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Hardware

Shielding Your Office from Magnetic Fields? 46

jonfromspace asks: "We just recently moved into our shiny new office, and low and behold, we have a problem. It seems that there are 3 50HP "Chillers" beneath our office, and whenever they fire up, an entire 1/4 of our office gets filled with this crazy magnetic feild! We tested this theory by placing a box and a monitor on a chair, and moving it around the office. As we entered our Bermuda Triangle, the tell tale signs of magnetic interference appeared on the monitor (Rainbows, Moirre patters, etc.) This field has caused 2 RAM Dimms, 1 HD, and 1 Mainboard to fail in less than a week. We currently have our entire staff on one side of the office, and we need to solve this quick! Does anyone know of a way to shield our office? The Electrician we asked suggested placing a large steel plate on the floor of our office and grounding it to the pipes. Is this a viable solution? Are there companyies that deal with this kind of problem?"
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Shielding Your Office from Magnetic Fields?

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  • A penetrating power cable will do a good job of carrying 300 MHz RF interference, but it won't carry any 60 Hz magnetic fields at all because it's made of copper and not ferromagnetic.

    Actually, most power cables are supposed to carry 60 Hz at about 110 Volts A.C. Of course, the power supply does a good job of filtering that for the computer.

    Not that a 60 Hz magnetic field will penetrate through that electronic route. It might induce some fluctuations in the wire, but not much -- or else your lights would be flickering.

  • It's a good suggested idee to place a large steel plate on the floor of your office and grounding it to the pipes. buth it would also bee a idee then to use some of it on the walls atleast 40cm otherwise the magnetic distursion wil go around it as well. Computers should be grouded as well (by conecting them to the pipes as well)
  • You are correct in your doubt. Conductive mesh can block RF but not magnetic fields. To block a constant magnetic field you need a solid magnetic (ie, ferromagnetic) shield to deflect the field lines -- or a plane of bars to deflect part of the field (with a weaker field leaking between the bars).
  • Recently my two kids and I went for a baseline MRI to detect cysts for Neurofibromatosis, head scans only. I had to be present in the room to control my kids(not mind control) and so was there for 3x the normal scan time (11 total scans). Most definitely, I was adversely affected by the experience (magnetically, not just the part insurance didn't cover). For two or three days after I was moody and felt depressed, mild but chronic headache. MRI counts as Periodic Exposure, and at that frequency it was terrific! Do get it measured!
  • those were radio signals (not sure what kind or why or even anything really about em) affecting the display - it happens with basically any monitor and any radio - it happens on mine too - the question being asked is about "magnetic" fields' interference, not radio interference - quite a large difference between the two
  • by Tau Zero ( 75868 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2000 @11:03AM (#800645) Journal
    If you have any access to the chiller room at all, the best thing to do would be to shield the chiller compressors and any other motors in that room. A solid steel cage is good, mu metal is better (but very expensive). Shielding the problem right at the source means you will be covering a lot less area, and it will probably cost you a lot less money.

    I can think of ways to do this with active cancellation, but it's not something that I've ever heard of being available off the shelf and I doubt you want to get into the magnetic flux abatement R&D business.
    --

  • I'm not sure... would a steel mesh also work for this?
    No. What you are trying to do is short-circuit the magnetic fields emitted by the motors (which is mostly at 60 Hz). This requires a path of high magnetic permeability. The permeability of steel isn't that much higher than air, and a lot of flux will go right through a steel mesh. You absolutely need something like plate. At high frequencies you can use the image currents induced by the applied time-varying field to shield the field with only a mesh, but the image currents decay exponentially with time and the resistance of steel is too high to give good cancellation at such low frequencies with mesh.

    New thought: make a hollow form which goes around the motor, out of plywood or whatever. Fill it with steel shot. This allows you to create a shield of almost arbitrary shape (how many ways can you glue thin plywood?) and it is certainly cheap.

