Introduction to ESD

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.

ESD.png

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.

Conclusion
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.

2 Comments

  1. 3 Steps to Fight ESD | SCS
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