Imagine this scenario: you come to work in the morning and test your wrist strap per your ESD program’s recommended test frequency procedure. The wrist strap passes and you start work on your ESD sensitive devices. 3 hours later, when you come back from your tea break, you test your wrist strap again before continuing work and the wrist strap fails.
What to do? It is unknown when exactly the wrist strap failed in those 3 hours after your first periodic test in the morning and it is possible the devices you worked on during that time frame have been damaged. You don’t know which products have been damaged – latent defects are not visible and failures may only occur at a later time, reducing the potential reliability of the products.
Periodic testing is commonly used in an ESD program, however using continuous monitoring while working on those sensitive devices will alert the operator as soon as their wrist strap and/or workstation path-to-ground connection fails. Today’s blog post will highlight various benefits of continuous monitoring.
Wrist straps are considered the first line of ESD Control. They are used to link people to ground ensuring operators are kept at the same potential as surfaces, objects and ESD sensitive devices (ESDs). Before handling sensitive items, wrist straps need to be visually inspected and checked (while worn) which will alert the operator to potential faults.
Per ESD Handbook TR 20.20 paragraph 126.96.36.199.4 Test Frequency, “Because wrist straps have a finite life, it is important to develop a test frequency that will guarantee integrity of the system. Typical test programs recommend that wrist straps that are used daily should be tested daily. However, if the products that are being produced are of such value that knowledge of a continuous, reliable ground is needed, then continuous monitoring should be considered or even required.”
Continuous monitors come in different styles and sizes but are intended to be kept on the workstation. Some units just ‘sit’ on the bench; others are attached to the working surface matting; some can even be attached underneath the workbench so they don’t take away valuable workspace. Operators connect their wrist strap to the unit to allow for real-time continuous monitoring. If the wrist strap fails, the unit will alarm. Many continuous monitors also feature a parking snap providing a means for the operator to disconnect when leaving their workstation.
Types of Continuous Monitors
There are two different types of continuous monitors available:
- Single-wire continuous monitors allow the use of any standard, single-wire wrist strap and coiled cord. The monitor / wrist strap system life-cycle costs are significantly lower compared to dual-wire systems. While they would not be suitable for the most critical applications, single-wire continuous monitors are an economical way to monitor both the operator’s wrist strap and/or workstation surface.
- Dual-wire continuous monitors provides true continuous monitoring of wrist strap functionality and operator safety according to accepted industry standards. Dual-wire continuous monitors provide redundancy because even if one dual-wire wrist strap conductor is severed, the operator still has a reliable path-to-ground with the other conductor. Dual-wire technology requires the use of dual-wire wrist straps and coiled cords.
Benefits of Continuous Monitors
1. Instant Feedback
Continuous monitors provide operators with instant feedback on the status and functionality of their wrist strap. The instant an operator’s wrist strap or cord fails, the monitor will issue audible and visual (LEDs) alarms alerting the user and supervisor of the problem. The faulty wrist strap can be replaced with a new one from stock.
2. Monitoring of Operator AND Workstation
When the monitor is connected to an ESD working surface, the amount of current that flows is a function of the total resistance between the monitor and through the working surface to ground. When the resistance of the working surface is below a pre-set threshold*, the monitor will indicate good. Conversely, if the resistance level is high when compared to the monitor’s reference*, the unit will alarm. This is an integrating resistance measuring circuit, therefore it is relatively insensitive to externally induced electromagnetic fields.
*The resistance threshold limits can vary between brands and models (and can sometimes also be adjusted by the user) so make sure you do your homework before committing to a particular unit and check the limit meets your individual requirements.
“Some continuous monitors can monitor worksurface ground connections. A test signal is passed through the worksurface and ground connections. Discontinuity or over limit resistance changes cause the monitor to alarm.
Worksurface monitors test the electrical connection between the monitor, the worksurface, and the ground point. However, the monitor will not detect insulative contamination on the worksurface and test methods such as those outlined in ESD TR53 can be used to isolate this problem. ” [ESD TR20.20 Continuous Monitors Clause 18.4.2 Worksurface Ground Monitoring].
3. Detection of Initial Flex Fatigue
Unlike wrist strap testers, continuous monitors detect split-second failures when the wrist strap is still in the “intermittent” stage. This is prior to a permanent “open” which could result in damage to ESD sensitive components.
“During operation, wrist straps might be stressed and flexed to their limits at a workstation. While a wrist strap is being checked it is typically not stressed, as it would be under working conditions. Openings in the wire at the coiled cord’s strain relief are sometimes only detected under stress. Even if the wrist strap is working properly, a bad or intermittent ground connection will render the wrist strap system less than 100% effective.” [ESD TR20.20 Continuous Monitors Clause 18.2 Wrist Strap Checkers]
4. Elimination of Periodic Testing
Many customers are eliminating periodic touch testing of wrist straps and are utilizing continuous monitoring to better ensure that their products were manufactured in an ESD protected environment. Continuous monitors also eliminate the need for users to test wrist straps and log the results.
When using continuous monitoring, operators:
- Don’t have to waste time queuing at a wrist strap test station before each shift.
- Don’t have to remember to complete their daily test logs.
If your company manufactures products containing ESD sensitive items, you need to ask yourself “how important is the reliability of our products”? Sooner or later a wrist strap is going to fail. If your products are of such high value that you need to be 100% sure your operators are grounded at all times, then you should consider a continuous monitoring system.
Advantages of Continuous Monitors are plentiful:
- Immediate feedback should a wrist strap fail
- Monitoring of operators and work stations
- Detection of split-second failures
- Elimination of periodic testing
All of the above advantages of Continuous Monitors will lead to a reduction in overall costs.
Savings comes from:
- Eliminating time/labor required in verifying a wrist strap before handling ESDs
- Reducing damage to ESDs from broken wrist straps that may go unnoticed with standard wrist strap testers.
For more information and an overview of SCS Workstation Monitors, have a look at our Selection Guide.