    (Don't bother modding me up unless you think this really rates a +3 for visibility, I'm above the karma cap. Post instead.)
    --

  • Not that a 60 Hz magnetic field will penetrate through that electronic route.
    Isn't that what I said?
    --
  • I hate to pick nits so much, but this is a very different class of problem from the one your techniques are suitable for.
    The problem is that as soon as you have wires leading into and out of the shell, your shell becomes almost completely ineffective. You'd have great trouble avoiding this, as you need things like power cables entering the computer.
    That's only for RF leakage. The problem in this case appears to be 60 Hz magnetic field interference (which causes monitors to shake at the difference between the line frequency and the scan rate, among other things). A penetrating power cable will do a good job of carrying 300 MHz RF interference, but it won't carry any 60 Hz magnetic fields at all because it's made of copper and not ferromagnetic.
    There are a couple of effects that work in your favour for this. Firstly, the high frequency components of the noise won't diffract around *too* much.
    They won't diffract at all, they are in the "near field" (wavelength at 60 Hz is five thousand kilometers!). Second, there probably aren't significant high-frequency components beyond 300 Hz or so (magnetic non-linearities create them from 60 Hz, but not all that much). What really works in your favor is that you can put something between you and the compressor motors which allows the magnetic fields to flow back without going any further into space. The emissions from a 2-pole motor drop off as 1/r^3, emissions from a 4-pole drop off at 1/r^4. If you put a ferromagnetic cage around the motor the induced field will set up opposite image fields and raise the exponent even higher. Get it to 1/r^6 and you probably won't have problems with monitors shaking any more. You'll still have trouble with switching transients from the compressors turning on and off, so use a surge protector, line filter, UPS or ferroresonant transformer to eat them.
    --
  • Here is the definitive resource on the Aluminum Foil hats: http://zapatopi.net/afdb.html
  • Mu metal [sciencenet.org.uk] is often used in electronic test equipment to shield components from magnetic fields.
  • Are those rainbows and moire patterns constant when the monitor is not being moved, or do they jiggle?

    For that matter, your testing tools are too sophisticated. Get a magnetic compass and wander around the room. If it is a fluctuating field the needle might not react well to it -- if it is a constant field the needle will point along the field lines (toward the poles when you're close). Remember to tilt the compass at various angles, as the field lines are not restricted to being horizontal nor vertical.

    Also the problem may be your office and not what you think. I've had office equipment racks which had become magnetized badly enough that monitors would show distortion from a few feet away. A compass shows the source of that problem easily. I've been able to simply rearrange equipment, but you can consider degaussing.

  • Next, try putting "power factor correctors" and/or "soft starters" on the power lines to the chiller motors (I think that's what they're called, anyway). The basic idea is that they help correct the EMF problem at the source (and can sometimes save electricity bills too!).

    I design soft starters and inverters for a living; the former won't help you here unless the magnetic field is only occurring when the chillers/compressors start, and not while they run. You're absolutely correct about the saving of electricity bills, though. The inrush currents caused by any decently sized squirrel-cage motor are incredible (we're talking 1200-1400A on your typical 250HP) which causes all kinds of bad things, but mostly just problems with the mechanical couplings and mechanical stress on the compressors and motors themselves. The electrical stress is easily overcome with oversized conductors and switchgear. That still doesn't mean the electricity provider will like you. (low power factor, high surge currents, etc., these guys make a living off charging you premiums for this stuff)

    Remember, most conductors are run through conduit which is then grounded. I don't think any of this grounded steel plating is going to get you anywhere unless you're missing it already.

    I'm anxious to find the solution to your problem -- I can run a computer beside a loaded 300HP dyno without any flicker at all -- 3 phase electricity is magnetically coupled very well and there is not much for a magnetic field if the conductors are close to each other. The motor is a huge chunk of steel which is grounded. I'm not 100% certain on this but I'll check tomorrow: I am almost certain that I can hold a compass near a running motor and not get much deflection, grounded or no. If I run it near a single conductor it'll deflect like crazy but that's what is supposed to happen. :-)

    and that all their hardware (starting capacitors, etc.) are functioning properly

    You won't have starting capacitors on motors large enough to cause these kinds of problems. Perhaps a weak line is causing your poor magnetic coupling? I am sure you'd hear that though... Motors do not like to be single-phased.

    To the story poster/question asker: email me. As I said, I work with this kind of stuff for a living. I may not be able to solve your problem, but I can at least help get you to a solution.

  • Ugh... 60Hz... for any real work, I can see flicker under 72Hz (with incandescent light) - up to 75Hz with fluorescent... 60Hz drives me insane... even if it is the only light source in the room I get a headache...

    Try telling them they are imagining it??? Only if these people have never heard of refresh rate and are easily swayed...

    --
  • 1. Recent studies show that electric fields might cause problems but probably not magnetic fields. The effect probably comes from static buildup creating new molecules that poison us rather than directly from the field. As an aside, _don't_ use a monitor that crackles when you put your hand on the face, because it tears apart the various plastic and cleaning fluid vapor molecules and creates all kind of junk.

