July 2018

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Many companies implement an ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD) Control Program with the aim of improving their operations. Effective ESD control can be a key to improving:

  • Productivity
  • Quality
  • Customer Satisfaction

Problems arise when an organization invests in ESD protective products and/or equipment and then misuses them. Misuse of ESD protective products and/or equipment wastes invested money and can also be causing more harm than good. Today’s blog post will highlight some of the major issues we have come across and how you can avoid or fix them.

About ESD Control and ESD Protection

Remember that for a successful ESD control program, ESD protection is required throughout the manufacturing process: from goods-in to assembly all the way through to inspection. Anybody who handles electrical or electronic parts, assemblies or equipment that are susceptible to damage by electrostatic discharges should take necessary precautions.

Just like viruses or bacteria that can infect the human body, ESD can be a hidden threat unable to be detected by human eyes. Hidden viral/bacterial threats in hospitals are controlled by extensive contamination control procedures and protective measures such as sterilization. The same principles apply to ESD control: you should never handle, assemble or repair electronic assemblies without taking adequate protective measures against ESD.

Common Mistakes in ESD Control

1. Ionizers are poorly maintained or out-of-balance

If an ionizer is out of balance, instead of neutralizing charges, it will produce primarily positive or negative ions. This results in placing an electrostatic charge on items that are not grounded, potentially discharging and causing ESD damage to nearby sensitive items.

Step3 Remember to clean emitter pins and filters using appropriate tools. Create a regular maintenance schedule which will extend the lifespan of your ionizers tremendously.

Consider using ionizers with “Clean Me” and//or “Balance” alarms. These will alert you when maintenance is required.

Step2.png All ionization devices will require periodic maintenance for proper operation. Maintenance intervals for ionizers vary widely depending on the type of ionization equipment and use environment. Critical clean room use will generally require more frequent attention. It is important to set up a routine schedule for ionizer service.”

[ESD TR20.20 Handbook Ionization clause 15.8 Maintenance / Cleaning]

If you would like to learn more about how ionizers work and what type of ionizer will work best for your application, check out this post for detailed coverage.

2. ESD Garments are Ungrounded

We’ve seen it so many times: operators wearing an ESD coat (without appropriate wrist straps and/or footwear/flooring) thinking they are properly grounded. However, without proper electrical bonds to a grounding system they are not grounded!

Step3 Every ESD garment needs to be electrically bonded to the grounding system of the wearer. Otherwise it just acts as a floating conductor. There are a few options to choose from:

  • Wrist Straps
  • ESD footwear/flooring
  • Hip-to-Cuff grounding
Step2 After verifying that the garment has electrical conductivity through all panels, the garment should be electrically bonded to the grounding system of the wearer so as not to act as a floating conductor.

This can be accomplished by several means:

  1. Ground the garment to the body through a wrist strap-direct connection with an adapter.
  2. Ground the garment through conductive wrist or heel cuffs in direct contact with the skin of a grounded operator.
  3. Ground the garment through a typical separate ground cord, directly attached to an identified groundable point on the garment.
  4. Garments should be worn with the front properly snapped or buttoned to avoid exposure of possible charge on personal clothing worn under the garment.

[ESD TR20.20 Handbook Garments clause 19.4 Proper Use]

ESD clothing loses their ESD properties over time. It is therefore an important part of the ESD Control Program to incorporate periodic checks (see #3 below) of ESD garments.

If you need more information on ESD garments, we recommend having a look at this post.

3. No Compliance Verification Plan / Not Checking ESD Control Products

Companies can invest thousands of dollars in purchasing and installing ESD control products but then waste their investment by never checking their ESD items. This results in ESD equipment that is out of specification. Without the tools in place to check their ESD items, companies may have no idea if they are actually working correctly. Remember: ESD products (like any other product) are subject to wear and tear, and other errors when workstations get moved, ground cords get disconnected…etc. The list goes on.

Step3 When investing in ESD control products, make sure you also establish a Compliance Verification Plan. This ensures that:

  • ESD equipment is checked periodically
  • Necessary test equipment is available
Step2 A compliance verification plan shall be established to ensure the organization’s fulfilment of the requirements of the plan. Process monitoring (measurements) shall be conducted in accordance with a compliance verification plan that identifies the technical requirements to be verified, the measurement limits and the frequency at which those verifications shall occur. The compliance verification plan shall document the test methods used for process monitoring and measurements. If the organization uses different test methods to replace those of this standard, the organization shall be able to show that the results achieved correlate with the referenced standards. Where test methods are devised for testing items not covered in this standard, these shall be adequately documented including corresponding test limits. Compliance verification records shall be established and maintained to provide evidence of conformity to the technical requirements.
The test equipment selected shall be capable of making the measurements defined in the compliance verification plan.
”[ANSI/ESD clause 7.4 Compliance verification plan]

We provide detailed instructions on how to create a Compliance Verification Plan in this post.

