Material Handling

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]


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.

If you followed our tips to fight ESD, you will have already identified all ESD sensitive items in your factory. You’re now at a point where you realize that you need to implement ESD Control measures. But where do you start? There is so much information out there and it can be completely overwhelming. But don’t panic – today’s blog post will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to set-up a suitable ESD Control Plan.

The Organization shall prepare an ESD Control Program Plan that addresses each of the requirements of the Program. Those requirements include:

  • Training
  • Product Qualification
  • Compliance Verification
  • Grounding / Equipotential Bonding Systems
  • Personnel Grounding
  • ESD Protected Area (EPA) Requirements
  • Packaging Systems
  • Marking

 The ESD Control Program Plan is the principal document for implementing and verifying the Program. The goal is a fully implemented and integrated Program that conforms to internal quality system requirements. The ESD Control Program Plan shall apply to all applicable facets of the Organization’s work.” [ANSI/ESD S20.20-2014 clause 7.1 ESD Control Program Plan]

The selection of specific ESD control procedures or materials is at the discretion of the ESD Control Program Plan preparer and should be based on risk assessment and the established ESD sensitivities of parts, assemblies, and equipment.” [ANSI/ESD S20.20-2014 Annex B]

  1. Define what you are trying to protect
    A prerequisite of ESD control is the accurate and consistent identification of ESD susceptible items. Some companies assume that all electronic components are ESD susceptible. However, others write their ESD Control Plan based on the device and item susceptibility or withstand voltage of the most sensitive components used in the facility. Per ANSI/ESD S20.20-2014 section 6.1 “The Program shall document the lowest level(s) of device ESD sensitivity that can be handled.” A general rule is to treat any device or component that is received in ESD protective packaging as an ESD susceptible item.

    An operator handling an ESD susceptible item
  2. Become familiar with the industry standards for ESD control
    A copy of ANSI/ESD S20.20-2014 can be obtained from the ESD Association. It covers the “Development of an Electrostatic Discharge Control Program for Protection of Electrical and Electronic Parts, Assemblies and Equipment (Excluding Electrically Initiated Explosive Devices)” and “provides administrative and technical requirements for establishing, implementing and maintaining an ESD Control Program.”Also, consider purchasing the ESDA’s ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20-2016 for guidance on the implementation of the standard.
  3. Select a grounding or equipotential bonding system
    Grounding / Equipotential Bonding Systems shall be used to ensure that ESDS items, personnel and any other conductors that come into contact with ESDS items are at the same electrical potential.” [ANSI/ESD S20.20-2014 section 8.1 Grounding / Equipotential Bonding Systems]
    The elimination of differences in electrostatic charge or potential can be achieved in three different ways:
    – Equipment Grounding Conductor
    – Auxiliary Ground
    – Equipotential Bonding

    • Equipment grounding conductor:
      the first and preferred ESD ground is the electrical system’s ground or equipment ground. In this case, the ESD control elements and grounded personnel are connected to the three-wire electrical system equipment ground;
    • Grounding using auxiliary ground:
      the second acceptable ESD ground is achieved through the use of an auxiliary ground. This conductor can be a ground rod or stake that is used for grounding the ESD control elements in use at a facility. In order to eliminate differences in potential between protective earth and the auxiliary ground system it is required that the two systems be electrically bonded together with a resistance less than 25 ohms;
    • Equipotential bonding:
      in the event that a ground facility is not available, ESD protection can be achieved by connecting all of the ESD control elements together at a common connection point.
  4. Determine the grounding method for operators (Personnel Grounding)
    The two options for grounding an operator are:

    • a wrist strap or
    • footwear / flooring system

    Wrist straps must be worn if the operator is seated. We will talk about wrist straps in more detail at a later point. For now, remember to connect the coil cord part of the wrist strap to a Common Point Ground so that any charges the operator may generate can be removed to Ground.

    An operator using a wrist strap as a grounding method
    An operator using a wrist strap as a grounding method

    A footwear / flooring system is an alternative for standing or mobile workers. ESD footwear needs to be worn on both feet and only works as a grounding device if it is used in conjunction with an ESD floor. Just like with wrist straps, a future blog post will clarify the ins and outs of ESD footwear.

    An operator using a foot grounders on an ESD floor as a personnel grounding method
    An operator using foot grounders on an ESD floor as a personnel grounding method

    In some cases, both (wrist strap and foot grounders) will be used.

  5. Establish and identify your ESD Protected Area (EPA)
    ESD Control Plans must evolve to keep pace with costs, device sensitivities and the way devices are manufactured. Define the departments and areas to be considered part of the ESD Protected Area. Implement access control devices, signs and floor marking tape to identify and control access to the ESD Protected Area.
  6. Select ESD control items or elements to be used in the EPA based on your manufacturing process
    Elements that should be considered include: worksurfaces, flooring, seating, ionization, shelving, mobile equipment (carts) and garments.
  7. Develop a Packaging (Materials Handling & Storage) Plan
    When moving ESD susceptible devices outside an ESD protected area, it is necessary for the product to be packaged in an enclosed ESD Shielding Packaging. We will discuss ESD Packaging in more detail in a future blog post. All packaging, if used, should be defined for all steps of product manufacture whether inside or outside the EPA.

    An operator packing an ESD sensitive item into a Shielding Bag
    An operator packing an ESD sensitive item into a Shielding Bag
  8. Use proper markings for ESD susceptible items, system or packaging
    From ANSI/ESD S20.20-2014 section 8.5: “ESDS items, system or packaging marking shall be in accordance with customer contracts, purchase orders, drawing or other documentation. When the contract, purchase order, drawing or other documentation does not define ESDS items, system or packaging marking, the Organization, in developing the ESD Control Program Plan, shall consider the need for marking. If it is determined that marking is required, it shall be documented as part of the ESD Control Program Plan.
  9. Implement a Compliance Verification Plan
    From ANSI/ESD S20.20-2014 section 7.4: “A Compliance Verification Plan shall be established to ensure the Organization’s fulfillment of the technical requirements of the ESD Control Program Plan.”. Our next post will explain in detail how to create and implement a Compliance Verification Plan so stay tuned…
    However, developing and implementing an ESD Control Program is only the first step. The second step is to continually review, verify, analyse, evaluate and improve your ESD program:“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 occur. The Compliance Verification Plan shall document the test methods and equipment used for making the 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 S20.20-2014 section 7.4 Compliance Verification Plan]
    Regular program compliance verification and auditing is a key part of a successful ESD Control Program.
  10. Develop a Training Plan
    From ANSI/ESD S20.20-2014 section 7.2: “Initial and recurrent ESD awareness and prevention training shall be provided to all personnel who handle or otherwise come into contact with any ESDS items.
  11. Make the ESD Control Plan part of your internal quality system requirements
    A written ESD Control Plan provides the “rules and regulations”, the technical requirements for your ESD Control Program. This should be a controlled document, approved by upper management initially and over time when revisions are made. The written plan should include following:

    • Qualified Products List (QPL): a list of ESD control items permitted to be used in the ESD Control Program.
    • Compliance Verification Plan: includes periodic checking of ESD control items and calibration of test equipment per manufacturer and industry recommendations.
    • Training Plan: an ESD Program is only as good as the use of the products by personnel. When personnel understand the concepts of ESD control, the importance to the company of the ESD Control Program, and the proper use of ESD products, they will implement a better ESD Control Program improving quality, productivity and reliability.