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Best Storage Conditions for PCBs

Most people are aware of the dangers ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD) can pose on a Printed Circuit Board (PCB). A standard bare PCB (meaning that it has no semiconductor components installed) should not be susceptible to ESD damage. However, as soon as you stuff it with electronic (semiconductor) devices, it becomes susceptible according to each of the individual’s susceptibility.
However, there is another risk factor many operators forget: moisture.
So, today’s blog post is going to address both issues and will explain how you can protect your PCBs from both when storing them.

The problem with moisture
By now you will be well aware of the problems ESD damage can cause.
Moisture, on the other hand, may be a new issue to you. Surface Mounted Devices (SMDs), for example, absorb moisture and then during solder re-flow operations, the rapid rise in temperature causes the moisture to expand and the delaminating of internal package interfaces, also known as “pop corning.” The result is either a circuit board assembly that will fail testing or can prematurely fail in the field.

The problems moisture causes in SMDsMoisture from air diffuses inside the plastic body & collects in spaces between body & circuit, lead frame and wires. Expanding vapour can crack (popcorn) the plastic body or cause delamination.

Storing PCBs
All PCBs should be stored in a moisture barrier bag (MBB) that’s vacuum sealed. In addition to the bags, Desiccant Packs and Humidity Indicator Cards must be used for proper moisture protection. This ‘package’ is also known as a dry package.
Most manufacturers of the Moisture Sensitive Devices (MSD) will dictate how their product should be stored, shipped, etc. However, the IPC/JEDEC J-STD-033B standard describes the standardised levels of floor life exposure for moisture/reflow-sensitive SMD packages along with the handling, packing and shipping requirements necessary to avoid moisture/reflow-related failures. The ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20 mentions the importance of moisture barrier bags in section 5.4.3.2.2 Temperature: “While only specialized materials and structures can control the interior temperature of a package, it is important to take possible temperature exposure into account when shipping electronic parts. It is particularly important to consider what happens to the interior of a package if the environment has high humidity. If the temperature varies across the dew point of the established interior environment of the package, condensation may occur. The interior of a package should either contain desiccant or the air should be evacuated from the package during the sealing process. The package itself should have a low WVTR.

Components of a dry package
A dry package has four parts:

1. Moisture Barrier Bag (MBB)
2.
Desiccant
3.
Humidity Indicator Card (HIC)
4.
Moisture Sensitive Label (MSL)

Moisture Barrier Bag (MBB)

Moisture Barrier Bags (MBB) work by enclosing a device with a metal or plastic shield that keep moisture vapour from getting inside the bag. They have specialised layers of film that control the Moisture Vapour Transfer Rate (MVTR). The bag also provides static shielding protection.

204519
Desiccant is a drying agent which is packaged inside a porous pouch so that the moisture can get through the pouch and be absorb by the desiccant. Desiccant absorbs moisture vapour (humidity) from the air left inside the barrier bag after it has been sealed. Moisture that penetrates the bag will also be absorbed. Desiccant remains dry to the touch even when it is fully saturated with moisture vapour. The recommended amount of desiccant is dependent on the interior surface area of the bag to be used. Use this desiccant calculator to determine the minimum amounts of desiccant to be used with Moisture Barrier Bags.

Humidity Indicator Cards (HICs)


Humidity Indicator Cards (HICs) are printed with moisture sensitive spots which respond to various levels of humidity with a visible colour change from blue to pink. The humidity inside barrier bags can be monitored by the HIC inside. Examining the card when you open the bag will indicate the humidity level the components are experiencing so the user can determine if baking the devices is required.

The Moisture Sensitive Level (MSL) label


The Moisture Sensitive Level (MSL) label tells you how long the devices can stay outside the bag before they should be soldered onto the board. This label is applied to the outside of the bag. If the “level” box is blank, look on the barcode label nearby.

 

Creating a dry package
Now that you know the components of a dry package, you’re probably wondering: but how do I put it all together? Not to worry – we’ve got you covered! If you follow these steps, you will create a secure dry package and your PCBs will be protected – against ElectroStatic Discharge and moisture.

Place the desiccant and HIC onto the tray stack. Trays carry the devices. Remember to store desiccant in an air tight container until it used.
Dry Packaging - Step 1

Place the MSL label on the bag and note the proper level on the label.
Dry Packaging - Step 2

Place the tray stack (with desiccant and HIC) into the moisture barrier bag.
Dry Packaging - Step 3

Using a vacuum sealer, remove some of the air from the bag, and heat seal the bag closed. It is not good to take all the air out of the bag. Only slight evaluation is needed to allow the bag to fit inside a box.
Dry Packaging - Step 4

Now your devices are safe from moisture and ESD.
Dry Packaging - Step 5

Do you use moisture barrier bags in your facility? What are your experiences? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

And that’s a wrap! Just to let everyone know that we will be taking a little summer break over the next few weeks so there won’t be any new posts going up until the end of September. Don’t miss us too much…

 

 

The role of employees in ESD Protection

People pose the biggest threat to ESD sensitive components. However, when properly trained, operators can become the key weapon in the fight against ESD. Every person coming into contact with ESD sensitive items should be able to prevent ESD related problems before they occur or provide immediate action when they occur. Today’s blog post will explain in detail the role operators play in ESD Protection and how your company can support them in the fight against ESD.

