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Prevent Hindenburg-level USB meltdown in harsh industrial environments

Posted: 05 Jul 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Hindenburg? USB? electrostatic discharge? electromagnetic interference?

Isolation can be added to your network in many different ways, and in many different places. You can use in-line isolators that protect just a single piece of equipment. You can use isolated USB hubs that protect many devices at the same time. You can install isolated Ethernet servers, isolated repeaters, isolated expansion cards, and heavy-duty isolators for DIN-rail mounting. You can even get USB "key" isolators that you can tuck into your laptop bag.

Solutions: High-retention USB ports
Manufacturers have strengthened USB's physical connections by introducing high retention USB ports. High retention ports look much like the USB ports installed in office-grade equipment, and they'll work with any USB cable. Connecting and disconnecting cables feels pretty much the same, yet they grip cables much more firmly than a standard port. A typical high retention port can resist 3.4 lbs. of force. You won't dislodge the cable with vibration, or by brushing up against it.

Some of USB's features may seem to be design flaws when USB is used in harsh environments. But they're all easily addressed via conversion, isolation and the use of high retention USB ports. Just remember the laws of physics, think about electrical potentials and plan ahead. There's no reason that your expensive equipment should ever have to share the costly, untimely and unnecessary fate of the Hindenburg.

Whether the proximate cause was a ground loop, ESD, EMI or even a lightning strike, current surges can destroy electronic circuitry. The images above demonstrate what can happen in industrial environments when USB connections are used without appropriate precautions. Isolate. Convert. Extend. Connect.

About the author
Brian Foster is the product manager for the serial and USB product lines at B&B Electronics and an expert in network reliability at the physical layer. Before joining B&B Electronics he held U.S. Navy staff command positions in Japan and Washington State, where he was responsible for submarine communications throughout the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, including satellite-based Internet Protocol systems, LF and VLF command and control networks. Foster's career in data communications began in the Navy's submarine service, where he served in three different nuclear boats managing their internal networks as well as external communications.

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