I'm currently working on an RS485 DMX circuit and am thinking about proper protective measures.

I've oriented myself on this question. I understand that galvanic isolation does not equal ESD protection, so I need some TVS diodes on the incoming signal lines which clamp to chassis ground, not isolated ground (because the isolation devices only work up to 600V/1000V.)

This raises some further questions:

  1. Do I need to filter the input of the DCDC as well (because of switching noise?) If yes, how much? I don't think I need a full CM-filter though, as the signal is relatively slow at 250kbps.
  2. Although the circuits are isolated, they are not allowed to drift apart too much if I use TVS diodes, otherwise they'd trigger randomly. As I use ESD-protected drivers, I don't have to choose tightly specified diodes. I only need to protect the isolation devices, not the driver. But I still need to keep chassis ground and iso ground close enough that the TVS doesn't trigger. Should I just put 10Mohm between the grounds to couple them, or am I overthinking this? (see Edit)
  3. The former point adresses data line ESD events. What about ESD on the ground plane? Usually you don't protect GND from ESD events, but if I don't then the ground has +8kV in respect to the signal lines, which can't be good either - and I'll violate the 600V isolation to the main circuit. So can I just put a TVS on isolated ground to chassis ground? How does this mesh with the ground coupling?

Maybe it's an XY question. What I want to do: Protect my IO from ESD and misconfigured devices down the line. Is this appropriate or am I overthinking stuff?

Edit: I've read ANSI E1.11 (the DMX Standard), which says that galvanic Isolation for transmitters is not necessary, but can be done (4.2 & Annex A1). I'll go with isolation, because the ports can also act as an receiver which should be isolated. Also, I'll need to connect iso gnd to chassis gnd with >22MOhms.

So question 2 has answered itself. Question 1 & 3 still remain; does the R between iso gnd and chassis gnd pose problems to ESD events? I haven't found a reference implementation for ESD protection.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ 250kbps, RS485, lighting - if you are doing DMX512 just say so, you will get better answers by not withholding information. Also have you read DMX specs and appnotes about best practices how to implement both DMX and RS485? \$\endgroup\$
    – Justme
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 8:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for that reminder ^^' sometimes it's the simple things you forget... It did clear some of the questions but not all of them. \$\endgroup\$
    – CShark
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 9:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ The 22Meg resistor in the standard strikes me as odd. Your 600V isolation is quite irrelevant when bypassed with that resistor. It is not actually clear to me if that resistor is an actual thing, or a test criteria. Why is is listed as greater than 22meg at 42VDC? \$\endgroup\$
    – Arcatus
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 11:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ When looking at other implementations (ti.com/lit/an/slyt425/slyt425.pdf?ts=1619576914018), it seems that it is indeed just a test criterion. Maybe >22M in current leaks (<2μA @42V) across isolation and tvs? Now that I'm writing this, this makes a lot more sense... But now question 2 is again an open question... \$\endgroup\$
    – CShark
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 13:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CShark So you can't put DC resistance from isolated DMX ground to unisolated device ground, but it does not prevent from putting a capacitor between them for ESD and EMI. But you either make a grounded controller or isolated luminaire, why you say you must be isolated because you can be both devices? \$\endgroup\$
    – Justme
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 15:26

2 Answers 2


250kbps is quite fast for RS485. How far apart is your nodes?

How big your EMI problem will be (and how strong protection is required) is significantly tied to location of your infrastructure. If they are all contained in the same building a tiny TVS diode, such as the SM712 will suffice. However, if you are outside, with a cable that is some hundred meters long you need to "beef up" with a GDT or MOV, and appropriate supporting components.

Boruns has some great articles on this topic: Link

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry but 250 kbps is not "quite fast for RS485" by any means. The standard first appeared almost 40 years ago, goes up to 10 Mbps, and DMX512 has used 250 kbps for 35 years now. \$\endgroup\$
    – Justme
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 8:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Justme Respectfully disagree. DMX512 "solves" one of the missing parts of RS485 standardization: Infrastructure. And you can have range or speed. Not both. At 250kbps you are starting to make that compromise, so I stand by my original statement. \$\endgroup\$
    – Arcatus
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 8:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think I need to go horribly overboard, as the dmx installation is only in concert halls. TVS should be enough, but I'm not sure about an ESD event on the iso-gnd. \$\endgroup\$
    – CShark
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 9:02
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ To clarify, RS-485 by itself, when used with a point-to-point topology, or linear bus with terminations at both ends, is length-bandwidth limited by line losses only. Some protocols may however be baud limited by electrical length. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 15:28

ESD & Overvoltages: question 3

High level

  1. As far as I know ESD does not transmit along cables and only accessible parts on the equipment itself must be protected: if you can touch the pins of a connector, then you must protect them; a display must be protected.

  2. Different are overvoltages due to indirect lightning effects and induction from power cables.

  3. Different also is polarity reversal and accidental mains voltage connected to the lines.

  4. Field ground is exposed too, as cable shields bring in phenomena of the (2) and (3) type.

Bits of answers

  1. If you use ESD-protected drivers, you are okay with fingers touching pins.

  2. The level of insulation of the "dirty ground" connected to the field protects against overvoltages: if drivers and DC/DC are insulated for 2.5 kVrms 1 min., the they withstand approx. twice as surge voltage (slightly more than that, but there are different types of surge waveforms and equivalency is not well documented; see old IEC 60950-1).

  3. If you want to protect the "dirty ground" for overvoltages, you should understand to which other ground you should terminate the SPD (Surge Protective Device) you put in. If you have an external ground for safety and no other part of your equipment is connected to it directly, you can discharge the "dirty ground" to it when you approach the level of rating of your galvanic insulation (let's say 5kV surge voltage). I did it once with a Bourns 2093. But this is for really exposed cables, in my case running along a metro track on a viaduct.

  4. One consideration of the isolation rating: you speak of "600V". You mean 600Vrms for 1 minute I think: isn't that low for the devices available nowadays, e.g. from Maxim and Texas Instruments? I think 2.5 kVrms is viable, and 3.75-4 kVrms are also quite available. Then -- as said -- multiply by approx. two for surge peak voltage.

  5. If you connect ISO ground (dirty ground) and chassis with a resistor, that resistor must be rated for the insulation level, so you need a chain of resistors, and even the PCB where you could mount the chip resistors is at stake. Thus you need resistors with lead wires.

    Take into account also that the coupling capacitance between dirty ground and chassis is likely to shunt the ESD discharge (in case there is one on such dirty ground). After estimating it, you could help it with a tiny high-voltage capacitor (e.g. some pF), that would close the circuit during the ESD. Y1/Y2 types are acceptable for safety-relevant applications.

DC/DC filtering: question 1

Your DC/DC is not that big source of disturbance and I do not think it will propagate farther to be a concern for EMC certification. In any case, you can put a couple of chip inductors and a transversal capacitor between pos and neg, that works as a diff mode filter, but with the low-ed inductor (the one on the neg) you balance the impedance and you get some common-mode filtering, just in case there is really need.

This if the DC/DC output really disturbs the driver.

Common values may be some hundreds µH and some µF. It should cover all possible switching frequencies, from some tens of kHz and above.

  • \$\begingroup\$ To clarify: ESD is carried on cables, as any other wave is; it might lose risetime over distance but the brunt of the energy carried on or coupled to the cable will remain for quite a distance (rationale: compare ESD impedance and pulse width to typical cable CM impedance and radiation loss). Coupling can occur by direct strikes or capacitive coupling from nearby wires, planes, etc. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 15:36

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