    2. No one needs a lead jock strap bacause the only claimed effect is cancer statistics not sterility.

    3.Not all radiation is the same by about 10^30

    5. Lead has nothing to do with magnetism...lead's for particles and gamma rays. Shield magnetic fields with Mu metal. It's soft iron or nickel, kind of looks like thick tin foil

    6. We had the flicker problem in a old 1860's textile mill building I worked in, lots of bad wiring. Solution, simply change the monitor scan rate to 60 Hz. Some people will perceive flicker, try telling them they're imagining it. Dimming the lights and monitor brightness helps, because the eye has much better flicker sensitivity at high brightness.
  • I know that the FCC normally deals with EMF-type radiation, where it interferes with communcations devices. Are you also having problems with the phones? If the fields are causing inductance on your communcations networks, the FCC should force the owners of these chillers to shield them. At that point, the solution is not your problem. They will be forced to hire an expert to shield your office to acceptable limits.
  • Hey, you can open a magnetic spa and make tons of money off of New Agers and other ignorant people. Haven't you heard about all the health benefits of magnetic fields? You can let people "re-charge" their bracelets and shoe inserts for a fee.
  • As mentioned in the replies to my above post about using a wire mesh (i.e. cage), a steel cage wouldn't cut it; it would only cut out the really high frequencies (i.e. 300MHz) but not the really low frequencies (in this case, 60Hz), so a solid steel sheet would be necessary.

    -- Sig (120 chars) --
    Your friendly neighborhood mIRC scripter.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    THIS is just the sort of DISINFORMATION they WANT you to believe. In actual FACT, hemispherical aluminum foil hats are RECEIVERS for the spy satellite monitoring and control transmissions. THINK about it - does that metal-lined baseball cap look ANYTHING like a satellite dish concentrating its SIGNAL on the motivational centres of your BRAIN?

    You only BELIEVE that the stares and comments have gone away, because THEY have already PROGRAMMED you that way.

    They programmed you to POST all this, too. WE have been WARNED about people like YOU.

  • If your office has the cash, you could look for "tempest-hardened" systems. AFAIK, TEMPEST specs aren't public knowledge, but basically they're systems that are built to withstand high amounts of EM radiation, and emit little of their own. You can also probably find DIY projects, but the whole thing is a bit esoteric for me. (In that I understand what I have to do, but don't know enough electromagnetic field theory to understand WHY some things need doing.)
  • I second that. No way IN HELL I'd use 60Hz again. The only reason I ever had to is because I lived in a poor country. I'm either going to get at least 75 Hz or I'd start searching for a new job starting immediately. Proper way would be to sue the company but who has money for that... Remember, corps rule the world.
  • A big steel plate grounded to earth should deflect/absorb the EMF that's frying the computers... That's the only idea I can come up with as well. However, hiding it under the carpeting or whatever would probably create the need for a raised subfloor, unless you can install it below the floor...
  • I'm not sure... would a steel mesh also work for this? I know Faraday cages will block radio waves and electric discharges, but I'm not sure if they block magnetic fields as well.
    If it did, it'd probably be a bit cheaper than a big steel plate...

    -- Sig (120 chars) --
    Your friendly neighborhood mIRC scripter.
  • we have a hand-held radio that does basically the same thing. When you hit the transmit key, any monitor in the vicinity has it's picture jump around for an instant.

    We haven't had any components fail yet, but I still think it may be dangerous. Anyone run into this before?

  • Try putting your computers on UPS's. It may be that what's killing them is actually EMF on the electric lines caused by the motors in the chillers. A UPS would both spot that, and correct for it.

    Next, try putting "power factor correctors" and/or "soft starters" on the power lines to the chiller motors (I think that's what they're called, anyway). The basic idea is that they help correct the EMF problem at the source (and can sometimes save electricity bills too!).

    Make sure the chiller motors are properly grounded, and that all their hardware (starting capacitors, etc.) are functioning properly. Also make sure that the wiring in the office is up to code--- if you don't have proper grounding, *everything* in your office will be sensitive to electric noise of all types. My office used to be next to some large electric motors (also in chillers, but also in some seriously freeeeeky RF equipment my employer was into), and it was no problem, even though the building was nearly 100 years old (extensive remodeling/rewiring, though).

    Get on a different electrical circuit than the chiller motors.

    Finally, it may be easier to put a grounded steel box around the chiller motors, rather than on your whole floor.

    Good luck...

    b.g.
  • I had the same problem occur when I was working for the Army Corps of Engineers in a field office. I never had a component fail in the 3 years I was there, but I think that had more to do with the short duration of the events and luck.

