Scanner picks up EMC traces

In a collaborative project carried out with Continental and Infineon Technologies, the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Electronic Nano Systems (ENAS) has developed a measuring system that can locate weak electrical and magnetic fields to an accuracy of a few hundredths of a millimetre.

“Circuits are becoming more and more susceptible with each generation,” claimed Thomas Mager of the Fraunhofer ENAS in Paderborn. “Only a few years ago, it still took several volts to destabilise processors. Today, a few hundred millivolts are sometimes enough to disrupt millions of transistors.”

Mager argued that designers of electronic circuits need to give greater consideration to electromagnetic compatibility. It is no longer just a question of protecting complete electronic packages such as mobile phones or MP3 players against external influences, or shielding the environment against their electromagnetic emissions, but is also about how each individual component on the circuit board behaves.

The near-field scanner can scan individual chips and processors as well as complete products and reveal which types of field the test object is radiating.

“We are also working with our French project partner CEA-Leti on a function that applies targeted electromagnetic fields to the test object. In this way, we can test for areas that respond sensitively to external fields,” said Mager.

This makes the system useful for developers of smart cards. Fraudsters elicit confidential information from bank cards by bombarding them with pulses of laser light, electrical current or voltage. The resulting field patterns can reveal details about the chip card, such as its PIN number. The near-field scanner provides time- and space-resolved images of the radiated fields of the card, allowing their weak points to be identified and helping card developers to better protect their products against fraud.

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