other celestial occurrences can also cause electromagnetic interference.
What can EMI affect in a meaningful way?
Medical equipment, transit systems and military applications can all be affected, suffering EMI-induced problems specific to them. In the medical sector, x-ray and telemetry machines may deliver altered results that aren't entirely accurate, and perhaps even more worryingly, life-support machines could be inhibited.
Train signals and other control systems can be affected by EMI, and militaries around the world are getting serious about the threat of malicious attacks – that is, deliberately sabotaging military equipment to gain an upper hand in arenas of conflict.
Militaries around the world are getting serious about the threat of malicious EMI attacks.
This can be through the use of specialised weapons, such as electromagnetic (EMP) cannons, E-bombs and high-power microwave weapons. Additionally, EMI has a very real potential to cause prolonged loss of connectivity between systems, obstructing cockpit radios and radar signals. This may result in a full loss of communication between air traffic control and the pilot, so it's easy to see how serious EMI can be.
Thus, it's of paramount importance that engineers examine any potential EMI risks when developing systems and equipment, and take the necessary steps to defend against any interference, malicious or not.
What are the strategies for defending against EMI?
So, how exactly do we go about protecting a whole range of systems from EMI? One excellent option is backshells. Used to protect industrial connectors, backshells offer an effective line of defence against EMI, optimising the former's efficiency.
Backshells themselves form the back-end of a connector, attaching securely to the cable. At Interconnect Systems, our backshells are designed to block out any present EMI. Additionally, they'll ease the strain on the cables themselves , prolonging their life. What's more, our backshells help defend against EMI created from your source device itself.
– Fibre optic cables
Even if any EMI present in your system's vicinity is entirely innocent, it always pays to prevent any interference. It's also important to remember, especially in the case of the military, that EMI can be deployed with malicious intent. EMP cannons and E-bombs are among the usual suspects here, weaponry that can put paid to even the most advanced military instruments. Electromagnetic pulses are indeed a dangerous adversary, but they'll meet their match in the shape of fibre optic cables. Such equipment delivers outstanding protection from EMI attacks that other components, particularly those made from copper, cannot.
Electromagnetic pulses are a dangerous adversary, but they'll meet their match in the shape of fibre optic cables.
– Conduit systems
Another outstanding defence against EMI, conduit systems are a decent option should the threat of interference become apparent. These little beauties are watertight, can withstand enormous temperatures, and are also resistant to corrosion. Combine that with state-of-the-art EMI shielding, and you can rest assured that your cables are under the best protection possible.
Further screening and protection methods
In addition to the above methods of EMI protection, Interconnect Solutions has a range of products to help bolster your defences. This includes sleeving that also offers mechanical protection, and there are insulation and bundling packages available, which can be tailored precisely to your specific needs. Not only will these products present a formidable defence against any EMI, but your wiring or cabling will also be protected from dirt (which can be a real problem in the field), abrasion and even environmental hazards that may be encountered.
To find out more about how Interconnect Systems can help protect your equipment against EMI, be sure to contact our expert team. We'll be happy to talk through your options, and will ensure that you're fully up-to-speed and know which solution is best for your needs.