Introduction
As an employee, the invisible threat of ESD should be of great concern to you. ESD damage can significantly reduce your company’s profitability. This may affect your company’s ability to compete in the marketplace, your profit sharing and even your employment. Everyone likes to take pride in their work, but without proper ESD controls, your best efforts may be destroyed by ElectroStatic discharges that you can neither feel nor see.

People are often a major factor in the generation of static chargesPeople are often a major factor in the generation of static charges

Perhaps the most important factor in a successful static control programme is developing an awareness of the “unseen” problem. People are often a major factor in the generation of static charges. Studies have shown that personnel in a manufacturing environment frequently develop 5000 volts or more just by walking across the floor. Again, this is “tribocharging” produced by the separation of their shoes and the flooring as they walk.
A technician seated at a non-ESD workbench could easily have a 400-500 volt charge on his or her body caused not only by friction or tribocharging but additionally by the constant change in body capacitance that occurs from natural movements. The simple act of lifting both feet off the floor can raise the measured voltage on a person as much as 500-1000 volts.
Educating your personnel is therefore an essential basic ingredient in any effective static control programme. A high level of static awareness must be created and maintained in and around the protected area. Once personnel understand the potential problem, it might help to reinforce this understanding by hanging up a few static control posters in strategic locations. The technician doesn’t need an unprotected person wandering over and touching things on the service bench.

The invisible enemy
The biggest issue with ElectroStatic discharges is that you can neither see nor feel the threat. Daily life has other examples of hidden enemies where careful procedures must be followed to regularly obtain positive results. One example is sterilisation which combats germs and contamination in hospitals.
Damage caused by invisible and undetectable events can be understood by comparing ESD damage to medical contamination of the human body by viruses or bacteria. Although invisible, they can cause severe damage. In hospitals, the defence against this invisible threat is extensive contamination control procedures including sterilisation.

Would you consider having surgery in a contaminated operating room?Would you consider having surgery in a contaminated operating room?

We are aware of the benefits of sterilisation in medicine. We must develop the same attitude towards ESD control and “sterilise” against its contamination. Just as you would never consider having surgery in a contaminated operating room, you should never handle, assemble or repair electronic assemblies without taking adequate measures against ESD. For the hospital to sterilise most of the instruments is not acceptable; actually, it may waste money. Each and every instrument needs to be sterilised. Likewise, it is not acceptable to protect the ESD sensitive items most of the time. Effective ESD control must occur at each and every step where ESDs items are manufactured, processed, assembled, installed, packaged, labelled, serviced, tested, inspected, transported or otherwise handled.

Everyone handling sensitive components should:

  • recognise ESD threat
  • know what equipment to use, and how to use it
  • know the correct ESD procedures, and work to them
  • know how to check equipment
  • know which packaging to use
  • take corrective actions when required. [Source]

It is obvious that ESD training of personnel is prerequisite for a functioning ESD control programme.

Training
ESD training needs to be provided to everyone who handles ESD sensitive devices – that includes managers, supervisors, subcontractors, cleaners and even temporary personnel. Training must be given at the beginning of employment (BEFORE getting anywhere near an ESDS) and in regular intervals thereafter.

The training plan shall define all personnel that are required to have ESD awareness and prevention training. At a minimum, initial and recurrent ESD awareness and prevention training shall be provided to all personnel who handle or otherwise come into contact with any ESDS [ESD sensitive] items. Initial training shall be provided before personnel handle ESD sensitive devices. The type and frequency of ESD training for personnel shall be defined in the training plan. The training plan shall include a requirement for maintaining employee training records and shall document where the records are stored. Training methods and the use of specific techniques are at the organization’s discretion. The training plan shall include methods used by the organization to ensure trainee comprehension and training adequacy.” [EN 61340-5-1 Edition 1.0 2007-08 clause 5.2.2 Training Plan]

Training
Training is an essential part of an ESD Control Programme

ESD training should include:

  • theory and causes of electrostatic charging, and basic ESD understanding
  • handling procedures
  • knowledge of, use, and limitations of protective equipment
  • identification of ESDS, and understanding of ESDS sensitivity
  • Safety aspects and high voltage precautions
  • New techniques, processes, facilities and equipment before they are implemented
  • Awareness of the 61340-5-1 standard. [Source]

For operators working in assembly, repair or field service, job specific training will be required, too.

If visitors are entering an EPA, they must possess basic ESD awareness and understand how to use their wrist straps and footwear.

