Insulators

The best way to keep electrostatic sensitive devices (ESDs) from damage is to ground all conductive objects and remove insulators from your ESD Protected Area (EPA). This is not always possible because some insulators are “process-essential” and are necessary to build or assemble the finished product. The only way to control charges on these necessary non-conductive items is the use of ionization systems.

However, 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.

It is therefore essential to regularly clean your ionizers and verify they function correctly. Below we have put together a list of tasks you need to perform with your ionizers on a regular basis.

Maintenance

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 uses will generally require more frequent attention. It is important to set-up a routine schedule for ionizer service. Routine service is typically required to meet quality audit requirements.” (ESD Handbook TR20.20 section 5.3.6.7 Maintenance / Cleaning)

EIA-625, recommends checking ionizers every 6 months, but this may not be suitable for many programs particularly since an out-of-balance may exist for months before it is checked again. ANSI/ESD S20.20 section 6.1.3.1 Compliance Verification Plan Requirement states: “Test equipment shall be selected to make measurements of appropriate properties of the technical requirements that are incorporated into the ESD program plan.

Under normal conditions, an ionizer will attract dirt and dust (especially on the emitter points). To maintain optimum neutralization efficiency and operation, cleaning should be performed on a regular basis.

1. Case

Wipe the case with a soft cloth and deionized water. Fully squeeze the wiping cloth or sponge to remove any excess liquid. If a stronger cleaning solution is required, dab a soft cloth with mixture of isopropyl alcohol and deionized water (70% IPA and 30% DI water).

2. Emitter Points

The emitter points should be cleaned using specific emitter point cleaners or a swab dampened with Isopropyl alcohol. Below are general instructions on how to clean emitter points. However, each unit is slightly different so always refer to the ionizer’s manual.

  1. Turn the unit OFF and unplug the power cord.
  2. Open the top screen by loosening the screw and swinging the grill to one side.
  3. Clean the emitter points using the an emitter point cleaner or a swab dampened with Isopropyl alcohol.
  4. Re-attach the top screen.
  5. Plug in the power cord and turn the unit ON.
  6. Verify the performance of the ionizer by using a charged plate monitor or ionization test kit (see below).

Cleaning of Emitter Points using SCS 9110-NO as an example

With normal handling, the emitter points should not require replacement during the life of the unit.

Verification

Per ESD TR53 section 5.3.6.7.1 “The best practice is to measure the offset voltage and discharge times, clean the unit, including emitter points and air filters if present, offset voltage to zero (if adjustable), and then repeat offset voltage and discharge time testing. If the unit does not meet offset voltage specifications or minimum established discharge time limits, further service is indicated. Manufacturers should provide details on service procedures and typical service intervals.

Most companies will assign a number or otherwise identify each ionizer and setup a Compliance Verification / Maintenance / Calibration schedule. If the ionizers all test good, the data can justify lengthening the calibration period. If ionizers require adjustment, the calibration period should be shortened. Although ESD TR53 does not advise a test frequency, JESDD625-A (Revision of EIA-625) recommends ionizers be tested semi-annually, noting to use “S3.1 except the number of measurement points and locations may be selected based on the application.

Verification should be performed in accordance with the ESD Association ionization standard ANSI/ESD STM3.1.

Below are general instructions on how to verify your ionizer’s offset voltage and discharge time. Always refer to the User Guide accompanying your Charge Plate Monitor or Ionization Test Kit for proper operation and setup.

1. Testing Ionizer Offset Voltage:

The required limit per ANSI/ ESD S20.20 is less than ± 35 volts. Check your ionizer’s operating manual or consult with the ionizer manufacturer to determine what the offset voltage should be for your ionizer.

Charge Plate Monitor (CPM)

  1. Position the ionizer and charge plate monitor as shown below.
  2. Set the CPM to Decay/Offset mode.
  3. Set the CPM to decay and offset voltage mode with a starting charge at either + or – 1 KV and a stopping charge at either + or -100 Volts.
  4. Start the decay/offset test sequence on the CPM. This will take a few seconds.
  5. Record the decay time, and offset voltage as displayed on the CPM.

