In our last post, we talked about ESD: what it is, what types of ESD damage there are and what costly effects ESD can have. Missed our very first post? Catch-up here.
All caught up? Right, moving on. Today you will learn how to avoid ESD damage and protect your ESD sensitive items. So, let’s jump right in.

The fundamental ESD Control Principles
We’ve established that ESD is the hidden enemy in the electronics industry. Therefore, the BIG question is: how exactly do you control ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD) in your workplace? Easy – just follow these ESD fundamentals:

  1. Ground all conductors including people
  2. Remove all unnecessary non-conductors (also known as insulators)
  3. Place ESD sensitive devices inside of shielding packaging when transported outside of an ESD Protected Area (EPA)

Per ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20-2008 section 2.4 “It should be understood that any object, item, material or person could be a source of static electricity in the work environment. Removal of unnecessary nonconductors, replacing nonconductive materials with dissipative or conductive materials and grounding all conductors are the principle methods of controlling static electricity in the workplace, regardless of the activity.

These are the essential principles of ESD Control. If you implement all three points above, you will be in control of ESD and your sensitive items will be protected. Well, that wasn’t hard, was it? Don’t be terrified – we’ll go through everything in detail. We’ll cover #2 and #3 in future points – today’s focus is #1.

Definition of an ESD Protected Area (EPA)
An ESD Protected Area (EPA) is a designated zone – all surfaces, objects, people and ESD Sensitive Devices (ESDs) within are kept at the same electrical potential. This is achieved by simply using ‘groundable’ materials for covering of surfaces and for the manufacture of containers and tools. This applies to all items with an electrical resistance of less than 109 ohms.

An EPA could be just one workstation or it could be a room containing several different workstations. It can be portable as used in a field service situation or permanent.

Example of an ESD Protected Area

The user guide CLC/TR 61340-5-2:2008 defines an EPA as follows:
An ESD protected area (EPA) is an area that is equipped with the ESD control items required to minimize the chance of damaging ESD sensitive devices. In the broad sense, a protected area is capable of controlling static electricity on all items that enter that work area. Personnel and other conductive or dissipative items shall be electrically bonded together and connected to ground (or a common connection point when a ground is not available) to equalize electrical potential among the items. The size of an EPA can vary greatly. A protected area may be a permanent workstation within a room or an entire factory floor encompassing thousands of workstations. A protected area may also be a portable worksurface or mat used in a field service situation.” [CLC/TR 61340-5-2:2008 Use guide clause 4.6 Protected areas (EPA)]

You’re probably wondering now, how exactly you can get all surfaces, objects and operators to the same electrical potential. Fear not – we’ve got you covered!

  1. Personnel Grounding
    As previously stated, a fundamental principle of ESD control is to ground conductors including people at ESD protected workstations.Wrist straps are the first line of defense against ESD, the most common personnel grounding device used, and are required to be used if the operator is sitting. The wristband should be worn snug to the skin with its coil cord connected to a common point ground which is connected to ground, preferably equipment ground.

    Wearing a wrist strap and connecting it to a common point ground

    If you are not using a continuous or a constant monitor, a wrist strap should be tested while being worn at least daily. This quick check can determine that no break in the path-to-ground has occurred. Part of the path-to-ground is the perspiration layer on the person; an operator with dry skin may inhibit the removal of static charges and may cause a test failure.
    The wrist strap system should be tested daily to ensure proper electrical value. Nominally, the upper resistance reading should be ” [ANSI/ESD S1.1 Annex A, 3 Frequency of Functional Testing]

    A Flooring / Footwear system is an alternative for personnel grounding for standing or mobile workers. Foot grounders or other types of ESD footwear are worn while standing or walking on an ESD floor. ESD footwear is to be worn on both feet and should be tested independently at least daily while being worn. Unless the tester has a split footplate, each foot should be tested independently, typically with the other foot raised in the air.
    Compliance verification should be performed prior to each use (daily, shift change, etc.). The accumulation of insulative materials may increase the foot grounder system resistance. If foot grounders are worn outside the ESD protected area testing for functionality before reentry to the ESD protected area should be considered.” [ESD SP9.2 APPENDIX B – Foot Grounder Usage Guidance]

    Both ESD footwear and ESD floor are required. Wearing ESD footwear on a regular, insulative floor is a waste of time and money.