Operator’s safety comes first
One final word of warning: while ESD control is important, it is of secondary importance to employee safety. ElectroStatic charges or static electricity can be everywhere, however conductors can be effectively grounded and charges removed to ground. A fundamental rule in ESD control is to ground all conductors, including people. BUT: Personnel should not be grounded in situations where they could come into contact with voltage over 250 volts AC.

The Difference between EOS and ESD

Electrical Overstress, or EOS, has become a widely-used term over the past few years. However, a lot of people are still unsure as to what exactly it is and how it differs from ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD). Today’s blog post is intended to put an end to the confusion.

What is Electrical Overstress?

One huge problem with Electrical Overstress, or EOS, is the fact that people use the phrase in different ways. Up until now there has been no widely recognised definition. A White Paper on EOS published by the Industry Council on ESD Target Levels in 2016 uses the following definition: “An electrical device suffers an electrical overstress event when a maximum limit for either the voltage across, the current through, or power dissipated in the device is exceeded and causes immediate damage or malfunction, or latent damage resulting in an unpredictable reduction of its lifetime.
Simplified, EOS is the exposure of a component or PCB board to a current or voltage beyond its maximum ratings.  This exposure may or may not result in a catastrophic failure.

ElectoStatic Discharge (ESD) versus Electrical Overstress (EOS)

You can compare an ESD event with a knocked-over glass of water on a floor: you’ll get a small puddle but once all the water has spilt from the cup, it’s gone. There is no more water left and the damage is fairly limited. [Source]

Knocked-over glass of waterESD can be compared to a knocked-over glass of water

However, an EOS event can be compared to an open tap; there may be just a little drip in comparison but there is an unlimited amount of water available. After a while, the entire floor may be flooded and could cause some serious damage. As you can see, EOS events last several magnitudes longer than most ESD events. [Source]

Dripping tabEOS can be compared to a dripping tab

By many, ESD is seen as just one type of electrical stress. EOS on the other hand, describes a wide number of outcomes resulting from multiple stresses or root causes.
ESD does not require a “victim” or damaged product. There will be an ESD event if two objects are at different charge levels and a rapid, spontaneous transfer of an ElectroStatic charge between them occurs. An electrical stress can only become an overstress (as in EOS) if we’re aware of how much stress the “victim” (i.e. sensitive device) can withstand. One specification used to document these limits is the “Absolute Maximum Rating” (AMR). More on that in a little while. Back to EOS and ESD for now. The below image highlights the relationship and contrast between EOS and ESD:

Relationship-EOS-ESDRelationship between EOS and ESD [Source]

Generally speaking, EOS describes extreme signals other than ESD. The following table lists the main differences:

 ESD Event  EOS Event
 Cause

Rapid discharge of accumulated charge

Voltage and/or currents associated with operation of equipment or with power generating equipment
 Duration Once accumulated charge is consumed, ESD event can no longer manifest itself Lasts as long as originating signals; no inherent limitation
 Characteristics Have specific waveform which includes rapid rising edge and asymptotic read edge Can have any physically possible waveform as sources of EOS are often unpredictable
 Occurrence Non-periodic and non-repeatable (accumulation of charge cannot be guaranteed) Mostly (but not always) periodic and repeatable

Differences between EOS and ESD [Source]

The importance of Electrical Overstress (EOS)

Many failures in the electronics industry can be contributed to EOS. Yes, ESD has received a lot of attention over the past years. However, ESD represents only a small percentage of total EOS damages.

Typical causes of device failuresTypical causes of device failures [Source]

As explained further above, EOS and ESD are NOT the same thing. This is extremely important because:

  • EOS damages are much more common compared to failures caused by ESD.
  • A comprehensive ESD Control Programme will provide protection against ESD but not EOS.

Now that you have learnt what EOS is, how it’s different from ESD and that ESD protection is not effective for EOS damage, the obvious question will be “How can I protect my sensitive devices from EOS failures?”. That’s where we go back to our “Absolute Maximum Rating” (AMR) mentioned earlier.

Absolute Maximum Rating (AMR) and Electrical Overstress (EOS)

We’ve established earlier that EOS is caused by exceeding specific limits of a device, the so called Absolute Maximum Rating or AMR.
AMR represents “the point beyond which a device may be damaged by a particular stress” [Source].

Interpretation of AMR* [Source]

Interpretation of AMR* [Source]

*the yellow line represents the number of components suffering catastrophic damage

  • Region A is the safe operating area in which devices are to operate as anticipated.
  • Region B does not guarantee for the device to function as it should. No physical damage is expected in this area; however, if a device is operated in this region for extended periods of time, it may cause reliability problems.
  • The upper limit of region B represents the AMR. Issues will arise if a device is operated beyond this point.
  • Region C is the first area of electrical overstress causing latent failures.
  • Region D is the second area of electrical overstress causing immediate damages.