Positioning your Charge Plate Monitor for Overhead and Benchtop Ionizers

Ionization Test Kit

  1. Zero the charge plate by touching it with a grounded object. This can either be the finger of a grounded person or some other item which is connected to electrical ground. In either case, zeroing the charge plate should make the display on the field meter read zero.
  2. Hold the meter approximately one foot (30.5 cm) in front of the ionizer.
  3. Monitor the display. The value displayed is the offset balance of the ionizer, which is the difference between the number of positive and negative ions being emitted.
Testing Ionizer Offset Voltage using the SCS 718A Air Ionizer Test Kit

2. Testing Ionizer Discharge Time:

The required limit per ANSI/ESD S20.20 is “user defined”. Please refer to the ionizer’s operating manual or consult with the ionizer manufacturer to determine what this discharge time should be.

Charge Plate Monitor (CPM)

  1. Set the CPM to Decay/Offset mode.
  2. Set the CPM to decay and offset voltage mode with a starting charge at either + or – 1 KV and a stopping charge at either + or -100 Volts.
  3. Start the decay/offset test sequence on the CPM. This will take a few seconds.
  4. Record the decay time, and offset voltage as displayed on the CPM.

Ionization Test Kit

  1. After charging the plate of the ionization test kit, hold the field meter approximately one foot (30.5 cm) away from the ionizer.
  2. Monitor the display of the meter to see how quickly the 1.1 kV charge is dissipated to 0.1 kV.
  3. The speed at which this occurs (the discharge time) indicates how well the ionizer is operating.
  4. Repeat this procedure for both a positively and a negatively charged plate.

Some ionizers offer adjustment options (e.g. trim pots) which allow modification of the offset voltage.

However, if your ionizer is out of balance (and cannot be adjusted) or if the discharge time is out of specification, the ionizer will require service/repair by an authorized company.

Conclusion

Ionization is one of the best methods of removing charges from insulators and as a result plays an important role in controlling ESD.

Remember though: ionizers require periodic cleaning of emitter pins and verifying of the offset voltage and discharge time. Otherwise, instead of neutralizing charges, the ionizer will primarily produce positive or negative ions. The ionizer will therefore place an electrostatic charge on items that are not grounded, potentially discharging and causing ESD damage to nearby sensitive items.

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.

esd_sterilization.jpg
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)

770750-Use.jpg
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?

AdobeStock_105568884.jpeg
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:

We have learned in a previous post that within an ESD Protected Area (EPA) all surfaces, objects, people and ESD Sensitive Devices (ESDs) are kept at the same electrical potential. We achieve this by using only ‘groundable’ materials.

But what do you do if an item in your EPA is essential to assembly and it cannot be grounded? Don’t sweat, not all hope is lost! Let us explain a couple of options which will allow you to use the non-groundable item in question.

Conductors and Insulators

In ESD Control, we differentiate items as conductors and insulators.

Materials that easily transfer electrons are called conductors. Examples of conductors are metals, carbon and the human body’s sweat layer.

Grounding cable snap with connection to a ground.
A charged conductor can transfer electrons which allows it to be grounded

Insulators are materials that do not easily transfer electrons are non-conductors by definition. Some well-known insulators are common plastics, polystyrene foam, and glass.

Plastic cup with charged electrons
Insulators like this plastic cup will hold the charge and cannot be grounded and “conduct” the charge away.

Both, conductors and insulators, may become charged with static electricity and discharge.

Electrostatic charges can effectively be removed from conductive or dissipative conductors by grounding them. A non-conductive insulator will hold the electron charge and cannot be grounded and “conduct” the charge away.

Conductors and Insulators in an EPA

The first two fundamental principles of ESD Control are:

  1. Ground all conductors (including people).
  2. Remove all insulators.

To ground all conductors per the first ESD Control principal, all surfaces, products and people are electrically bonded to ground. Bonding means linking or connecting, usually through a resistance of between 1 and 10 megohms.

