Taking the buzz out of modern electronics

Protecting critical infrastructure systems from electromagnetic pulses

Jonathan Newell talks to EMC and EMP filtering company MPE about the challenges of reducing signal noise in electronic systems.

MPE produces Electromagnetic Compliance (EMC) and Electromagnetic Protection (EMP) filters for use across a wide range of industries including automotive, green energy and defence.

Although there are standard components for the most commonly used applications, MPE doesn’t hold finished goods stock and around half of all the company’s production is custom built, with either mechanical changes to suit fitting requirements or electrical changes to solve a specific problem regarding meeting noise or compliance to EMC standards.

Increased complexity

According to MPE’s Paul Currie, one of the main challenges facing the industry at the moment is that of increasing complexity and the level of electrical content in automotive, defence, healthcare and other industries.

“The physics hasn’t changed in all the time we’ve been in business,” Currie said, “it’s the electromagnetic environment that’s changing. Just 20 years ago, we were dealing with levels of up to 400A, whereas now we’re regularly supplying 1200A protection.”

With its nine decades of experience supplying noise suppression filters, MPE deploys all of its skills in providing EMP filters and assuring design performance in some of the most complex systems, predominantly for the defence industry, where speed of design and delivery are of crucial importance.

Around 85% of MPE’s work is used on military applications and this often requires taking an existing system and modifying it, so that it meets the required standard and also reaches its design performance. According to Currie, the level of innovation in the defence industry often means that equipment is hastily added to vehicles which are in war zones without the usual levels of scrutiny for electromagnetic compliance, hence work is required to bring these vehicles to the required standards, once they are already in use.

The HEMP threat to military systemsIntense Electromagnetic Pulse Protection

Apart from work for the defence industry, MPE is also supplying High-altitude Electro Magnetic Pulse (HEMP) filters for use in protecting critical infrastructure and data centres from high energy solar pulses or malicious detonations of high energy weapons in the atmosphere, either of which could provide an electromagnetic pulse so strong that it could disable critical electronic systems.

The HEMP filters are used on entry points for AC power and data control and are an extreme example of other filters designed to arrest electromagnetic pulses. HEMP filters shunt most of the pulse energy directly to earth and are fitted with secondary and subsequent suppression capabilities to reduce any remaining pulse voltage that might still be lingering to levels which are safe for the downstream equipment on the power line.

By providing such levels of extreme protection, MPE is not only helping to ensure that critical infrastructure such as control rooms, energy generation plants and air traffic control facilities are able to withstand the rigours of the kind of cosmic activity that could wipe out entire grids, but also providing the defence industry with protection against the deployment of weapons designed to disable military equipment.

In a study carried out by Predictive Science, the chance of an extreme solar event resulting in an EMP which would affect electronic systems on the earth’s surface before 2020 was predicted as being a significant 12%. With such natural threats having such a level of probability and with the ever increasing likelihood of warfare designed to strike cyber-mechanical systems, the boundaries of EMC are stretching beyond interference into the realms of vital infrastructure.

Jonathan Newell

Jonathan Newell

Jonathan Newell is a graduate of Loughborough University and has three decades of experience in engineering as well as broadcast and technical journalism.
Jonathan Newell

Latest posts by Jonathan Newell (see all)

About Jonathan Newell

Jonathan Newell is a graduate of Loughborough University and has three decades of experience in engineering as well as broadcast and technical journalism.

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