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The Testing Lifecycle of Electronics at NIWC Atlantic: Electromagnetic Interference/Compatibility Lab

25 June 2024

From Sara Corbett, NIWC Atlantic Public Affairs

The Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic’s electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compatibility (EMI/EMC) lab is the only principal U.S. Navy lab that tests every piece of electronic equipment installed on a U.S. Navy surface ship to ensure compatibility with the existing electronics onboard.
Frederick Duffy (left) and Zach Wallert (right), electrical engineers, conduct testing in an anechoic chamber, which is a shielded enclosure used to test electronic equipment for electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compatibility (EMI/EMC) compliance.
Frederick Duffy (left) and Zach Wallert (right), electrical engineers, conduct testing in an anechoic chamber, which is a shielded enclosure used to test electronic equipment for electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compatibility (EMI/EMC) compliance.
The Testing Lifecycle of Electronics at NIWC Atlantic
230608-N-GB257-1001 N. Charleston, SC (June 8, 2023) Frederick Duffy (left) and Zach Wallert (right), electrical engineers, conduct testing in an anechoic chamber, which is a shielded enclosure used to test electronic equipment for electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compatibility (EMI/EMC) compliance. The EMI/EMC lab at Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic uses an anechoic chamber for most of their testing as it provides a highly controlled environment for testing electronic equipment for EMI/EMC compliance, ensuring that every piece of electronic equipment installed on a U.S. Navy surface ship is compatible with the existing electronics onboard and does not interfere with their operation. (U.S. Navy photo by Joe Bullinger/Released
Photo By: Joseph Bullinger
VIRIN: 230608-N-GB257-1001


Charleston, SC – The Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic’s electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compatibility (EMI/EMC) lab is the only principal U.S. Navy lab that tests every piece of electronic equipment installed on a U.S. Navy surface ship to ensure compatibility with the existing electronics onboard.

“Anything that runs on electricity, from computer workstations, printers and video teleconferencing (VTC) to radars, global positioning systems and navigation systems, emits electromagnetic energy and can be interrupted by untested electromagnetic energy,” said Zachary Brooker, EMI/EMC test lead. “For example, a new VTC system is installed on a ship, but it’s not compatible with the navigation system causing the system to fail when the ship is out to sea. That could lead to a very dangerous situation, multiply that by 250 ships and it would be catastrophic. By conducting the EMI/EMC tests, we are able to limit these risks keeping our Sailors and warfighters safe.”

The EMI/EMC testing process has two categories, susceptibility and emission, with four basic tests: radiated susceptibility, radiated emissions, conducted susceptibility and conducted emissions. Most of the testing is performed in an anechoic chamber or a Faraday cage, which is an enclosed room used to block electromagnetic fields, such as Bluetooth, iPhones, networks and computers. Equipment being tested ranges from needing only one test to nearly 20 tests with full testing taking two to three weeks. Just one of these tests can take three straight days to complete. On average, the lab has 20 to 30 projects a year.

Testing begins with determining how equipment will respond when exposed to electromagnetic energy already shipboard (radiated susceptibility) and then measuring the electromagnetic energy it generates (radiated emissions). Followed behind those tests is gauging how equipment will respond to electromagnetic energy generated by external power and cables (conducted susceptibility) and finally, measuring the level of internal electromagnetic energy that could interfere with external power and cables (conducted emissions).

“While testing, we identify if the equipment is generating excessive electromagnetic energy and if there’s any susceptibility to various radio frequency signals,” said Zachary Brooker, EMI/EMC test lead. “If these issues arise, we work with the customer to figure out why they’re occurring and how to fix it. It’s actually my favorite part. I like being able to take it apart, find the problem and work towards a solution.”

In addition to helping with the development of equipment, the team also travels with equipment whose requirements exceed the capability of the facility to ensure the process goes smoothly, provides input and information and safeguards equipment.

“Some testing does not require the use of our anechoic chambers, or the input voltage required for the equipment exceeds what we can provide,” Brooker said. “Most Marine Corps radio systems have grounding and bonding, and electrostatic discharge requirements that must be tested with the system fully integrated onto its vehicle platform, but since we can’t fit a whole vehicle in our lab we travel to available sites where we can test the vehicle.”

Most commercial EMI/EMC labs only provide a pass/fail evaluation, but since NIWC Atlantic is willing to travel and provides input and solutions, several federal agencies, including U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have sought out the EMI/EMC lab for assistance.

Once the EMI/EMC testing is complete, the equipment goes to the Radio Frequency Test Facility (RFTF) and then the environmental lab or if RF testing is not required, it will go directly to the environmental lab for final testing.

Author’s note: This is the first article in a three-part series. The next article will be about the Radio Frequency Test Facility Poseidon Park, and the final article will be about the Environmental Test and Evaluation Facility. Link to the articles will be updated once they are posted.

*While the Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic is home to dozens of labs and testing sites, there are only two labs and one test site that ensure equipment and technology meet the necessary requirements to provide the warfighter with the safest and most advanced solutions to their challenges.
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