Choosing the right type of Ionizer

Last time we learned the difference between conductors & insulators. We went on to explain what ionizers are and when you need them in your EPA. Haven’t had a chance to read that post yet? Catch-up here!
All up to speed now? Right, let’s move on: as promised, today we’ll be looking at the different types of ionizers available.

What is an Ionizer?
But first a quick recap of what an ionizer is: An ionizer produces positively and negatively charged ions that are moved to the controlled area with fan driven airflow. Ionization can neutralize static charges on an insulator in a matter of seconds, thereby reducing their potential to cause ESD damage.

Types of Ionizers
Electrical ionizers generate air ions by a process known as corona discharge. A high voltage is applied to one or more sharp points and quantities of air ions are created. Fans or blowers may be incorporated in the ionizer to assist the movement of the ions and enhance performance.

  1. AC Ionizers
    AC ionizers use a transformer to multiply the AC power line voltage. AC stands for “Alternating Current” which means that the power cycles from positive to negative sixty times per second. The AC ionizer therefore produces both positive and negative ions from the same points or emitters. The drawback with this approach is that many ions recombine because the cycle frequency is too fast. For this reason, most AC ionizers rely on fans or blowers to be effective.
  2. Pulsed DC Ionizers
    Pulsed DC ionizers utilize separate power supplies to generate positive and negative voltages and usually each power supply has its own dedicated emitters. The power supply alternates between positive and negative, but usually at a lower frequency than AC units. In this way, ion recombination is reduced and performance is increased. Airflow may then be reduced for operator comfort without sacrificing much performance. With pulsed DC, it is important to cycle at least two or three times per second to prevent harmful voltage swings on the object being protected.
  3. Steady-state DC Ionizers
    Steady-state DC ionizers also employ separate power supplies and emitters, but instead of alternating positive and negative, both supplies are on all the time as the name implies. As would be expected, there is some degree of recombination, however, the ion density is still greater because of continuous operation of both supplies. The offset or balance voltage at the output will normally be more consistent than pulse units.

There are also nuclear types of ionizers which are non-electric. They are more frequently used in flammable or explosive environments for applications other than electronics.

Ionizer Configurations

  1. Room Ionization
    This type of configuration will typically have multiple emitters just below ceiling height and will rely on some amount of air movement for moving the ions down to bench level. It used to be considered as the most effective way to protect large areas against ESD hazards. However, these days localized workstation ionization is recommended:

    • Product sensitivity has become much greater and long decay times of room ionization cannot be tolerated.
    • With room ionization, often only a fraction of the ionized area may be ESD sensitive. Localized ionizers bring protection to the areas where it’s needed and performance is often 10 times faster than the ceiling height system.
    • Localized ionization moves with the workstation (or to a new workstation) making it much more flexible with changing production line layouts.
      Advantages Disadvantages
      + Effective for large areas – Long decay times
      – Cannot easily be moved once set-up
  2. Workstation Ionizers
    These come in many shapes and sizes. Probably the best-known type is the benchtop ionizer which is about the size of an iPad mini and about 4 inch deep. They’ve been around for many years and are to this day still in high demand. Over the years, smaller and lighter units were developed. As workstation space is incredibly valuable, many users prefer the smaller units. Some benchtop ionizers can even be suspended above the bench using a flexible mounting arm. Whatever style is chosen, care should be taken to assure that items normally on the bench would not obstruct the flow of ionized air.

    Example of a Benchtop Ionizer – click here for more information

    A real benefit of benchtop ionizers is the fact that they can easily be moved between workstations. So, if you only have a small EPA with a few users and shared workload, you can save money by moving one ionizer between different benches.

    Advantages Disadvantages
    + Compact – Potential obstruction of air flow
    + Lightweight
    + Portable
  3. Overhead Ionizers
    Overhead ionization was established to solve the problem of items on a workbench blocking the flow of ionized air. Overhead Ionizers have a unique hanging capability and are suspended about 17 to 24 inch above the bench – either by hanging from chains or by using mounting brackets attached to a shelf or bench.

    Example of an Overhead Ionizer – click here for more information

    Using this method of ionization makes it very unlikely for items to block the flow of ionized air to the item being protected. In addition, the downward airflow is more consistent over the entire bench. To ensure that adequate air is delivered an overhead ionizer with 2 to 4 fans should be used. Overhead ionization is ideal for areas where bench space is limited.

    Advantages Disadvantages
    + Large & consistent air flow coverage – Heavy
    + Don’t take up valuable workspace
    + Items unlikely to block air flow
  4. Forced Air Ionizers
    Most companies address ElectroStatic Attraction, visual imperfections and contamination issues by dislodging charged dust and debris with compressed air ionizers. They use compressed air or nitrogen to neutralise static charges in localized areas – they are a quick “point-and-shoot” option. They are either hand-held or may be mounted in a fixed location.

    Example of a Forced Air Ionizer – click here for more information

    The main advantage of this type is that the user has the benefit of a strong air blast (20 to 100 P.S.I.) to help dislodge contamination, while the ionization in the air stream eliminates the static attraction of the particles at the same time. Hand-held air nozzle types will usually have a trigger or push-button to activate the air and ion flow, while the stationary-mounted type is frequently remote controlled with a foot pedal, photo sensor or some other switch closure.

    Advantages Disadvantages
    + “Point-and-shoot” operation – Use valuable workstation space
    + Strong air blast

Summary
SCS Ionizers meet ANSI/ESD S20.20 tested per ANSI/ESD STM3.1 and ESD TR53. What type of ionizer you choose depends on a lot of different factors. There is no right or wrong – just different options.

A few things you should consider before making any decisions:

  • Type of operation
    Depending on the work your operators are doing, one type/configuration of ionizer may have more benefits then another. For example, if your workspace is limited, an overhead ionizer might be the answer. On the other hand, if there is an issue with debris & dust in your operation, then a compressed air ionizer would be better suited.
  • Features required
    Does your ionizer need to be made of stainless steel? Does it need to use zero-volt technology? Do you need a cost-effective ionizer with built-in emitter point cleaners? Do activities need to be monitored and recorded with some sort of software? Make a list of what is an absolute must and where you can compromise – see next point.
  • Available budget
    Even though this one is the last one in this list, it by no means is the least important factor. Quite contrary, it’s generally one of the main considerations when investing in an ionizer. However, it kind of goes hand in hand with the previous 2 points. So, you may have to make compromises, e.g. on the features, depending on what monies are available…

Need help choosing? Check out our Ionizer Selection Chart!
Alternatively, why not request an EOS/ESD Assessment? It’s a great way to have an extra set of eyes look at your ESD control plan!

Conclusion
Ionization is one of the best methods of removing charges from insulators and as a result plays an important role in controlling ESD. Remember though: an ionizer is a secondary form of defense and does not eliminate the need for standard ESD control devices such as wrist straps, heel grounders and worksurface mats. It is only one element in an effective ESD program.

Also, ionizers require periodic cleaning of emitter pins and the offset voltage must be kept in balance. Otherwise, instead of neutralizing charges, if it is producing primarily positive or negative ions, the ionizer will place an electrostatic charge on items that are not grounded.

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