ESD Protective Worksurfaces

When referring to an “ESD Protected Area” or “EPA”, a lot of people imagine rooms or even whole factory floors with numerous workstations. This very common misconception leads to nervousness and even fear when it comes to implementing an ESD Control Program. There is a concern regarding the cost and time implications when establishing an EPA. However, most often, a simple ESD workstation is completely sufficient to fulfill a company’s needs to protect their ESD sensitive products. Today’s post will provide a step-by-step guide on:

  • How to create an EPA at an existing workstation,
  • What ESD control products are required
  • How to correctly set up ESD control products

What is an “ESD Protected Area” or “EPA”?

An EPA is an area that has been established to effectively control Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) and its purpose is therefore to avoid all problems resulting from ESD damage, e.g. catastrophic failures or latent defects. It is a defined space within which all surfaces, objects, people and ESD Sensitive Devices (ESDs) are kept at the same electrical potential. This is achieved by simply using only ‘groundable’ materials for covering of surfaces and for the manufacture of containers and tools. All surfaces, products and people are grounded to Ground.

What is Grounding?

Grounding means linking, usually through a resistance of between 1 and 10 megohms. Movable items (such as containers and tools) are grounded by virtue of lying on a grounded surface or being held by a grounded person. Everything that does not readily dissipate a charge must be excluded from the EPA.

How big does an EPA need to be?

An EPA can be just one workstation, or it could be a room containing several different workstations. “The definition of an EPA depends somewhat on the user environment. An EPA may be a permanent workstation within a room or an entire factory floor encompassing thousands of workstations. An EPA may also be portable as used in a field service situation.” [Handbook ESD TR20.20-2016 Clause 9.0 ESD Protected Areas]

What is needed to convert a Workstation into an EPA?

Creating an EPA at an existing workstation does not need to be complicated or expensive. There are just a few things that are required:

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1. Wrist Strap

Wrist straps are the most common personnel grounding devices and are used to link people to ground. They are required if the operator is sitting. A wrist strap is made up of two components:

  • A wristband that is worn comfortably around the wrist and
  • A coiled cord that connects the band to Ground or a Wrist Strap Grounding System as explained in #4.

2. Wrist Strap Grounding System

These have been designed to be installed underneath bench tops where they are easily accessible to operators and where they are unlikely to be knocked and damaged or hinder the operator. The grounding cord of the Grounding System needs to be connected to a suitable Ground.

3.Worksurface Mat

ESD protective worksurfaces aid in the prevention of damage to ESD sensitive items (ESDS) and assemblies from electrostatic discharge.

ESD worksurfaces, such as mats, are typically an integral part of the ESD workstation, particularly in areas where hand assembly occurs. The purpose of the ESD worksurface is two-fold:

  • To provide a surface with little to no charge on it.
  • To provide a surface that will remove ElectroStatic charges from conductors (including ESDs) that are placed on the surface.

4. Worksurface Mat Grounding Cord

An ESD worksurface needs to be grounded using a ground cord. A ground wire from the surface should connect to 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.

Where sitting personnel will be grounded via a wrist strap, this method is not feasible for operators moving around in an ESD Protected Area. In those situations, a flooring / footwear system is required.

5. Foot Grounders

Foot grounders are designed to reliably contact grounded ESD flooring and provide a continuous path-to-ground by removing electrostatic charges from personnel. They are easy to install and can be used on standard shoes by placing the grounding tab in the shoe under the foot.

Foot grounders must be worn on both feet to maintain the integrity of the body-to-ground connection Wearing a foot grounder on each foot ensures contact with Ground via the ESD floor even when one foot is lifted off the floor.

6. Floor Mat

Floor matting is an essential component in the flooring / footwear system when grounding moving or standing personnel. The path to Ground from operators via heel grounders to Ground is maintained by using dissipative or conductive flooring.

Floor mats don’t just ground personnel; they are also used to ground ESD control items (e.g. mobile carts or workstations).

7. Floor Mat Grounding Cord

Just like worksurface matting, floor matting needs to be connected to Ground. This ensures that any charges on the operator are dissipated through their heel grounders and the floor matting to Ground. A floor mat grounding cord is used to link the floor mat to Ground.

Alternatively, matting can be grounded via a strip of copper foil.

 

Installing an ESD Workstation

To install the ESD workstation, it is necessary to ground the worksurface and operator with the following steps:

1. Working-Surface-Mat.png Lay the worksurface mat flat on the workbench with the stud(s) facing upwards.
2. Working-Surface-Mat-Grounding-Cord.png Connect the worksurface mat grounding cord to the worksurface mat.
3. Wrist-Strap-Ground.png Connect the other end of the worksurface mat grounding cord to Ground.
4. Wristband.png Place the wristband on the wrist.
5. Coiled-Cord.png Connect the coiled cord to the wristband.
6. Grounding-System.png Attach the Wrist Strap Grounding System to the bench. Remember that it needs to be connected to a suitable Ground.
7. Wrist-Strap-Grounding-System.png Connect the other end of the coiled cord to the Wrist Strap Grounding System and verify personnel is properly grounded.