4. Improperly Re-Using Shielding Bags / Using Shielding Bags with Holes or Scratches

ESD Shielding Bags are used to store and transport ESD sensitive items. When used properly, they create a Faraday Cage effect which causes charges to be conducted around the outside surface. Since similar charges repel, charges will rest on the exterior and ESD sensitive items on the inside will be ‘safe’. However, if the shielding layer of an ESD Shielding Bag is damaged, ESD sensitive items on the inside will not be protected anymore.

Step3 Re-using shielding bags is acceptable as long as there is no damage to the shielding layer. Shielding bags with holes, tears or excessive wrinkles should be discarded.

Use a system of labels to identify when the bag has gone through five (5) handling cycles. When there are five broken labels, the bag is discarded.

Step2 ESD shielding packaging is to be used particularly when transporting or storing ESD sensitive items outside an ESD Protected Area.

Transportation of ESDS items outside an ESD Protected Area (hereafter referred to as “EPA”) requires enclosure in static protective materials, although the type of material depends on the situation and destination. Inside an EPA, low charging and static dissipative materials may provide adequate protection. Outside an EPA, low charging and static discharge shielding materials are recommended. While these materials are not discussed in

the document, it is important to recognize the differences in their application. For more clarification see ANSI/ESD S541.

[ANSI/ESD Foreword]

This post provides further “dos and don’ts” when using ESD Shielding Bags.

5. Using Household Cleaners on ESD Matting

The use of standard household cleaners on ESD matting can put an ESD Control Program at risk and damage the ESD properties of items. Many household cleaners contain silicone or other insulative contaminants which create that lovely shine you get when wiping surfaces in your home. The problem is that silicone and other chemical contaminates can create an insulative layer which reduces the grounding performance of the mat.

Step3 Don’t spend all this extra money on ESD matting and then coat it with an insulative layer by using household cleaners. There are many specially formulated ESD surface and mat cleaners available on the market. Only clean your ESD working surfaces using those cleaners.
Step2 “Periodic cleaning, following the manufacturer’s recommendations, is required to maintain proper electrical function of all work surfaces. Ensure that the cleaning products used to not leave an electrically insulative residue which is common with some household cleaners that contain silicone.”

[ESD TR20.20 Handbook Worksurfaces clause 10.5 Maintenance]

Conclusion

There are many more issues we see when setting foot into EPAs and the above list is by no means complete. These are the most common issues we’ve found when assessing EPAs.

It is important to train all personnel using ESD products and/or equipment to follow proper ESD control programs, and maintenance procedures to avoid common ESD control mistakes. Basic ESD control principles should be followed for an ESD control program to be successful:

  • Ground conductors.
  • Remove, convert or neutralize insulators with ionizers.
  • Shield ESD sensitive items when stored or transported outside the EPA.

What mistakes do you commonly see when walking through an EPA? Let us know what you commonly see in the comments and your solutions for fixing them!

For more information on how to get your ESD control program off the ground and create an EPA, check this post.

When talking about ESD Classifications a little while ago, we identified a “class 0” item as withstanding discharges of less than 250 volts.

The introduction of ANSI/ESD S20.20 states: “This standard covers the requirements necessary to design, establish, implement and maintain an Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) Control Program for activities that manufacture, process, assemble, install, package, label, service, test, inspect or otherwise handle electrical or electronic parts, assemblies and equipment susceptible to damage by electrostatic discharges greater than or equal to 100 volts Human Body Model (HBM) and 200 volts Charged Device Model (CDM).

So how do you handle items that are susceptible to voltages of less than 100V? That’s what we’re going to answer in today’s blog post.

 

Introduction

Years ago, it was common for devices to be vulnerable to voltages greater than 100 V. As the need for smaller and faster devices increased, so did their sensitivity to ElectroStatic Discharges as circuit-protection schemes were removed to stay ahead of the market. These new extremely sensitive components are now susceptible to discharges nearing 0 V. This causes problems for companies handling these devices: while their ESD program may be in compliance with the ESD Standard, extremely sensitive devices require tighter ESD Control to protect them from ESD failures.