    Wearing foot grounders on an ESD floor

    Part of the path-to-ground is the perspiration in the person’s shoes. The conductive tab or ribbon of foot grounders should be placed inside the shoe under the foot with the excess length tucked into the shoe. Thanks to the perspiration in the shoe, direct contact with the skin is normally not necessary.

    If an operator leaves the EPA and walks outside wearing ESD footwear, care should be taken not to get the ESD footwear soiled. Dirt is typically insulative, and the best practice is to re-test the ESD footwear while being worn each time when re-entering the EPA.

  2. Working Surfaces
    ESD working surfaces, such as mats, are typically an integral part of the ESD workstation, particularly in areas where hand assembly occurs. The purpose of the ESD working surface is two-fold:

    1. To provide a surface with little to no charge on it.
    2. To provide a surface that will remove ElectroStatic charges from conductors including ESDS devices and assemblies) that are placed on the surface.

    ESD mats need to be grounded. A ground wire from the mat should connect to the common point ground which is connected to ground, preferably equipment ground. For electronics manufacturing a working surface resistance to ground (RG) of 1 x 106 to less than 1 x 109 ohms is recommended.
    The single most important concept in the field of static control is grounding. Attaching all electrically conductive and dissipative items in the workplace to ground allows built-up electrostatic charges to equalize with ground potential. A grounded conductor cannot hold a static charge.” [Grounding ANSI/ESD S6.1 Foreword]
    Per ANSI/ESD S20.20 section Grounding / Bonding Systems Guidance, “In most cases, the third wire (green) AC equipment ground is the preferred choice for ground.
    Best practice is that ground connections use firm fitting connecting devices such as metallic crimps, snaps and banana plugs to connect to designated ground points. The use of alligator clips is not recommended.

    The working surface must be maintained and should be cleaned with an ESD cleaner. Regular cleaners typically contain silicone, and should never be used on an ESD working surface. ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20-2008 section Maintenance “Periodic cleaning, following the manufacturerís recommendations, is required to maintain proper electrical function of all worksurfaces. Ensure that cleaners that are used do not leave an electrically insulative residue common with some household cleaners that contain silicone.

  3. Other moveable objects
    Moveable items (such as containers and tools) are grounded when placed on a grounded surface or being held by a grounded operator. Everything that does not readily dissipate charge must be excluded from the EPA (refer to #2 of our ESD Control Principles above). Regular plastics, polystyrene foam drink cups and packaging materials, etc. are typically high charging and have no place at an ESD protective workstation.

    Intention of an ESD Protected Area (EPA)We’ve learnt in our previous blog post that ElectroStatic discharge (ESD) can damage components and products that contain electronics. A lot of the time, this damage is not detected during quality inspection and can cause significant problems further down the line.An ESD Protected Area (EPA) is an area that has specifically been created to control ESD; its purpose is therefore to avoid ALL problems resulting from ESD damage. Workers need to understand AND follow the basics of ESD control to limit the generation of electrostatic charges as well as limit and slow discharges in the EPA.Recognizing an ESD Protected Area (EPA)
    An ESD Protected Area must be clearly identified using signs and/or aisle tape. This ensures operators and visitors are alerted when entering (or leaving) an ESD Protected Area which require special precautions (grounding via wrist straps and/or foot grounders etc.). It also indicates that they are entering (or exiting) areas where exposed ESDS items can be handled safely.Remember to be consistent throughout your shop floor, i.e. use the same signs. This will avoid confusion for your operators.

    Example of an EPA caution sign

    While signs are one way of indicating the boundaries of an EPA, it is not the only way. Any alternate method that alert the personnel that an EPA begins is acceptable to ANSI/ESD S20.20. Some of the alternate ways to mark the boundaries of an EPA are:

    • tape on the floor
    • different color floor tiles
    • different color carpet
    • any other way to establish boundary conditions

    Anyway to distinguish the boundaries of an EPA would be acceptable as long as the personnel are aware of the indications and take the proper precautions while inside the EPA.” [ESD TR20.20-2016 section 9.1.2 EPA Boundary Indicators]

    Building an ESD Protected Area (EPA)
    A basic form of an ESD Protected Area is a workstation consisting of the following components:

    • An ESD working surface mat
    • A grounding cord
    • A wristband
    • A coiled cord
    • A common point ground

    To set-up an EPA:

    1. Connect the ESD working surface mat to the common point ground using the grounding cord.
    2. Link the operator to the common point ground using the wristband and coiled cord.

