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:
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.
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:
||Lay the worksurface mat flat on the workbench with the stud(s) facing upwards.
||Connect the worksurface mat grounding cord to the worksurface mat.
||Connect the other end of the worksurface mat grounding cord to Ground.
||Place the wristband on the wrist.
||Connect the coiled cord to the wristband.
||Attach the Wrist Strap Grounding System to the bench. Remember that it needs to be connected to a suitable Ground.
||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:
||Ground the worksurface mat by following steps #1 to #4 above
||Lay the floor mat flat on the floor with the stud(s) facing upwards.
||Connect the floor mat grounding cord to the floor mat.
||Connect the other end of the floor mat grounding cord to Ground.
||Place the foot grounders on the feet and verify personnel is properly grounded.
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
- 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!