 

What is a “Class 0” device?

Before moving any further, we need to qualify the term “class 0”. As stated above, the HBM Model refers to any item with a failure voltage of less than 250 V as a “class 0” component. However, in recent times, the term has been used more and more to describe ultra-sensitive devices with failure voltages of less than 100 V. Whilst the following tips and tricks work on any “class 0” item, they are specifically designed to protect extremely sensitive items that withstand discharges of less than 100 V.

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Ultra-sensitive devices are extremely common

Before Updating Your ESD Program

“Class 0” refers to a wide range of items and there are a few things you should remember before making any changes to your existing ESD program:

  1. Verify what ESD Model your company/engineers/customers etc. are referring to. As we have learnt in the past, there are different ESD models (HBM, CDM, MM) as well as individual classifications for each model. A lot of people get confused when it comes to citing ESD classifications. There is only one “class 0” which refers to the human body model (HBM) but it’s always best to check.
  2. Check the specific withstand voltage an individual part is susceptible to. “Class 0” refers to all items that withstand discharges of less than 250 V. However, there is a big difference between a failure voltage of 240 V or 50 V. You need to have detailed ESD sensitivity information available before being able to make decisions on how to improve your existing ESD control program. This step is part of creating a compliance verification plan.
  3. A part’s ESD classification is only of importance until it is ‘merged’ into an assembly. So, the ESD classification of a device only refers to the stand-alone component. Once it goes into another construction, the classification of the whole assembly is likely to change.

 

Tips for handling “Class 0” Items

Below are 6 tips that will help your company to upgrade your ESD control program so you can effectively and efficiently handle ultra-sensitive items without risking ESD damage.

One thing to note: The best approach to stay ahead of the game is taking proactive actions. It is critical to figure out how to protect your components from ESD damage before you receive them. If actions are taken after components are received, the components are susceptible to receiving ESD damage.

 

1. Improve Grounding

Inside an EPA, all conductors (including people) are grounded. Now you’re probably thinking: “But I’ve already grounded my operators and worksurfaces. What else is there left to do?”. Firstly, well done for properly grounding the ‘objects’ in your EPA. The next step is to adjust and improve your current program to allow for even better protection. Here are some suggestions:

Personnel:

  • Decrease the wrist strap and ESD footwear upper limit. The ESD Association has test data showing charge on a person is less as the path-to-ground resistance is less.
  • Use continuous monitors and ESD smocks
  • Introduce/increase the use of ESD flooring
  • Use sole or full coverage foot grounders (rather than heel grounders)
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Full coverage foot grounders are recommended when handling ultra-sensitive devices

Worksurfaces:

  • Reduce the required limit for Point-to-Point resistance of 1 x 109 per the ESD Standard to 106 to 108 ohms (see #5). The reason for this reduction is simple: 1 x 109 is too high as it still produces thousands of volts of in electrostatic charges. However, the resistance cannot be too small either as this can lead to a sudden ‘hard discharge’ potentially damaging ESD sensitive components.

Other:

  • Improve grounding of carts, shelves and equipment to Ground
  • Minimize isolated conductors like devices on PCBs

 

2. Minimize Charge Generation

The best form of control is to minimize charge generation. First, you should always use shielding packing products like bags or containers (especially when outside an EPA) as these protect from generating charges in the first place. For more information on choosing the correct type of ESD Packaging, we recommend reading this post.

The next step is to eliminate charges once they are generated – this can be achieved through grounding and ionization. We’ll cover ionization in #3 and #4. We’ve already talked about improved grounding in #1. However, for ultra-sensitive components, we also recommend the following:

  • Personnel: Use low-charging floor finish
  • Surfaces: Use low-charging topical antistatic treatments

Both types of ESD products create a low tribocharging coating which allows charges to drain off when grounded. The antistatic properties will reduce triboelectric voltage to under 200 volts.

 

3. Remove Insulators

When talking about conductors and insulators, we explained that insulators cannot be grounded and can damage nearby sensitive devices with a sudden uncontrolled discharge. It is therefore critical to eliminate ALL insulators that are not required in your EPA: plastic cups, non-ESD brushes, tapes etc. How? Here are a couple of options:

  • Replace regular production supplies and fixtures with dissipative, low charging versions, e.g. ESD dissipative brushes, ESD dispensers, ESD tape, ESD Chairs etc.
  • Shield charges on clothing by using ESD smocks.
Workstation.png
Use ESD safe accessories whenever possible

If an insulator is absolutely necessary for production and cannot be removed from the EPA, you could consider a topical treatment which will reduce triboelectric charges.