If your operators are standing or mobile and grounding via a wrist strap is not feasible, ground the worksurface, and the ESD flooring:

1. Working-Surface-Mat-Grounding-Cord.png Ground the worksurface mat by following steps #1 to #4 above
2. Floor-Mat.png Lay the floor mat flat on the floor with the stud(s) facing upwards.
3. Floor-Mat-Grounding-Cord.png Connect the floor mat grounding cord to the floor mat.
4. Wrist-Strap-Ground.png Connect the other end of the floor mat grounding cord to Ground.
5. Foot-Grounders.png Place the foot grounders on the feet and verify personnel is properly grounded.

 

Conclusion

An EPA can be created at an existing workstation in a facility. To establish an EPA it is important to:

  • Ground all conductors (including people),
  • Remove all insulators (or substituting with ESD protective versions) or
  • Neutralize process essential insulators with an ionizer.

With a few simple steps, you can convert your existing workstation into an ESD workstation. You will need:

  • Worksurface Mat
  • Worksurface Mat Grounding Cord
  • Wrist Strap
  • Wrist Strap Grounding System

Optional:

  • Foot Grounders
  • Floor Mat
  • Floor Mat Grounding Cord

We hope this article has introduced the basics of an ESD Protected Area (EPA), and the steps needed to create an ESD Workstation.

For more information on how to get your ESD control program off the ground, Request a free ESD/EOS Assessment at your facility by one of our knowledgeable local representatives to evaluate your ESD program and answer any ESD questions!

The best-equipped service bench in your shop can be a real money-maker when set up properly. It can also be a source of frustration and lost revenue if the threat of ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD) is ignored.

A typical scenario might be where an electronic product is brought in for service, properly diagnosed and repaired, only to find a new symptom requiring additional repair. Unless the technician understands the ESD problem and has developed methods to keep it in check damage from static electricity cannot be ruled out as a potential source of the new problem.

Static electricity is nothing new; it’s all around us and always has been. What has changed is the spread of semiconductors in almost every consumer product we buy. As device complexity increases, often its static sensitivity increases as well. Some semiconductor devices may be damaged by as little as 20-30 volts!

It is important to note that this post is addressing the issue of ESD in terms of control, and not elimination. The potential for an ESD event to occur cannot be completely eliminated outside of a laboratory environment, but we can greatly reduce the risk with proper training and equipment. By implementing a good static control program and developing some simple habits, ESD can be effectively controlled.

The Source of the Problem

Static is all around us. We occasionally will see or feel it by walking on carpet, touching something or someone and feeling the “zap” of a static discharge. The perception level varies but static charge is typically 2000-3000 volts before we can feel it. ESD sensitivity of some parts is under 100 volts – well below the level that we would be able to detect.

Even though carpet may not be used around the service bench, there are many other static “generators” may not be obvious and frequently found around or on a service bench. The innocent-looking Styrofoam coffee cup can be a tremendous source of static. The simple act of pulling several inches of adhesive tape from a roll can generate several thousand volts of static! Many insulative materials will develop a charge by rubbing them or separating them from another material. This phenomenon is known as “tribocharging” and it occurs often where there are insulative materials present.

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Sources of Charge Generation: Unwinding a Roll of Tape

People are often a major factor in generation of static charges. Studies have shown that personnel in a manufacturing environment frequently develop 5000 volts or more just by walking across the floor. Again, this is “tribocharging” produced by the separation of their shoes and the flooring as they walk.

A technician seated at a non-ESD workbench could easily have a 400-500 volt charge on his or her body caused not only by friction or tribocharging, but additionally by the constant change in body capacitance that occurs from natural movements. The simple act of lifting both feet off the floor can raise the measured voltage on a person as much as 500-1000 volts.

Setting up a “Static Safe” Program

Perhaps the most important factor in a successful static control program is developing an awareness of the “unseen” problem. One of the best ways to demonstrate the ESD hazard is by using a “static field meter”. The visual impact of locating and measuring static charges of more than 1000 volts will get the attention of skeptical individuals.

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Static Field Meter – find more information here

Education of Personnel

ESD education and awareness are essential basic ingredients in any effective static control program. A high level of static awareness must be created and maintained in and around the protected area. Once personnel understand the potential problem, reinforce the understanding by hanging up static control posters in strategic locations. The technician doesn’t need an unaware and/or unprotected person wandering over and touching things on the service bench.