Protecting your sensitive devices from Electrical Overstress (EOS)

As already stated, ESD Protection measures are useless when it comes to protecting your sensitive devices from EOS. “Rather, improvement and mitigation of EOS failure causes will only advance through better communication between the supplier and the customer. This includes proper understanding of AMR, realistic specifications for it, finding the root cause of EOS damage incidents, and identifying the field and system application issues.” [Source]

References:

5 common mistakes in ESD Control & how to avoid them

Many companies implement an ESD Control Programme with the aim of improving their operations. Effective ESD control can be a key to improving:

  • Productivity,
  • Quality and
  • Customer satisfaction.

However, problems arise when an organisation invests in ESD protective products and/or equipment and then misuses them. Not only do these companies waste a lot of money but they could also be causing more harm than good. So, with today’s blog post we want to highlight some of the major issues we have come across and how you can avoid or fix them.

Introduction

Remember that for a successful ESD Control Programme, 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.

Think of viruses or bacteria that can infect the human body. Just like ESD, they are invisible. Yet, in hospitals the defence against this hidden threat is controlled by extensive contamination control procedures including sterilisation. The same applies to ESD Control: you should never handle, assemble or repair electronic assemblies without taking adequate protective measures against ESD.

Treat ESD like Viruses & Bacteria
Treat ESD like you would Viruses and Bacteria

For an ESD Control Programme to be successful, there is discipline required; basic ESD Control principles should be followed:

  • Ground conductors.
  • Remove, convert or neutralise insulators with ionisers.
  • Shield ESD sensitive items when stored or transported outside the EPA.

For more information on how to get your ESD Control Programme off the ground (no pun intended) and create an EPA, check this post.

Common Mistakes in ESD Control

1. Poorly maintained or out-of-balance Ionisers

If an ioniser is out of balance, instead of neutralising charges, it will produce primarily positive or negative ions. This results in placing an electrostatic charge on items that are not grounded. These could then discharge to nearby sensitive items potentially cause ESD damage.

 Check Remember to clean emitter pins and filters using appropriate tools. Create a regular maintenance schedule which will extend the lifespan of your ionisers tremendously.
Consider using ionisers with “Clean Me” and//or “Balance” alarms. These will alert you when cleaning is required.
 Standard 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.”
[CLC TR 61340-5-2 User guide Ionization clause 4.7.6.7 Maintenance and cleaning]

This post covers in detail how ionisers work and what type of ioniser will work best for your application.

2. Ungrounded ESD Garments

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. Well, here is some news for you: you are not!

 Check 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
 Standard The ESD risk provided by everyday clothing cannot be easily assessed. The current general view of experts is that the main source of ESD risk may occur where ESDS [ESD sensitive items] can reach high induced voltage due to external fields from the clothing, and subsequently experience a field induced CDM [Charged Device Model] type discharge. So ESD control garments may be of particular benefit where larger ESDS having low CDM withstand voltage are handled, and operators habitually wear everyday clothing that could generate electrostatic high fields.
[CLC TR 61340-5-2 User guide Garments clause 4.7.7.1 Introductory remarks]

Another thing to remember with ESD clothing is that they do lose their ESD properties over time. So make sure you incorporate periodic checks (see #3 below).

If you need more information on ESD coats, we recommend having a look at this post.

3. Not Checking ESD Control Products

A lot of companies waste thousands of pounds by buying and installing ESD Control products but then never check them resulting in ESD equipment that is out of specification. They haven’t got the tools in place to check their ESD items and have no idea if they are actually working correctly. Remember, ESD products (just like any other) are subject to wear and tear, workstations get moved, ground cords get disconnected…. The list goes on.

 Check When investing in ESD Control Products, make sure you also establish a Compliance Verification Plan. This ensures that:
·         ESD equipment is checked periodically and
·         Necessary test equipment is available.
 Standard 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.

[EN 61340-5-1 clause 5.2.4 Compliance verification plan]

For detailed instructions on how to create a Compliance Verification Plan, have a read through this post.

4. Re-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.

 Check 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.
 Standard ESD shielding packaging is to be used particularly when transporting or storing ESD sensitive items outside an ESD Protected Area. Per Packaging Standard EN 61340-5-3 clause 5.3 Outside an EPA “Transportation of sensitive products outside of an EPA shall require packaging that provides both:
– dissipative or conductive materials for intimate contact;
– a structure that provides electrostatic discharge shielding.

This post provides further “dos and don’ts” when using ESD Shielding Bags.

5. Using Household Cleaners on ESD Matting

A lot of people use standard household cleaners on their ESD matting not realising how damaging this is to their ESD Programme. Many household cleaners contain silicone which creates that lovely shine you get when wiping surfaces in your home. The problem is that on an ESD working surface mat, that same silicone creates an insulative layer which reduces the grounding performance of the mat.

 Check 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.
 Standard “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.”
[CLC TR 61340-5-2 User guide Work surfaces clause 4.7.1.5 Maintenance]

This post covers everything you need to know about ESD protective working surfaces.

Now – the above list is by no means complete. There are many more issues we see when setting foot into EPAs but we think it’s true to say that these issues are some of the ones we encounter more often.

What issues have you come across before? Leave us a comment below.

The one BIG change to the latest ESD Standard you need to know about

Let’s face it: nobody likes ‘change’! We all like our little routines and feel comfortable with what we know.
BUT: without ‘change’, everything would stay the same; ultimately humanity would stagnate and die. So, let’s think of ‘change’ as an opportunity: to improve, to progress, to be better! That’s exactly the reason behind the latest major change to the ESD Standard: ensuring your ESD Programme is the best one yet and protects your ESD sensitive devices 110%.

Introduction

You will have learnt by now that a fundamental principle of ESD control is to ground conductors including people at ESD protected workstations. Wrist straps are the first line of defence against ESD. A wrist strap is the most common personnel grounding device and is required for sitting operators.

A Flooring / Footwear system is an alternative for personnel grounding for standing or mobile workers. You will know that ESD footwear must be used in conjunction with an ESD floor and needs to be worn on both feet. But did you know that the latest ESD Standard now requires an Operator Walking Test and conformance to Operator Resistance Measurements?

The importance of the Walking Test

  • The Walking Test is necessary to qualify the Footwear / Flooring personnel grounding system for certification to EN 61340-5-1.
  • The Walking Test can provide records to prove that the Footwear / Flooring personnel grounding system used as a static control method is providing the performance expected.
  • The Walking Test is also used when testing samples for qualification of a Footwear / Flooring personnel grounding system or on an existing installed floor when evaluating a change in footwear or flooring maintenance.

Performing the Walking TestPerforming the Walking Test

The Walking Test is completed with a device which measures the human body voltage generated while walking. There are different units on the market: some of them will display the results on the unit itself; others connect to a computer and use software to analyse the data.

All units work in the same way though:

  • You wear your ESD footwear.
  • You hold a small probe (more like a rod) connected to the meter measuring your body voltage.
  • While holding the probe, you walk across your ESD floor.
  • You record the results and either calculate the average of the 5 highest peaks or let the software (supplied with some units) do the calculation for you.

Results of the Walking Test

The Walking Test simulates a real-world working environment with operators walking through an ESD Protected Area. The results will show the effectiveness of a Footwear / Flooring system to remove charges from the operator through the floor to ground. If the system is working properly, no more than 100 Volts will be generated on the body.

For any Footwear / Flooring system, EN 61340-5-1 requires:

  • the resistance from body to ground to be <109 ohms AND
  • the body voltage to be < 100 Volts (average of 5 highest peaks).

Final Thoughts

Remember that the Walking Test must be performed on ALL ESD floors using ANY ESD footwear you may be using. So, if you have 2 EPAs with different flooring and use 2 different types of footwear (e.g. shoes, foot grounders), you need to perform a total of 4 tests to cover all possible options.

Also, if you make any changes to your footwear or flooring (e.g. you change suppliers for your foot grounders or ESD floor cleaner), the Walking Test needs to be repeated to ensure compliance with the ESD Standard.

If you require further information on the changes to the ESD Standard or need the Walking Test performed in your facility, get in touch.

The importance of Electrostatic Discharge Rates

The control of electrostatic discharge is an important aspect when manufacturing, assembling and repairing devices that employ electronics. Electrostatic discharges can damage an electronic component at any stage of its production or application if not controlled. The primary method of control is to ground (or bring to the same potential) all conductors that come in contact or near proximity to the electronic device(s). These conductors include humans, tools, ESD mats, other electronic devices, boards, connectors, packaging, etc.
There are other components to a good ESD Control programme including removal of unnecessary insulators, shielding, ionisation, environmental controls, training, education and top-down compliance. This post will talk about controlling discharges to a grounded ESD mat on a workstation. Watch out: it’s about to get technical!

Introduction

Of specific interest in controlling an electrostatic discharge is the time rate of the discharge. A discharge will occur much quicker in/on a conductor with a surface resistance of 102 ohms than in a conductor with a surface resistance of 109 ohms. How fast or slow should the controlled discharge be? Understanding the importance of discharge times will help you choose the right ESD control materials in building, maintaining or auditing your own ESD Safe workbench(es).
The upper and lower boundaries of an ESD safe discharge rate are determined by the application and materials used. To limit the discussion, the potential energy sourced from the Human Body Model (HBM), [refer to EN 61340-5-1], is applied to an ESD sensitive work area or ESD mat.

Body and Movement

You should be familiar with the timing of the human body’s movements relative to handling or working near ESD sensitive devices to have a handle on the upper limit of the controlled discharge. To reduce the likelihood of an operator discharging onto an ESD sensitive device, they should drain any charges before bringing an ESD sensitive device in contact with themselves or another conductor, whether floating or grounded.

Table 1 – Movement times (averaged) from typical operations:Table 1

Table 1 shows averaged times (in milliseconds) for the handling of tools or devices at a work bench with a corresponding standard deviation in milliseconds. The shortest time of 153ms, or worst case, is the time that we will design our ESD sensitive workbench tabletop with. You want to be sure that your device is fully discharged well before the 153ms landing time. A good rule of thumb would be to engineer a x2 safety factor. Therefore, your device should be fully discharged before reaching 76.5ms (76.5ms x 2 = 153ms). The time constraint of 76.5ms for body movement defines the upper boundary of the controlled discharge rate (not including the standard deviation of 11ms).

Energy Considerations

Table 2 – Typical Discharge times [t = R x C x ln(V/V0)] for an RC circuit where C = 200pF and V0 = 249 Volts:Table 2

Table 2 shows calculated discharge rates for the human body model (HBM) onto an ESD grounded mat with surface-to-ground (RG) resistances from 102 to 1011 ohms. The more conductive the ESD mat on the workbench is, the faster the discharge, but there is another consideration too.

How fast is too fast? When does the discharge energy at any given time reach a critical level that can damage a semiconductor? The answer depends on several variables relative to the semiconductor’s construction such as line spacing, composition, density, packaging, etc., all leading to an ESD component classification [refer to ESD STM5.1-2007 and the manufactures’ device specifications].

For simplicity’s sake assume the worst case, class 0, which has a 0 to 249 Volt tolerance. Applying the HBM, a conservative worst case capacitance would be 200pF, twice that of the HBM and resistance of 10 kilohms. Therefore, the maximum power (P) level based on Ohm’s Law is P = V2/R (J/s) and the worst case HBM is ((249)2/10K) = 6.2 Watts or Joules per second (Js-1).

The maximum energy (E) stored in a worst case HBM capacitance (C) of 200 pF and at a maximum voltage (V) of 249 Volts, (using E = 1/2 CV2), yields 6.2mJ.
The next concern is to relate energy to time. The time constant (t) is the measure of the length in time, in a natural response system, for the discharge current to die down to a negligible value (assume 1% of the original signal). For an RC circuit, the time constant (t) is equivalent to the multiple of the equivalent resistance and capacitance. In this case, the time constant (t) of our RC circuit is (10 kilohms) x (200pF) or t = 2ms. Discharging this energy upon touching a conductor at zero volts yields a current, (using I = P/V), of (6.2Js-1)/(249V) or 24.8mA. To avoid damaging a class 0 ESD sensitive device, the discharge current must be below 24.8mA. Engineering in a “2x” safety factor, the maximum discharge current would be 12.4mA. To maintain a discharge current below 12.4mA, we need to look at our grounding equipment on the ESD sensitive workbench.

Table 3 – Discharge currents from a 6.2 mJ lossless energy source (with C = 200pF & V = 249V) dependent on the discharge time.Table 3

The rate at which 6.2mJ of energy discharges is very important. Too fast a discharge will lead to an ESD Event, which can electromagnetically be measured using a simple loop antenna attached to a high impedance input of a high-speed storage scope. The faster the discharge the greater the discharge current becomes as well as the emf (electromotive force) on the loop antenna from the EMI (ElectroMagnetic Interference). Table 3 depicts the discharge current for 6.2mJ at varying discharge times. We are assuming lossless conditions during the discharge for the worst case. For our example, to keep the discharge current below 12.4mA, the discharge rate [from Table 3] must be no quicker than 2.01ms. This energy-based-time constraint forms the lower boundary of the controlled discharge rate.

Choosing your Matting

The upper (76.5ms) and lower (2.01ms) boundary of our controlled discharge rate are now defined and can be used to help in choosing the correct ESD mat for an ESD sensitive workstation. ESD mat materials come in many variations. In general, mats are either made from vinyl or rubber material and can be homogeneous or multi-layered. Rubber mats, in general, have good chemical and heat resistance but vinyl tends to be more cost effective. The electrical properties of an ESD mat are important to know in controlling the electrostatic discharge.

An ESD mat will be either electrically conductive or dissipative. Both terms mean that the mat will conduct a charge when grounded. The difference in the terms is defined by the materials resistance, which affects the speed of the discharge. A conductive material has a surface resistivity of less than 1 x 105 ohms/sq and a dissipative material is greater than 1 x 105 ohms/sq but less than 1 x 1012 ohms/sq. Anything with a surface resistivity greater than 1 x 1012 ohms/sq is considered insulative and will essentially not conduct charges.

Back to our example: If the maximum discharge current of our ESD sensitive device is 12.4mA, then the discharge time based on energy must be slower than 2.01ms and based on body movement must be faster than 76.5ms. Using the discharge times from Table 2 and assuming that the mat has a negligible capacitance relative to the HBM, then the mat resistance must be greater than 2.2 x 103 ohms or 2.2 x 104 ohms/sq and less than 8.3 x 107 ohms or 8.3 x 108 ohms/sq. In other words, a very conductive mat for some applications may be too quick to discharge and yield more dangerous ESD events whether properly grounded or not.

Graph 1

Graph 1 shows the natural response of a 249 Volt discharge in an RC circuit using a capacitance of 200 pF (HBM) into resistances (mat) of 104, 105, and 106 ohms. The natural response of the104 ohms curve is below 1% of its’ initial voltage in less than 10ms where the 106 ohms curve takes less than 1ms to discharge to less than 1% (V < 2.49V) of its initial value (V0 = 249V).

The role of Wrist Straps

Another defence, and the most common method, to reduce the risk of creating an ESD event is wearing a grounded wrist strap at the workstation. The wrist strap connects the skin (a large conductor) to a common potential (usually power ground). Properly worn, the wrist strap should fit snugly, making proper contact with the skin, to reduce contact resistance.

The wrist strap, since it is connected to ground, will quickly discharge any charge the body either generates through tribocharging or becomes exposed to through induction. Any time the body directly touches a charged conductor, a discharge will occur because the body is at a different potential (0 Volts). Controlling this discharge is important if the conductor is an ESD sensitive device and in minimising induced charges through EMI onto nearby ungrounded ESD sensitive devices.

The electrical properties of the skin of an operator can have a wide range in both resistance and capacitance depending on several variables. An operator’s hand touching a charged device will initiate a discharge at the rate of the time constant of the skin before including the RL properties of the wrist strap. To reduce the potential of an unsafe discharge from a device to a very conductive operator, adding resistance to the operator at the interface from skin to device may be necessary. Some solutions are static dissipative gloves or finger cots, which if worn properly, may add from 1 to 10 megohms to the RC circuit of the skin. This, in turn, slows down the discharge rate to well over 2ms.

Conclusion

The upper and lower boundaries of a safe discharge rate are determined by the application and materials used. The movements of the operator define our upper boundary and the max energy, as defined by the ESD sensitive component classification, dictates our lower boundary. We want to design an ESD sensitive workbench to control the discharge rate (via the circuit’s time constant) of our grounded or conductive materials within these limits.

For the HBM and a class 0 device, the materials chosen for a safe ESD workbench should have electrical properties to support discharge rates between 2ms and 76.5ms. These discharge rates, using worst case assumptions, equate to an ESD mat surface with a Resistance-To-Ground (RG) between 2.2 x 103 ohms and 8.3 x 107 ohms. This controlled discharge rate window will vary depending on the class of semiconductor components used (class 0 to class 3B per ESD STM5.1-2007) and the properties of production resources used (human vs. automated).

Please note that the numbers calculated were based on assumptions used to simplify the explanation of the material. Real-world applications are much more complex and require a more detailed analysis, which was beyond the scope of this blog post.

How to manage Charge Generation from Flooring

We’ve previously learned that the simple separation of two surfaces can cause a transfer of electrons resulting in one surface being positively and the other negatively charged. A person walking across a floor and soles contracting & separating from the floor is such an example. The resulting static charges that generate are an annoying and costly occurrence for office and factory employees. The thing is, they can easily be controlled with existing carpets and tiled floors. Learn how in today’s post.

What is Static Electricity?

Static electricity is an electrical charge that is at rest – as opposed to electricity in motion or current electricity. Static charges can be generated by either friction or induction. Typical examples are the Wimshurst machine that uses friction and the Van de Graaff generator using electrostatic induction.

How is Static Electricity generated?

The most common generation of static charge is the triboelectric charge or the friction electricity developed when rubbing together and then separating two masses. For example, when two blocks are rubbed together and then separated, a triboelectric charge is developed on each block. The two blocks will have opposite polarities; one will be negatively charged and the other will be positively charged. Other examples include:

  • Unwinding a roll of tape
  • Gas or liquid moving through a hose or pipe
  • A person walking across a floor and soles contacting & separating from the floor.

 

Charge Generation Unwinding a Roll of TapeCharge Generation: Unwinding a Roll of Tape

Static Charge Generation from flooring

When a person walks across a carpeted or tiled floor, a triboelectric charge builds up in the body due to the friction between the shoes and floor material. The more you generate, the greater the voltage potential developing in the body – you are basically acting as a capacitor.

Everyone’s capacitance to hold charges is different. However, a sure sign of static presence is hair standing on end or static discharge sparks. Static discharges can be noticed when you touch an object of lower electrical potential such as a door knob, and a bolt of electricity flows from your charged body to the door knob. This flow of electricity is actually a result of the stored static charge that is being rapidly discharged to the lower potential object.