Is this not an option, then move on to tip #4.

 

4. Use Ionization

First, ionization is not a cure-all. We’ve learnt that ionizers neutralize charges on an insulator.

However, that does not mean that you can just have any insulator in your EPA because the ionizer will “just fix it”. No, in this instance, prevention is generally a better option than the cure. So, your priority should ALWAYS be to remove non-process essential insulators from your EPA – see tip #3. If this is not possible – then ionization becomes essential.

Ionization:

  • Ionizers can be critical to reduce induction charging caused by process necessary insulators
  • Ionizers can be critical in eliminating charges on isolated conductors like devices on PCBs
  • Offset voltage (balance) and discharge times are critical considerations depending on the actual application
  • Ionization can reduce ElectroStatic Attraction (ESA) and charged particles clinging and contaminating products.

It is recommended to use ionizers with feedback mechanisms, so you’re notified if the offset voltage is out of balance.

 

5. Increase ESD Training and Awareness

ESD Training is a requirement of every ESD Program. When handling ultra-sensitive devices, it is even more important to remind everyone what pre-cautions are necessary to avoid damage. Regular ‘refreshers’ are a must and it is recommended to verify the effectiveness of the training program, e.g. through tests. So, who, when and what should be taught?

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ESD Training is a vital part of every successful ESD Control Program
  • ESD training needs to be provided to everyone who handles ESD sensitive devices – that includes managers, supervisors, subcontractors, visitors, cleaners and even temporary personnel.
  • Training must be given at the beginning of employment (BEFORE getting anywhere near a sensitive products) and in regular intervals thereafter.
  • Training should be conducted on proper compliance verification procedures and on the proper use of equipment used for verification.

 

6. Create an enhanced Compliance Verification Plan

We talked in a previous post about compliance verification, what it is and how to create a plan that complies with the ESD standard. So, if you already followed our steps and have a plan in place, here are a few tips to improve your compliance verification plan:

  • Use a computer data collection system for wrist straps and foot grounders testing
  • Increase the test frequency of personnel grounding devices from once per day to every time the operator enters the EPA
  • Use continuous monitors where operators are grounded via wrist straps. Consider computer based monitor data collection system, e.g. SMP. This should include continuous monitoring of the mat Ground.
  • Use Ground continuous monitors, e.g. Ground Master. At a large facility, the most frequent reoccurring violation is the ESD mat ground cord either becoming disconnected from the mat or grounding point. As Ground continuous monitors will only test the fact that the mat is grounded, it is still imperative that the Resistance to Ground of the mat is regularly tested. Remember that the use of improper mat cleaners can raise the mat surface resistance above the upper recommended level of <109
  • Test ionizers more frequently or consider self-monitoring ionizers. Computer based data collection systems are a good alternative, too.
  • Increase the use of a static field meter and nano coulomb testing to verify that automated processes (like auto insertion, tape and reel, etc.) are not generating charges above acceptable limits.

 

Conclusion

“Class 0” items require additional measures of ESD protection due to their sensitivity to ESD damage. The best way to protect these ultra-sensitive components is to increase ESD protective redundancies and periodic verifications to all ESD Control technical elements.

To decrease the probability of ESD damage while handling ultra-sensitive items, additional precautions are required. This includes additional and/or more stringent technical requirements for ESD control products, increasing redundancies, and more frequent periodic verifications or audits.

Additionally, ESD control process systems should be evaluated as to their performance as a system. It is important to understand how the technical elements in use perform relative to the sensitivity of the devices being handled. Thus, tailoring the process to handle the more sensitive parts. For example: If the footwear/flooring allows a person’s body voltage to reach 80 volts and a 50 withstand voltage item gets introduced into the process, you must either allow only handling via wrist straps or would have to find a way to modify the footwear/flooring performance to get peak voltages below the 50 volt threshold.

Remember: The ESD Standard gives recommendations that will always be behind current/future developments. As soon as a Standard is published, technology will have progressed. In order to protect your devices and company reputation for reliable devices – it is recommended your company take responsibility to implement methods/procedures that exceed the recommendations of the ESD Standard to fit your sensitive component requirements.

 

References: