Every component in an ESD protected area (EPA) plays an important role in the fight against electrostatic discharge (ESD). Just one element not performing correctly could harm your ESD sensitive devices and potentially cost your company a lot of money. The problem with many ESD protection products is that you can’t always see the damage – think wrist straps! By just looking at a coiled cord, you can’t confirm it’s working correctly; even without any visible damage to the insulation, the conductor on the inside could be broken. This is where periodic verification comes into play.
When implementing an ESD control program plan, ANSI/ESD S20.20 asks for several requirements to be addressed, one of which is “Compliance Verification”:
“The Organization shall prepare an ESD Control Program Plan that addresses each of the requirements of the Program. Those requirements include:
- Product Qualification
- Compliance Verification
- Grounding / Equipotential Bonding Systems
- Personnel Grounding
- ESD Protected Area (EPA) Requirements
- Packaging Systems
- Marking” [ANSI/ESD S20.20 clause 7.1 ESD Control Program Plan]
ESD protected area (EPA) products should be tested:
- Prior to installation to qualify product for listing in user’s ESD control program.
- During the initial installation.
- For periodic checks of installed products as part of TR20.20.
“A Compliance Verification Plan shall be established to ensure the Organization’s fulfillment of the technical requirements of the ESD Control Program 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 and equipment used for process monitoring and measurements. If the test methods used by the organization differ from any of the standards referenced in this document, then there must be a tailoring statement that is documented as part of the ESD Control Program Plan. 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 S20.20 clause 7.3 Compliance Verification Plan]
Components of a Verification Plan
Each company’s verification plan needs to contain:
1. A list of items that are used in the EPA and need to be checked on a regular basis
All ESD working surfaces, personnel grounding devices like wrist straps or foot grounders, ionizers etc. need to be included on the list. In summary: every item that is used for ESD Control purposes. It is recommended to create a checklist comprising all ESD control products as this will ensure EPAs are checked consistently at every audit.
2. A schedule specifying what intervals and how each item is checked
The test frequency will depend on several things, e.g.
- how long the item will last,
- how often it is used or
- how important it is to the overall ESD control program.
As an example: wrist straps are chosen by most companies to ground their operators; they are the first line of defence against ESD damage. They are in constant use and are subjected to relentless bending and stretching. Therefore, they are generally checked at the beginning of each shift to ensure they are still working correctly and ESD sensitive items are protected. Ionisers on the other hand are recommended to be checked every 6 months: whilst they are in constant use, they are designed to be; the only actual ‘interaction’ with the user is turning the unit on/off. If, however, the ionizer is used in a critical clean room, the test frequency may need to be increased.
“Test frequency limits are not listed in this document, as each user will need to develop their own set of test frequencies based on the critical nature of those ESD sensitive items handled and the risk of failure for the ESD protective equipment and materials.
Examples of how test frequencies are considered:
- Daily wrist strap checks are sufficient in some applications while in other operations constant wrist strap monitoring may be used for added operator grounding reliability.
- Packaging checks may depend on the composition of the packaging and its use. Some packaging may have static control properties that deteriorate more quickly with time and use, and some packaging may be humidity dependent and may have limited shelf life.
- Some materials, such as ESD floor finishes, may require more frequent monitoring because of their lack of permanency. Other materials, such as ESD vinyl floor covering, may require less monitoring. The testing of a floor should also be considered after maintenance on the floor has been performed.” [ESD TR53-01-15 Annex A – Test Frequency]
The industry typically uses 2 types of verification to achieve maximum success: visual and measurement verification. As the name suggests, visual verification is used to ensure ESD working surfaces and operators are grounded, ESD flooring is in good shape or wrist straps are checked before handling ESD sensitive items.
Actual measurements are taken by trained personnel using specially designed equipment to verify proper performance of an ESD control item.
3. The suitable limits for every item used to control ESD damage
ANSI/ESD S20.20 contains recommendations of acceptable limits for every ESD control item. Following these references reduces the likelihood of 100V (HBM) sensitive devices being damaged by an ESD event.
Please bear in mind that there may be situations where the limits need to be adjusted to meet the company’s requirements.
4. The test methods used to ensure each ESD product meets the set limits
Tables 1 to 3 of ANSI/ESD S20.20 list the different test methods a company must follow.
If a company uses other test methods or have developed their own test methods, the ESD control program plan needs to include a statement explaining why referenced standards are not used. The company also needs to show their chosen test methods are suitable and reliable.
It is recommended that written procedures are created for the different test methods. It is the company’s responsibility to ensure anybody performing the tests understands the procedures and follows them accordingly.
5. The equipment used to take measurements specified in the test methods
Every company needs to acquire proper test equipment that complies with the individual test methods specified in Tables 1 to 3 of ANSI/ESD S20.20. Personnel performing measurements need to be trained on how equipment is used. ESD TR53-01-15 lists test procedures and equipment that can be used to verify ESD Control items.
6. A list of employees who will be performing the audits
Part of the verification plan is the choice of internal auditors. A few suggestions for the selection process:
- Each individual is required to know the ESD Standard ANSI/ESD S20.20 AND the company’s individual ESD program.
- It is essential that the selected team member recognizes the role of ESD control in the company’s overall quality management system.
- It is recommended that each nominated worker has been trained on performing audits.
- The designated employee should be familiar with the manufacturing process they are inspecting.
7. How to deal with non-compliance situations
Once an audit has been completed, it is important to keep everyone in the loop and report the findings to the management team. This is particularly vital if “out-of-compliance” issues were uncovered during the verification process. It is the responsibility of the ESD coordinator to categorize how severe each non-conformance is; key problems should be dealt with first and management should be notified immediately of significant non-compliance matters.
Results of audits (especially non-compliance findings) are generally presented using charts. Each chart should classify:
- The total findings of the audit
- The type of each finding
- The area that was audited
It is important to note that each company should set targets for a given area and include a trend report. This data can assist in determining if employees follow the outlined ESD control program and if improvements can be seen over time.