    -J
  • I used to work in a facility that had a factory which manufactured radio gear, tested, etc. They had special EMF-free zones for testing devices which were wood-frame closets wrapped in grounded copper mesh screen. Should do the trick more effectively than the steel, and be lighter/easier to work with.
  • a bad job of construction. If you are leasing your space, release the attack lawyers if the building owner/manager does not rectify the situation. In these days, an office without computers, is usually a useless office.

    If you own the building, sorry I'm at a loss for suggestions.

  • That answers my question :)

    -- Sig (120 chars) --
    Your friendly neighborhood mIRC scripter.
  • Wouldn't it be easier to shield the ceiling of the room where the 'chillers' are? That would be the underside of the floor -- less ugly, and in a place where people would expect such a thing.
  • I concur. Copper mesh on the floor will do it. Ground it.
  • by scotpurl ( 28825 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2000 @09:42AM (#800671)
    There's limits on what strengths of magnetic fields you can be exposed to. Call OSHA (occupational and health folks), or even one of the local labour unions. Someone will be able to look it up in a manual, and track down the correct inspector who can gauge field strenghts with an expensive gadget.

    Meantime, be afraid. Or at least cautious.

    Cautious beats dead/cancerous any day.
  • Check out this link on how to harden your computers or computer room. I don't know the quality of the research or solution.

    Hardening your computer assets [infowar.com]
  • Here's a question for you: If all it takes is a wire mesh or steel plate on the floor of their office/ceiling of the other office to block the magnetic flux, why isn't a computer already encased in metal with a ground (via the power cable) protected?

    Also, with the metal plate/mesh solution, how do you deal with flux wrapping around the plate?

    If you used metal mesh, aren't you then just creating a huge inductor on the floor? Inductors work by the change in magnetic flux going through loops. This induces a current acting opposite to the magnetic flux. The bigger the change in flux, the stronger the reactant current will be.
    So, I don't think a metal mesh will work to stop the magnetic flux, but it might be a good ( or not so good) source of electricity.

    Dave

  • Don't you pay any attention to holistic healing? Magnetics heal your body. They should change businesses, and turn the place into a health spa. Bring in some ancient mind healing crystals, and they'll be all set.
  • I will confirm the folowing:
    1. it IS a magnetic field you are seeing. we have the same issue in several manufacturing areas where I work.
    2. If all it is doing is making the screen wobble a little, the level is not dangerous.
    3. If you can say for certain the field is what ruined the drive and main board, get out now and call OSHA

    Wear foil underwear.

    we haven't found a good cheep way to eliminate it, aside from moving the equipment. If you are renting, it's not your problem, get the landloard to fix it. If its new construction, get the builder to fix it before you sue his ass.


  • by scotpurl ( 28825 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2000 @09:51AM (#800676)
    http://www.niehs.nih.gov/oc/factsheets/emf/emf.htm
    from National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

    http://www.osha-slc.gov/SLTC/elfradiation/index. html OSHA's page on ELF radiation.

    NOTE, one of the links is titled, "Possible Association of EMF and Suicide. News Release No. 147, University of North Carolina, (2000, March 15), 1 page. Press release from a large and detailed positive study of the possible link between exposure to low frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and suicide among electric utility workers. "
  • Here's a question for you: If all it takes is a wire mesh or steel plate on the floor of their office/ceiling of the other office to block the magnetic flux, why isn't a computer already encased in metal with a ground (via the power cable) protected?

    The problem is that as soon as you have wires leading into and out of the shell, your shell becomes almost completely ineffective. You'd have great trouble avoiding this, as you need things like power cables entering the computer.

    Also, with the metal plate/mesh solution, how do you deal with flux wrapping around the plate?

    There are a couple of effects that work in your favour for this. Firstly, the high frequency components of the noise won't diffract around *too* much. They're the ones that will couple the most strongly to electronics, and so the ones that would otherwise cause the most damage. Secondly, even if the low-frequency components _do_ diffract around the edge and reach your equipment, they've still been spreading out the whole time (diffracting over a wide angle range), so your equipment is still "farther away" from the source of the interference.

    If you used metal mesh, aren't you then just creating a huge inductor on the floor? Inductors work by the change in magnetic flux going through loops. This induces a current acting opposite to the magnetic flux. The bigger the change in flux, the stronger the reactant current will be.

    However, the reaction currents act to _cancel_ the imposed field.

    A mesh (or a sheet with holes in it) can block most noise components with wavelengths substantially larger than the hole size. You can consider a solid sheet to be the limiting case as hole size goes to zero.