Wrist straps and worksurface mats are some of the most common devices used to remove static charges:

  • Wrist straps drain charges from operators and a properly grounded mat will provide path-to-ground for exposed ESD susceptible devices.
  • Movable items (such as containers and tools) are bonded by standing on a bonded surface or being held by a bonded person.

If the static charge in question is on something that cannot be grounded, i.e. an insulator, then #2 of our ESD Control principles will kick in and insulators must be removed. Per the ESD Standard ANSI/ESD S20.20, “All nonessential insulators such as coffee cups, food wrappers and personal items shall be removed from the EPA.” [ANSI/ESD S20.20 clause 8.3.1 Insulators]

The ESD Standard differentiates between these two options:

  1. If the field measured on the insulator is greater than 2000 volts/inch, keep it at a minimum distance of 12 inches from the ESDs or
  2. If the field measured on the insulator is greater than 125 volts/inch, keep it at a minimum distance of 1 inch from the ESDs.

Moving an insulated keyboard away from ESD sensitive workspace
Aim to keep insulators away from ESDs

“Process-Essential” Insulators

Well, nothing in life is black and white. It would be easy if we were always able to follow the above ESD Control ‘rules’ but there are situations where said insulator is an item used at the workstation, e.g. hand tools. They are “process-essential” insulators – you cannot remove them from the EPA or the job won’t get done.

How do you ‘remove’ these vital insulators without actually ‘removing’ them from your EPA?

Here are four ways to reduce the ESD risk of these insulators:

  1. Keep all insulators a minimum of 1 inch or 12 inches from ESDs at all times per recommendation of the ESD Standard.
    This reduces the chance of insulators coming in contact with ESDs during workstation processes and assembly.
  2. Replace regular insulative items with an ESD protective version.
    There are numerous tools and accessories available that are ESD safe – from document handling to cups & dispensers, soldering tools, brushes and waste bins. They are either conductive or dissipative and replace the standard insulative varieties that are generally used at a workbench.
  3. Periodically apply Topical Antistat on non-ESD surfaces.
    After Topical Antistat has been applied and the surface dries, an antistatic and protective static dissipative coating is left behind. The static dissipative coating will allow charges to drain off when grounded. The antistatic properties will reduce triboelectric voltage to under 200 volts. It therefore gives non-ESD surfaces electrical properties until the hard coat is worn away.
  4. Neutralization with Ionization
    If these three options are not feasible for your application, the insulator is termed “process-essential” and therefore neutralization using an ionizer becomes a necessary part of your ESD control program. This allows for control of charged particles that can cause ESD events which we will cover next.

Neutralization

Most ESD workstations will have some insulators or isolated conductors that cannot be removed or replaced. These should be addressed with ionization.

Examples of some common process essential insulators are a PC board substrate, insulative test fixtures and product plastic housings.

Electronic enclosures are process-essential insulators (shown on ESD workstation)
Electronic enclosures are process-essential insulators

An example of isolated conductors are conductive traces or components loaded on a PC board that is not in contact with the ESD worksurface.

An ionizer creates great numbers of positively and negatively charged ions. Fans help the ions flow over the work area. Ionization can neutralize static charges on an insulator in a matter of seconds, thereby reducing their potential to cause ESD damage.

The charged ions created by an ionizer will:

  • neutralize charges on process required insulators,
  • neutralize charges on non- essential insulators,
  • neutralize isolated conductors and
  • minimize triboelectric charging.

SCS Benchtop ionizer on a workstation removing charges from isolated conductors on PCB Board
Insulators and isolated conductors are common in ESDs – Ionizers can help

For more information on ionizers and how to choose the right type of ionizer for your application, read this post.

Summary

The best way to keep electrostatic sensitive devices (ESDs) from damage is to ground all conductive objects and remove insulators. This is not always possible because some insulators are “process-essential” and are necessary to build or assemble the ESDs.

