4 Benefits of Continuous Monitoring
We have previously learnt that wrist straps are considered the first line of ESD Control. They are used to link people to ground which ensures that that the operator is kept at the same potential as surfaces, objects and ESD sensitive devices. We’ve also discovered that wrist straps need to be visually inspected and checked (while worn) on a daily basis – BEFORE handling any ESD sensitive item. This will alert the operator if their wrist strap has developed a fault and as a result does not ground them any longer.
An alternative to periodic testing is the use of continuous monitors. Per ESD Handbook TR 20.20 paragraph 18.104.22.168.4 Test Frequency, “Because wrist straps have a finite life, it is important to develop a test frequency that will guarantee integrity of the system. Typical test programs recommend that wrist straps that are used daily should be tested daily. However, if the products that are being produced are of such value that knowledge of a continuous, reliable ground is needed, then continuous monitoring should be considered or even required.”
In today’s post we will highlight 4 benefits of continuous monitoring which may help you decide to move away from daily wrist strap checks.
But first a little reminder of what continuous monitors actually are: Continuous monitors come in different styles and sizes but are intended to be kept on your workstation. Some units just ‘sit’ on your bench; others are attached to your working surface matting; some can even be attached underneath the workbench so they don’t take away valuable workspace. Operators connect their wrist strap to the unit to allow for real-time continuous monitoring. If the wrist strap fails, the unit will alarm. Many continuous monitors also feature a parking stud providing a means for the operator to disconnect when leaving their workstation.
There are two different types of continuous monitors available:
- Single-wire continuous monitors allow the use of any standard, single-wire wrist strap and coil cord. The monitor / wrist strap system life-cycle costs are significantly lower than dual-wire systems. While they would not be suitable for the most critical applications, single-wire continuous monitors are an economical way to monitor both the operator’s wrist strap and/or workstation surface.
- Dual-wire constant monitors provide true continuous monitoring of wrist strap functionality and operator safety according to accepted industry standards. Dual-wire continuous monitors provide redundancy because even if one dual-wire wrist strap conductor is severed, the operator still has a reliable path-to-ground with the other conductor.
1. Instant Feedback
Imagine this scenario: you come to work in the morning, you test your wrist strap, it passes and you start work on your ESD sensitive devices. 3 hours later, when you come back from your tea break, you test your wrist strap again and it fails. What to do? You don’t know if the wrist strap only just failed or if it failed right after your first test in the morning. How do you know if the devices you worked on all morning have been damaged? You don’t – after all, latent defects are not visible and failures may only occur at a later time. Using continuous monitoring while working on those ESD sensitive devices will alert the operator as soon as their wrist strap fails. The faulty wrist strap can be replaced with a new model from stock and everyone is happy – no ESD sensitive devices damaged and no unhappy customers.
The EMIT Zero Volt Monitor (50579) in Use
Continuous monitors provide operators with instant feedback on the status and functionality of their wrist strap. The instant an operator’s wrist strap or cord fails, the monitor will issue audible and visual (LEDs) alarms alerting the user and supervisor of the problem. Full time continuous monitoring is superior to periodic or pulsed testing, and can save a significant amount of money in testing costs and rejected product. Periodic testing only detects wrist strap failures after ESD susceptible products have been manufactured. The costs of dealing with the resulting catastrophic failures or latent defects can be considerable. “A properly grounded wrist strap will keep a person’s body voltage to approximately + 10 V. The main advantage to a constant [or continuous] monitor is the immediate indication that the employee receives if the wrist strap falls open. With an unmonitored system, the employee will not be aware of a wrist strap failure until the start of the next shift. This has reliability benefits for an ESD program as it might help reduce or eliminate ESD damage.” [CLC/TR 61340-5-2:2008 User guide Annex B.1.3 Constant monitors].
2. Monitor Operator AND Workstation
An option available with most continuous or constant monitors is the ability to monitor working surface 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 Mat working surface, 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 working surface 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.
Installing the Vermason Multi-Mount Monitor (222608) to ground the worksurface
“For units that also monitor the connection of a worksurface to protective earth, it is also possible to reduce or eliminate the checking of the worksurface as part of the periodic audit of the process.” [CLC/TR 61340-5-2:2008 User guide Annex B.1.3 Constant monitors].
*The resistance threshold limits can vary between brands and models (and can sometimes also be adjusted by the user) so make sure you do your homework before committing to a particular unit and check the limit meets your individual requirements.
3. Detect Initial Flex Fatigue
Unlike wrist strap testers, continuous monitors detect split-second failures when the wrist strap is still in the “intermittent” stage. This is prior to a permanent “open” which could result in damage to ESD sensitive components.
The Jewel Mini Workstation Monitor (222603) in Use
“Wrist strap checkers are usually placed in a central location for all to use. Wrist straps are stressed and flexed to their limits at a workstation. While a wrist strap is being checked, it is not stressed, as it would be under working conditions. Opens in the wire at the coiled cord’s strain relief are sometimes only detected under stress.” [ESD TR 12-01 Technical Report Survey of Constant (Continuous) Monitors for Wrist Straps]
4. Eliminate Need for Periodic Testing
Many customers are eliminating periodic touch testing of wrist straps and are utilising continuous monitoring to better ensure that their products were manufactured in an ESD protected environment. Continuous monitors eliminate the need for users to test wrist straps and log the results; by their function, these monitors satisfy the EN 61340-5-1 test logging requirements. “There are also other process benefits from using constant monitors such as the elimination of the need to maintain daily test logs and a reduction in the time for employees to make the daily test.” [CLC/TR 61340-5-2:2008 User guide Annex B.1.3 Constant monitors].
No more Paper Logs!
So when using constant monitoring, operators:
- Don’t have to waste time queuing at a wrist strap test station before each shift.
- Don’t have to remember to complete their daily test logs.
It’s also harder to ‘cheat’ with continuous monitors. We’re not saying, your employees would do naughty things like that but we’ve seen it all before: operators ‘pretending’ to perform a wrist strap check, operators failing a wrist strap test and still recording a pass etc. There are always options to bypass a system, but it’s definitely harder when continuous monitors are used.
So should you now run-out and equip all your users with continuous monitors? As with most things in life, the answer is not that simple: it depends! If your company manufactures products containing ESD sensitive items, you need to ask yourself “how important is the reliability of our products”? Sooner or later a wrist strap is going to fail. If your products are of such high value that you need to be 100% sure your operators are grounded at all times, then you should consider a continuous monitoring system.