    Even in a sheet, you'll have currents around the edge, and other circular currents within the sheet if the imposed magnetic field isn't uniform. Using a mesh just imposes a minimum size on these current circles.

    The _lower_ limit to frequency blocked is governed both by diffraction (as you pointed out) and by the fact that your plate isn't an ideal superconductor. When the wavelength of the noise is substantially larger than the size of the plate, diffraction effects will become severe (though you still have _some_ benefit, as noted above). When the frequency drops to the point where the magnitude of the resistance of the current paths within the plate is substantially greater than that of the inductive reactance, the plate (or mesh) will similarly be ineffective.

    This is actually a fascinating topic to think about.
  • Put a magnet on one side of a copper plate. A penny is a useful approximation. Now attack a paperclip to the other side of the penny. Notice how readily the magnetism goes through the penny? Copper screening isn't going to do shit to keep any magnetism out.
    -russ
  • I've got a little desk fan that I use sometimes when it's hot but not hot enough to turn the AC on... when you turn it on it can make the TV show snow in the middle for a split second and seems to have a lesser effect on the monitors for a moment, it doesn't seem to have any other effects except the following:

    If you turn it on and off repeatedly and quickly, you can change the lights on a keyboard! wether or not this actually turns on/off numlock/capslock/scroll lock (what the heck is scroll lock anyway? I presume is an obsolete feature from early systems?) as I didn't bother to test after I discovered that little quirk

  • My cell phone does something similiar with my computer speakers. They're obviously video shielded, but apparently the cell operates at a frequency unaffected by the shielding. Get these weird, morse code like pulsings. Strange.

    ----
  • by technos ( 73414 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2000 @10:44AM (#800681) Homepage Journal
    Tinfoil hats.

    Not only do they protect the most sensitive organ in your body, the brain, they protect you from the alien mind-control satellites and they muffle the transmission from the secret spy transmitter the NSA had installed in one of your molars.

    I suggest lining a baseball cap with the tinfoil. I do, and it saves me a lot of stares and comments. I think the aliens have caught on to the source of immunity, the hat, and have programmed their drone minions to ostracize me into taking it off.
  • I used to work at a theme park in their computer repair division. We had handheld so we could be dispatched to fix any problems in the park or the offices. In the offices there was the server room which conatined all of the Netware, POS, and mainframe servers for the entire park. Everywhere in the room there were BIG SIGNS saying "DO NOT KEY RADIOS IN THIS ROOM!!!" Keying radios sends out a EMP that computers tend not to like.

    A wealthy eccentric who marches to the beat of a different drum. But you may call me "Noodle Noggin."
  • by InitZero ( 14837 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2000 @10:44AM (#800683) Homepage

    For the last 24 years, we've had green-screen mainframe terminals and all was right with the world. About a year ago, we phased out the mainframe and installed PCs with lovely 21" NEC monitors. Everyone in one area of the building complained about horrible flicker and the investigation started.

    It turns out that the department was over the electrical vault. Several times the acceptable limit was coming up through the eight-inch thick concrete floor. Needless to say, many jokes were made about low sperm count. Then people started to get worried. (First the people in that area then our corporate lawyers.)

    Many ideas were floated. The easiest way would to have been to place a three-quarter-inch thick piece of lead on all the vault walls. (I say all because the folks on either side of the vault on the first floor were now also seeing problems.) This seemed like a good idea in theory.

    While lead did fix the problems in the neighboring offices, the EMF level in the room skyrocketed. There was no place the the EMF to go so it just bounced around in the room. We went from slightly over the legal level to three-headed babies. We had to take down the lead.

    Since the department in question refused to wear lead jock straps, we had to move the electrical vault to outside the building. (As is the standard now, I'm told.)

    In the end, it cost us several thousand dollars to move the vault and, more costly, two power outtages and a few weekends of load testing.

    If I were you, I'd talk to the building's property management. Ultimately, they will be the ones to fix the problem. Further, if they won't or can't fix it, I'd be looking for another building before you get too settled in.

    Even if the EMF is within legal limits, a flickering screen is a hazzard to worker productivity. If a worker comes down with a bad headache, you're looking at a law suite. If a woman has a child with any birth defects even ones that could not possibly be caused be EMF, the company will be sued out of existance.

    InitZero

  • by Valar ( 167606 )
    cover your floor in tin foil
  • If you can't find a way to dampen the field, get a cardboard pyramid and open a new business in recycled razor blades.

Long computations which yield zero are probably all for naught.

Working...