Insulators, by definition, are non-conductors and therefore cannot be grounded, but they can be controlled to minimize potential ESD damage.

Insulators can be controlled by doing the following within an EPA:

  • Keep insulators a minimum distance from ESDS at all times (1 or 12 inch minimum distance depending on field voltage measurements of the insulator per ESD Standard recommendation)
  • Replace regular insulative items with ESD protective versions
  • Periodically apply a coat of Topical Antistat
  • Neutralize charges for “process-essential” insulators with ionization

With these steps added to your ESD control process, all surfaces, objects, people and ESD Sensitive Devices (ESDs) are kept at the same electrical potential in an ESD Protected Area (EPA) to reduce the risk of ESD events and ESD damage.

Good morning everyone – how is your Thursday going so far?
Over the next couple of posts, we’ll tackle another important aspect of any ESD Control Program: Ionization. But before we dig into the nitty gritty and explain the different types of ionizers, we’ll have to cover a bit of theory and discuss the different types of materials that can be found in an ESD Protected Area: conductors and insulators. But don’t worry – we’ll keep it brief!

Conductors
Materials that easily transfer electrons (or charge) are called conductors and are said to have “free” electrons. Some examples of conductors are metals, carbon and the human body’s sweat layer. Grounding works effectively to remove electrostatic charges from conductors to ground. However, the item grounded must be conductive.

The other term often used in ESD control is dissipative which is 1 x 104 to less than 1 x 1011 ohms and is sufficiently conductive to remove electrostatic charges when grounded.

When a conductor is charged, the ability to transfer electrons gives it the ability to be grounded.

 

Per ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20-2008 section 2.5 Material Electrical Characteristics – Insulative, Conductive and Static Dissipative: ” A conductive material allows electrons to flow easily across its surface. Conductive materials have low electrical resistance. If the charged conductive material makes contact with another conductive material, the electrons will transfer between the materials quite easily. If the second conductor is a wire lead to an earth grounding point, the electrons will flow to or from ground and the excess charge on the conductor will be “neutralized”. Static dissipative material will allow the transfer of charge to ground or to other conductive objects. The transfer of charge from a static dissipative material will generally take longer than from a conductive material of equivalent size.
There is no correlation between resistance measurements and the ability of a material to be low charging. Static dissipative material shall have a surface resistance of greater than or equal to 1.0 x 10^4 ohms but less than 1.0 x 10^11 ohms. Conductor less than 1.0 x 10^4, and non-Conductor or Insulator 1 x 10^11 ohms or higher.” [ANSI/ESD S541 section 7.2]

Take-away:

  • Electrical current flows easily in conductors.
  • Conductors can be grounded.

Insulators
Materials that do not easily transfer electrons are called insulators and are by definition non-conductors. Some well-known insulators are common plastics and glass. An insulator will hold the charge and cannot be grounded and “conduct” the charge away.

Both conductors and insulators may become charged with static electricity and discharge. Grounding is a very effective ESD control tool; however, only conductors (conductive or dissipative) can be grounded.

Insulators like this plastic cup will hold the charge and
cannot be grounded and “conduct” the charge away.

Per ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20-2008 section 2.5 Material Electrical Characteristics – Insulative, Conductive and Static Dissipative: “Virtually all materials, including water and dirt particles in the air, can be triboelectrically charged. An insulator is a material that prevents or limits the flow of electrons across or through its volume is called an insulator. A considerable amount of charge can be formed on the surface of an insulator.

Take-away:

  • Electrical current does not flow easily in insulators.
  • Insulators cannot be grounded.

Insulators are non-conductors and therefore cannot be grounded. Insulators can only be controlled by doing the following within an EPA:

  • Always keep insulators a minimum of 12 inch from ESDS items or
  • Replace regular insulative items with an ESD protective version or
  • Periodically apply a coat of topical Antistat.

All nonessential insulators such as coffee cups, food wrappers and personal items shall be removed from the workstation or any operation where unprotected ESDS items are handled.” [ANSI/ESD S20.20-2007 section 8.3]

“Process essential” Insulators
When none of the above is possible, the insulator is termed “process essential” and therefore neutralization using an ionizer should become a necessary part of the ESD control program.

Examples of some common process essential insulators are:

  • PC board substrate,
  • insulative test fixtures and
  • product plastic housings.

An example of isolated conductors can be conductive traces or components loaded on a PC board that is not in contact with the ESD worksurface.

Reduction of charges on insulators does occur naturally by a process called neutralization. Ions are charged particles that are normally present in the air and as opposite charges attract, charges will be neutralized over time.

A common example is a balloon rubbed against clothing and “stuck” on a wall by static charge. The balloon will eventually drop. After a day or so natural ions of the opposite charge that are in the air will be attracted to the balloon and will eventually neutralize the charge. An ionizer greatly speeds up this process.

A balloon “stuck” on a wall by static charge.

Ionizers and Neutralization
An ionizer creates great numbers of positively and negatively charged ions. Fans help the ions flow over the work area. Ionization can neutralize static charges on an insulator in a matter of seconds, thereby reducing their potential to cause ESD damage.

An ionizer creates positively and negatively charged ions.

Per ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20-2008 Ionization, section 5.3.6.1 Introduction and Purpose / General Information “The primary method of static charge control is direct connection to ground for conductors, static dissipative materials, and personnel. A complete static control program must also deal with isolated conductors that cannot be grounded, insulating materials (e.g. most common plastics), and moving personnel who cannot use wrist or heel straps or ESD control flooring or footwear. Air ionization is not a replacement for grounding methods. It is one component of a complete static control program. Ionizers are when it is not possible to properly ground everything and as backup to other static control methods.

Note: Ionizers require periodic cleaning of emitter pins and the offset voltage must be kept in balance. Otherwise, instead of neutralizing charges, if it is producing primarily positive or negative ions, the ionizer will place an electrostatic charge on items that are not grounded.

Summary
The 2nd of the three fundamental ESD Control principles is to neutralize process essential insulators with ionizers:
Per ANSI/ESD S20.20-2007 Foreword “The fundamental ESD control principles are:

  • All conductors in the environment, including personnel, must be attached to a known ground
  • Necessary non-conductors in the environment cannot lose their electrostatic charge by attachment to ground. Ionization systems provide neutralization of charges on these necessary non-conductive items (circuit board materials and some device packages are examples of necessary non-conductors).
  • Transportation of ESDS items outside of an ESD Protected Area requires enclosure in static protective materials… Outside an EPA, low charging and static discharge shielding materials are recommended.

In addition, if a conductor is not grounded, it is an isolated conductor, and an ionizer is the only means to neutralize ElectroStatic charges on it.

Now that you know what conductors and insulators are, how to treat them in an EPA and when to use ionization, the next step is to learn about the different types of ionizers available. Stay tuned for next time.

 

In our last post, we talked about ESD: what it is, what types of ESD damage there are and what costly effects ESD can have. Missed our very first post? Catch-up here.
All caught up? Right, moving on. Today you will learn how to avoid ESD damage and protect your ESD sensitive items. So, let’s jump right in.

The fundamental ESD Control Principles
We’ve established that ESD is the hidden enemy in the electronics industry. Therefore, the BIG question is: how exactly do you control ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD) in your workplace? Easy – just follow these ESD fundamentals:

  1. Ground all conductors including people
  2. Remove all unnecessary non-conductors (also known as insulators)
  3. Place ESD sensitive devices inside of shielding packaging when transported outside of an ESD Protected Area (EPA)

Per ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20-2008 section 2.4 “It should be understood that any object, item, material or person could be a source of static electricity in the work environment. Removal of unnecessary nonconductors, replacing nonconductive materials with dissipative or conductive materials and grounding all conductors are the principle methods of controlling static electricity in the workplace, regardless of the activity.

These are the essential principles of ESD Control. If you implement all three points above, you will be in control of ESD and your sensitive items will be protected. Well, that wasn’t hard, was it? Don’t be terrified – we’ll go through everything in detail. We’ll cover #2 and #3 in future points – today’s focus is #1.

Definition of an ESD Protected Area (EPA)
An ESD Protected Area (EPA) is a designated zone – all surfaces, objects, people and ESD Sensitive Devices (ESDs) within are kept at the same electrical potential. This is achieved by simply using ‘groundable’ materials for covering of surfaces and for the manufacture of containers and tools. This applies to all items with an electrical resistance of less than 109 ohms.

An EPA could be just one workstation or it could be a room containing several different workstations. It can be portable as used in a field service situation or permanent.

Example-EPA-Area
Example of an ESD Protected Area

The user guide CLC/TR 61340-5-2:2008 defines an EPA as follows:
An ESD protected area (EPA) is an area that is equipped with the ESD control items required to minimize the chance of damaging ESD sensitive devices. In the broad sense, a protected area is capable of controlling static electricity on all items that enter that work area. Personnel and other conductive or dissipative items shall be electrically bonded together and connected to ground (or a common connection point when a ground is not available) to equalize electrical potential among the items. The size of an EPA can vary greatly. A protected area may be a permanent workstation within a room or an entire factory floor encompassing thousands of workstations. A protected area may also be a portable worksurface or mat used in a field service situation.” [CLC/TR 61340-5-2:2008 Use guide clause 4.6 Protected areas (EPA)]

You’re probably wondering now, how exactly you can get all surfaces, objects and operators to the same electrical potential. Fear not – we’ve got you covered!

  1. Personnel Grounding
    As previously stated, a fundamental principle of ESD control is to ground conductors including people at ESD protected workstations.Wrist straps are the first line of defense against ESD, the most common personnel grounding device used, and are required to be used if the operator is sitting. The wristband should be worn snug to the skin with its coil cord connected to a common point ground which is connected to ground, preferably equipment ground.

    Wearing-Wrist-Strap
    Wearing a wrist strap and connecting it to a common point ground

    If you are not using a continuous or a constant monitor, a wrist strap should be tested while being worn at least daily. This quick check can determine that no break in the path-to-ground has occurred. Part of the path-to-ground is the perspiration layer on the person; an operator with dry skin may inhibit the removal of static charges and may cause a test failure.
    The wrist strap system should be tested daily to ensure proper electrical value. Nominally, the upper resistance reading should be ” [ANSI/ESD S1.1 Annex A, 3 Frequency of Functional Testing]

    A Flooring / Footwear system is an alternative for personnel grounding for standing or mobile workers. Foot grounders or other types of ESD footwear are worn while standing or walking on an ESD floor. ESD footwear is to be worn on both feet and should be tested independently at least daily while being worn. Unless the tester has a split footplate, each foot should be tested independently, typically with the other foot raised in the air.
    Compliance verification should be performed prior to each use (daily, shift change, etc.). The accumulation of insulative materials may increase the foot grounder system resistance. If foot grounders are worn outside the ESD protected area testing for functionality before reentry to the ESD protected area should be considered.” [ESD SP9.2 APPENDIX B – Foot Grounder Usage Guidance]

    Both ESD footwear and ESD floor are required. Wearing ESD footwear on a regular, insulative floor is a waste of time and money.

    Wearing-Foot-Grounders
    Wearing foot grounders on an ESD floor

    Part of the path-to-ground is the perspiration in the person’s shoes. The conductive tab or ribbon of foot grounders should be placed inside the shoe under the foot with the excess length tucked into the shoe. Thanks to the perspiration in the shoe, direct contact with the skin is normally not necessary.

    If an operator leaves the EPA and walks outside wearing ESD footwear, care should be taken not to get the ESD footwear soiled. Dirt is typically insulative, and the best practice is to re-test the ESD footwear while being worn each time when re-entering the EPA.

  2. Working Surfaces
    ESD working surfaces, such as mats, are typically an integral part of the ESD workstation, particularly in areas where hand assembly occurs. The purpose of the ESD working surface is two-fold:

    1. To provide a surface with little to no charge on it.
    2. To provide a surface that will remove ElectroStatic charges from conductors including ESDS devices and assemblies) that are placed on the surface.

    ESD mats need to be grounded. A ground wire from the mat should connect to the common point ground which is connected to ground, preferably equipment ground. For electronics manufacturing a working surface resistance to ground (RG) of 1 x 106 to less than 1 x 109 ohms is recommended.
    The single most important concept in the field of static control is grounding. Attaching all electrically conductive and dissipative items in the workplace to ground allows built-up electrostatic charges to equalize with ground potential. A grounded conductor cannot hold a static charge.” [Grounding ANSI/ESD S6.1 Foreword]
    Per ANSI/ESD S20.20 section 6.2.1.2 Grounding / Bonding Systems Guidance, “In most cases, the third wire (green) AC equipment ground is the preferred choice for 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.

    The working surface 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. ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20-2008 section 5.3.1.14 Maintenance “Periodic cleaning, following the manufacturerís recommendations, is required to maintain proper electrical function of all worksurfaces. Ensure that cleaners that are used do not leave an electrically insulative residue common with some household cleaners that contain silicone.

  3. Other moveable objects
    Moveable items (such as containers and tools) are grounded when placed on a grounded surface or being held by a grounded operator. Everything that does not readily dissipate charge must be excluded from the EPA (refer to #2 of our ESD Control Principles above). Regular plastics, polystyrene foam drink cups and packaging materials, etc. are typically high charging and have no place at an ESD protective workstation.

    Intention of an ESD Protected Area (EPA)We’ve learnt in our previous blog post that ElectroStatic discharge (ESD) can damage components and products that contain electronics. A lot of the time, this damage is not detected during quality inspection and can cause significant problems further down the line.An ESD Protected Area (EPA) is an area that has specifically been created to control ESD; its purpose is therefore to avoid ALL problems resulting from ESD damage. Workers need to understand AND follow the basics of ESD control to limit the generation of electrostatic charges as well as limit and slow discharges in the EPA.Recognizing an ESD Protected Area (EPA)
    An ESD Protected Area must be clearly identified using signs and/or aisle tape. This ensures operators and visitors are alerted when entering (or leaving) an ESD Protected Area which require special precautions (grounding via wrist straps and/or foot grounders etc.). It also indicates that they are entering (or exiting) areas where exposed ESDS items can be handled safely.Remember to be consistent throughout your shop floor, i.e. use the same signs. This will avoid confusion for your operators.

    EPA-Caution-Sign
    Example of an EPA caution sign

    While signs are one way of indicating the boundaries of an EPA, it is not the only way. Any alternate method that alert the personnel that an EPA begins is acceptable to ANSI/ESD S20.20. Some of the alternate ways to mark the boundaries of an EPA are:

    • tape on the floor
    • different color floor tiles
    • different color carpet
    • any other way to establish boundary conditions

    Anyway to distinguish the boundaries of an EPA would be acceptable as long as the personnel are aware of the indications and take the proper precautions while inside the EPA.” [ESD TR20.20-2016 section 9.1.2 EPA Boundary Indicators]

    Building an ESD Protected Area (EPA)
    A basic form of an ESD Protected Area is a workstation consisting of the following components:

    • An ESD working surface mat
    • A grounding cord
    • A wristband
    • A coiled cord
    • A common point ground

    To set-up an EPA:

    1. Connect the ESD working surface mat to the common point ground using the grounding cord.
    2. Link the operator to the common point ground using the wristband and coiled cord.

    Congratulations – you’ve just created an ESD Protected Area!
    By following the above steps, each component (the ESD mat and the operator) is kept at the same electrical potential (ground). Any ElectroStatic charge (ESD) is removed to ground via the common point ground.