Workstation Grounding

To minimize the threat of an ESD event, we need to bring all components of the system to the same relative potential and maintain that potential. Workstations can be grounded with the following options:

  1. Establish an ESD Common Grounding Point, an electrical junction where all ESD grounds are connected to. Usually, a common ground point is connected to ground, preferably equipment ground.
  2. The Service Bench Surface should be covered with a dissipative material. This can be either an ESD-type high-pressure laminate formed as the benchtop surface, or it may be one of the many types of dissipative mats placed upon the benchtop surface. The mats are available in different colors, with different surface textures, and with various cushioning effects. Whichever type is chosen, look for a material with surface resistivity of 1 x 109 or less, as these materials are sufficiently conductive to discharge objects in less than one second. The ESD laminate or mat must be grounded to the ESD common grounding point to work properly. Frequently, a one Megohm current limiting safety resistor is used in series with the work surface ground. This blog post will provide more information on how to choose and install your ESD working surface.
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Types of Worksurface Matting – click here for more information
  1. A Dissipative Floor Mat may also be used, especially if the technician intends to wear foot-grounding devices. The selection of the floor mat should take into consideration several factors. If anything is to roll on the mat, then a soft, cushion-type mat will probably not work well. If the tech does a lot of standing, then the soft, anti-fatigue type will be much appreciated. Again, the mat should be grounded to the common ground point, with or without the safety resistor as desired.
  2. Workstation Tools and Supplies should be selected with ESD in mind. Avoid insulators and plastics where possible on and around the bench. Poly bags and normal adhesive tapes can generate substantial charges, as can plastic cups and glasses. If charge-generating plastics and the like cannot be eliminated, consider using one of the small, low cost air ionizers It can usually be mounted off the bench to conserve work area, and then aimed at the area where most of the work is being done. The ionizer does not eliminate the need for grounding the working surface or the operator, but it does drain static charges from insulators, which do not lend themselves to grounding.

Personnel Grounding

People are great static generators. Simple movements at the bench can easily build up charges as high as 500-1000 volts. Therefore, controlling this charge build-up on the technician is essential. The two best known methods for draining the charge on a person are wrist straps with ground cords and foot or heel grounders. Personnel can be grounded through:

  1. Wrist Straps are probably the most common item used for personnel grounding. They are comprised of a conductive band or strap that fits snugly on the wrist. The wrist strap is frequently made of an elastic material with a conductive inner surface, or it may be a metallic expandable band similar to that found on a watch. For more information on wrist straps, check out this post.
  2. Ground Cords are typically made of a highly flexible wire and often are made retractable for additional freedom of movement. There are two safety features that are usually built into the cord, and the user should not attempt to bypass them. The first, and most important, is a current limiting resistor (typically 1 Megohm) which prevents hazardous current from flowing through the cord in the event the wearer inadvertently contacts line voltage. The line voltage may find another path to ground, but the cord is designed to neither increase or reduce shock hazard for voltages under 250 volts. The second safety feature built into most cords is a breakaway connection to allow the user to exit rapidly in an emergency. This is usually accomplished by using a snap connector at the wrist strap end.
    Wrist-Strap.png
  3. Foot or Heel Grounders are frequently used where the technician needs more freedom of movement than the wrist strap and cord allow. The heel grounder is often made of a conductive rubber or vinyl and is worn over a standard shoe. It usually has a strap that passes under the heel for good contact and a strap of some type that is laid inside the shoe for contact to the wearer. Heel grounders must be used with some type of conductive or dissipative floor surface to be effective and should be worn on both feet to insure continuous contact with the floor. Obviously, lifting both feet from the floor while sitting will cause protection to be lost.Don’t forget to regularly check and verify your personnel grounding items:
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The Personnel Grounding Checklist

 

Summary

An effective static control program doesn’t have to be expensive or complex. The main concept is to minimize generation of static and to drain it away when it does occur, thereby lessening the chance for an ESD event to happen. The ingredients for an effective ESD program are:

  1. Education: to ensure that everyone understands the problem and the proper handling of sensitive devices.
  2. Workstation Grounding: use a dissipative working surface material and dissipative flooring materials as required.
  3. Personnel Grounding: using wrist straps with ground cords and/or foot-grounding devices.
  4. Follow-up to ensure Compliance: all elements of the program should be checked frequently to determine that they are working effectively.

The ESD “threat” is not likely to go away soon, and it is very likely to become an even greater hazard, as electronic devices continue to increase in complexity and decrease in size. By implementing a static control program now, you will be prepared for the more sensitive products that will be coming.

Most ESD Protected Areas (EPAs) will contain a bench or a series of benches. It is important that each bench, or worksurface, is covered with the correct ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD) protective material. They also have to be properly connected to earth using a system of cords and common point grounds. Today’s post will explain in more detail how these ESD protective worksurface work and what you need to look out for.