    Congratulations – you’ve just created an ESD Protected Area!
    By following the above steps, each component (the ESD mat and the operator) is kept at the same electrical potential (ground). Any ElectroStatic charge (ESD) is removed to ground via the common point ground.

Welcome to this little corner of the interwebs! Today marks the beginning of something truly amazing: our very own blog! You’re currently reading through our first blog post and we appreciate you taking time out of your busy life and spending it here.

The intention of this blog is to provide you with resources, information and tools – all focused around ESD! So, if you have any ideas for future blog posts or suggestions on what we could do better, don’t be a stranger and leave a comment! We look forward to hearing from you.

Now, for this first post we thought we’d start right at the beginning: what is ESD? It’s the core of our business but a lot of people don’t understand what it’s all about so let’s clear that up – right here and right now!

ElectroStatic Charge
Everything you see around you is made from atoms – your mouse, keyboard, screen, cup of coffee etc. Every atom is constructed of a nucleus, which includes positively charged protons, and one or more negatively charged electrons bound to the nucleus. As atoms have an equal number of electrons and protons, it balances out having no charge. No problems so far!

Structure of an AtomStructure of an Atom (Source)

Unfortunately, all materials can tribocharge and generate ElectroStatic charges. Most of the time this happens through contact and separation; some everyday life examples are:

  • Opening a plastic bag
  • Combing hair
  • Walking across a floor

Walking across a floor.pngWalking across a floor can generate an ElectoStatic Charge

For most people, static electricity is represented by the noise or crackle heard on a radio that interferes with good reception or the shock experienced when touching a metal object after walking across a carpeted room or sliding across a car seat. Static electricity is also observed as static cling when clothes are stuck together after coming out of a clothes dryer. Most of the time, people observe static electricity when the weather is cold and dry.” “While many people tend to think of static electricity as being at rest or not moving, static electricity causes the most concern when it ceases to be stationary.” [ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20 section 2.1 Basics of Static Electricity, Introduction]

When two materials make contact and are then separated, a transfer of electrons from one surface to the other may take place. The amount of static electricity generated depends upon the materials subjected to contact or separation, friction, the area of contact or separation, and the relative humidity of the environment. At lower relative humidity (as the environment is drier) charge generation will increase significantly. Common plastics generally will create the greatest static charges.
Electrostatic charge is most commonly formed by the contact and separation of two materials. The materials may be similar or dissimilar although dissimilar materials tend to liberate higher levels of static charge. An example is a person walking across the floor. Static electricity is produced when the person’s shoe soles make contact, then separate from the floor surface. Another example is an electronic device sliding into or out of a bag, magazine or tube.” [ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20 section 2.3 Nature of Static Electricity]

ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD)
If two items are at different ElectroStatic charge levels (i.e. one is positively and the other negatively charged) and approach one another, a spark or ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD) can occur. This rapid, spontaneous transfer of an ElectroStatic charge can generate heat and melt circuitry in electronic components.


ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD)

ESD events are happening around us all the time – yet, most of these cannot be seen or felt. For a person to sense ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD) (the dreaded ‘zap’), a discharge of about 2,000V is needed. To actually see ESD (in form of an arc, e.g. lightning) even greater voltages are required.

While ESD in your home can be annoying, it’s generally harmless. However, in the electronics industry ESD is the hidden enemy. Damages caused by invisible and undetectable ESD events can be understood by comparing ESD damage to medical contamination of the human body by viruses or bacteria. Although invisible, they can cause severe damage. In hospitals, the defense against this invisible threat is extensive contamination control procedures including sterilization. In the electronics industry, it’s ESD Protection; we will get into more detail on that in a later post.

Many of the common activities you perform daily may generate charges on your body that are potentially harmful to electronic components. Some of these activities include:

  • Walking across a carpet: 1,500V to 35,000V
  • Walking over untreated vinyl floor: 250V to 12,000V
  • Worker at a bench: 700V to 6,000V
  • Picking up a common plastic bag from a bench: 1,200V to 20,000V

Many of the CMOS technology components can be damaged by discharges of less than 1,000 volts. Some of the very sophisticated components can be damaged by charges as low as 10 volts.

Types of ESD Device Damage
So, we’ve established what ESD is and learned that ESD can damage electronics components. But what exactly does this damage look like? We’re so glad you asked!

The industry differentiates between catastrophic failures and latent defects. Per ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20 section 2.7 Device Damage – Types and Causes “Electrostatic damage to electronic devices can occur at any point, from the manufacture of the device to field service of systems. Damage results from handling the devices in uncontrolled surroundings or when poor ESD control practices are used. Generally damage can manifest itself as a catastrophic failure, parametric change or undetected parametric change (latent defect).

Catastrophic failures occur when a component is damaged to the point where it is DEAD NOW and will never again function. In these cases, the ESD event may have caused a metal melt, junction breakdown or oxide failure. This is the easiest type of ESD damage to find since it can be detected during inspection and testing.
When an electronic device is exposed to an ESD event it may no longer function. The ESD event may have caused a metal melt, junction breakdown, or oxide failure. The device’s circuitry is permanently damaged, resulting in a catastrophic failure.” [ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20 section 2.7.1 Catastrophic Failures]

Catastrophic Failures

Catastrophic failures will lead to completely failed or dead components.

Latent defects occur when ESD weakens or wounds the component to the point where it will still function properly during testing, but over time the wounded component may cause poor system performance. Later, after final inspection, perhaps in the hands of your customer, a latent defect may become a catastrophic failure.
A device that is exposed to an ESD event may be partially degraded, yet continue to perform its intended function. However, the operating life of the device may be reduced dramatically. A product or system incorporating devices with latent defects may experience a premature failure after the user places them in service. Such failures are usually costly to repair and in some applications may create personnel hazards.” It is easy with the proper equipment to confirm that a device has experienced catastrophic failure or that a part is degraded or fails test parameters. Basic performance tests will substantiate device damage. However, latent defects are virtually impossible to prove or detect using current technology, especially after the device is assembled into a finished product. Some studies claim that the number of devices shipped to users with latent defects exceeds the number that fail catastrophically due to ESD in manufacturing.” [ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20 section 2.7.2 Latent Defects]

Latent Defects

Latent defects lead to degraded or wounded components

Costly Effects of ESD
Catastrophic failures are straight forward: they can be detected and repaired at an early manufacturing stage. This is the least costly type of ESD damage.

Latent defects on the other hand are not only hard to find, but they can also severely affect the reputation of your company’s product. Latent defects can cause upset or intermittent failures and can be very frustrating: customers return a product with a problem which the factory fail to detect so it ends up at the customer’s again with the problem unresolved.

ESD Damage on an Integrated Circuit

The cost for repairing latent defects increases as detection of the failure moves through the system. One study indicated the repair cost to be:

  • $10 Device
  • $10 Device in board: $100
  • $10 Device in board and in system: $1,000
  • $10 Device and system fails: $10,000

Industry experts estimate that product losses in the electronics industry due to static discharge range from 8 to 33%. Others believe the actual cost of ESD damage amount to billions of dollars annually.

ESD is the hidden enemy in the electronics industry:

  • It cannot be felt
  • It cannot be seen
  • It cannot necessarily be detected through normal inspection procedures.

Therefore, it is absolutely crucial to be aware of the most sensitive items in your factory. Technology advances all the time: electronic circuitry gets progressively smaller which leads to a reduction of microscopic spacing of insulators and circuits within components. “Electronic items continued to become smaller, faster and their susceptibility to static damage increased…all electronic devices required some form of electrostatic control to assure continued operation and product reliability.” [ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20 section 2.2]. While this is great news for the consumer with better, faster and stronger computers, tablets, phones etc., it’s bad news for the manufacturers. The evolution of technology leads to devices being even more sensitive to ESD. As a result, the need for appropriate ESD Protection is now more important than ever.

Over the next few weeks, we will provide you with all the tips, tools and techniques to create an effective ESD Control Program so that your sensitive components are protected against damages from ESD.