Currently, the problem of EMI is tackled using a “rulebased” approach. What this means is that during the design phase for a piece of electronic equipment a number of guidelines/standards are prescribed, resulting in the default application of a set of mitigation techniques (filtering, shielding, cable routing, etc.). But as the examples above illustrate, such an approach has some serious flaws when it comes to modern high-tech systems and high-criticality applications like medical systems and remote vehicles. This is because tackling the problem by applying rules leads to too many failure scenarios being overlooked and giving us a very false sense of security when it comes to how reliable and safe a new system actually is. Therefore, in order to make sure that people’s safety is not compromised in this way, the PETER consortium will initiate a novel and much more robust “risk-based” approach to EMI management.
The weakness of the rule-based approach is that although it instinctively feels right, it has several major shortcomings. Firstly, we have no certainties when it comes to knowing whether these mitigation strategies, or rules, are really sufficient. Even if we could be sure of this, most of us know from experience that standards always lag behind technological developments and are based on economic and technical compromises. Perhaps the biggest worry is that immunity testing in electromagnetic compatibility standards only covers one EMI disturbance at a time, meaning that simultaneous EMI effects are not addressed. Added to this we have the problem that the testing of large installations is limited to just the sub-systems being evaluated when they are brand new. But of course EMI is a “whole system” property with many of the effects resulting from environmental factors like ageing, vibration, and temperature, as well as manufacturing variability or the impact of maintenance, repairs and upgrades.
What is needed is a truly interdisciplinary – but also revolutionary – approach to this very serious problem. A safer environment based on assessing risk requires bringing together expertise from 4 key areas – electromagnetic compatibility, reliability engineering, functional safety and risk management – and the implementation of a risk-based approach. The PETER project will consider the complete system over its whole lifecycle, i.e., from the earliest concept to the final decommissioning. The risk-based approach, which will eventually replace the out-dated rule-based approach in high tech systems, involves 3 steps: hazard-and-risk analysis, risk reduction, verification and validation.