Introduction

The purpose of an ESD protective worksurface is to aid in the prevention of damage to ESD sensitive items (ESDS) and assemblies from electrostatic discharge.
ESD worksurfaces, such as mats, are typically an integral part of the ESD workstation, particularly in areas where hand assembly occurs. An ESD protective worksurface provides protection in two ways:

  1. Providing a low charging (antistatic) worksurface area that will limit static electricity to be generated below potentially damaging levels.
  2. Removing the electrostatic charge from conductive objects placed on the worksurface.

 

Types of ESD protective worksurfaces

When deciding to invest in ESD protective worksurfaces, you have the choice of ESD matting (laid-out on a standard non-ESD bench) or ESD benches. Performance-wise there is no difference.

Generally speaking, ESD matting offers a lower initial investment and is easier to replace. On the other hand, some people prefer the robust and consistent approach of ESD benches.

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Types of ESD protective worksurface matting – more information

An ESD protective worksurface is usually dissipative. Although conductive materials are the quickest to ground a charge, they can also cause damage by discharging too rapidly. Dissipative worksurfaces have a surface resistance of at least 1 x 104, but less than 1 x 109 ohms. Dissipative materials will dissipate a charge slower and are recommended for handling electronic components. Dissipative materials are usually the preferred choice for bench top worksurfaces.

 

Grounding of ESD protective worksurfaces

ESD protective worksurfaces need to be grounded. A ground wire from the surface should connect to the common point ground which is connected to ground, preferably equipment ground. For electronics manufacturing a worksurface resistance to ground (Rg) of 1 x 104 to less than 1 x 109 ohms is recommended. 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.

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Grounding an ESD Protective Worksurface – click here for more grounding products

Using a current limiting resistor in the ground cord is the user’s choice. However, the resistor is not for ESD control purposes. The ESD Association standard for grounding is ANSI/ESD S6.1 which recommends a hard ground (no resistor) but allows the use of a current limiting resistor in the mat’s ground cord. “The grounding conductors (wires) from wrist straps, working surfaces, flooring or floor mats, tools, fixtures, storage units, carts, chairs, garments and other ESD technical elements may or may not contain added resistance. Where added resistance is not present, a direct connection from the ESD technical element to the common point ground or common connection point is acceptable and recommended.

Note: Manufacturers may add resistance to the grounding conductors for purposes other than ESD (e.g. current limiting). Added resistance is acceptable for the purposes of controlling ESD provided electrostatic accumulation does not exceed specific EPA requirements. The typical added resistance in grounding conductors is 1 megohm, although other values may be specified.” [ANSI/ESD S6.1 section 5.3.3 ESD Technical Element Conductors]

 

Using ESD protective worksurfaces

Operators need to ensure that the ESD workstation is organized to perform work and that all unnecessary insulators and personal items are removed. Regular plastics, polystyrene foam drink cups and packaging materials etc. are typically high charging and have no place at an ESD protective workstation.

When working at an ESD workstation, users have to be grounded, too. A wrist strap is arguably the best way to provide a safe ground connection to the operator. While it does not prevent the generation of charges, its purpose is to dissipate these charges to ground as quickly as possible.

When working on high-end sensitive components, the use of Continuous Monitors is recommended. Operators connect their wrist strap to the unit to allow for real-time continuous monitoring. If the wrist strap fails, the unit will alarm.

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Using a Continuous Monitor at an ESD Workstation – more information

An option available with most Continuous Monitors is the ability to monitor worksurface ground connections. “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. The monitor however, will not detect insulative contamination on the worksurface.” [ESD TR 12-01 Technical Report Survey of Constant (Continuous) Monitors for Wrist Straps]

When the monitor is connected to an ESD worksurface mat, 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 worksurface 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.

 

Maintaining your ESD protective worksurface

An ESD worksurface 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.

Operators need to be on guard every day and check visually that ground wires are attached correctly. The company’s compliance verification plan should also include periodic checks of worksurfaces measuring:

  • Resistance Point-to-Point (Rp-p) and
  • Resistance-to-ground (Rg).

Surface resistance testers can be used to perform these tests in accordance with S20.20 and its test method ESD TR53. If these measurements are within acceptable ranges, the worksurface and its connections are good.

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Verifying Surface Resistance using the SCS 701 Analog Surface Resistance Megohmmeter

Conclusion

Most people in the industry consider worksurfaces to be the second most important part of an ESD Control Program, with personnel grounding being the most important.

It is therefore important to install, use and maintain ESD protective worksurfaces correctly. Following all steps outlined above will ensure your ESD sensitive components are protected.

Not sure which ESD worksurface is right for you? Request a free ESD/EOS Assessment for your facility by one of our knowledgeable local representatives to evaluate your ESD Program and answer any ESD questions!