This discharge that can be felt as well as seen, is commonly referred to as an electrostatic discharge, or “ESD”.

 

Generating Charges by walking across a CarpetGenerating Charges by walking across carpet

It is not necessarily the static charge generated in the body that does the damage as much as it is the difference in potential that creates an electrostatic discharge. The ESD event can be felt at the human sensation threshold of 3000 volts. If one feels or sees the static shock, it is a minimum of 3000 volts. The potential static charge that can develop from walking on tiled floors is greater than 15,000 volts, while carpeted floors can generate in excess of 30,000 volts.

The problem with ESD

The generation of a static charge can pose quite a problem for environments that contain sensitive equipment or components that are vulnerable to static damage, such as electronic manufacturing, repair facilities or medical facilities including computer rooms and clean rooms.

Controlling the damage and costs caused by ESD is usually the main concern that drives a company to implement a static control programme. The costs involved with static damage not only include the immediate cost of the damaged component but the contributing cost of diagnostic and repair labour that is needed to replace or fix the component. In most cases, the labour involved will far exceed the component cost. If the damaged component performs enough to pass Quality Control (QC), it is called a soft failure as opposed to a hard failure when it does not pass the QC. It is far more expensive for a soft failure occurring at the manufacturer which then leads to a hard failure in the field which escalates product returns and field service cost.

 

The Solution

As with any type of control, there are several levels of protection. The method for choosing the necessary degree of ESD protection starts with defining your static sensitivity for electronic components. The ESD Association defines different classes of sensitivity for the HBM (Human Body model) and CDM (Charged Device Model).

ESDS Component Sensitivity Classification

How can you determine the class of sensitivity of the devices within your facility? Look at your product flow through your facility, start at receiving and walk the components or products through until they are at dispatch ready to ship. Chances are, you have several different product flows through your facility. Each flow or loop will have specific components that enter or travel the loop. Make a list of all the sensitive components in each loop and determine the static voltage sensitivity or rating from each of the manufacturers. The lowest voltage sensitivity will dictate the sensitivity class of each loop. The philosophy here is “the chain is only as strong as the weakest link”. Each loop should have the required ESD protection for the most sensitive components that will travel this loop. This will define what class of protection is needed for each loop. You can have different class loops as long as the loops are closed, not allowing other components in. The objective here is to define a static control programme to safeguard your most sensitive component.

Flooring Materials

ESD control carpet and conventional carpet with antistatic treatments can still generate up to 1,500 volts, far exceeding the class 1 limits for the HBM. These carpets, however, when properly maintained, can provide safe grounding and electrostatic propensity below the class 2 and 3 sensitivity range.

Proper maintenance for ESD control carpets is rather simple but very important. For conventional carpets that are treated with a topical antistat or other treatment, it is required that the treatment is replenished on the carpet as it wears away due to foot traffic. The amount of treatment on the carpet can be determined by testing with a surface resistance meter. The higher the resistance readings of the floor, the lower the amount of static control treatment that is present on the carpet. The level of treatment should be monitored by resistance readings and kept between 1 x 106 and 1 x 1010 ohms. Some ESD floor finishes can be used as a carpet treatment. This requires a simple spray bottle filled with 50/50 mix of ESD control floor finishes and water. Always check with the floor finish manufacturer before use. Application of diluted floor finish usually requires a 1 to 2 spray coat on the carpet depending on the level of resistance you want.

 

Topical AntistatReztore® Topical Antistat – for more information click here

ESD control carpets are made with static dissipative yarn and only require that the yarn is kept clean and free of insulative dirt, dust and spray cleaners.

ESD control floor tiles can also generate triboelectric charges depending on the construction of the tile. The tile (dissipative or conductive) may have voids between the impregnated conductive sections which allows triboelectric charges to be generated and then drained. This cyclic voltage can be very harmful to sensitive components.

ESD control floor finishes alone can provide both non-triboelectric charging as well as a path to ground. Such floor finishes can be applied on many surfaces including sealed concrete, vinyl tile and especially ESD control tiles. If the ESD control tile is generating triboelectric charges, ESD control floor finish will complement these tiles with its non-triboelectric properties, as well as enhancing the surface’s electrical properties. The ease of maintenance for an ESD control floor finish is another benefit when used on top of any tile floor, especially carbon impregnated conductive tile that may form streaks of black carbon on the surface.

 

Floor FinishStatguard® Floor Finish – for more information click here

Conclusion

The best static controls are not only the ones that protect sensitive components and equipment but are: A) at hand and readily available, B) easily maintained. For these reasons, carpets and tile floors should not be overlooked as sources for static control. Existing carpet or tile floors can be easily included into an ESD control programme.

The Difference between ElectroStatic Charges & Electrostatic Discharges (ESD)

A question that comes up, again and again, is “Are ElectroStatic charges and ElectroStatic discharges different?” so we thought it’d be helpful for everyone to put together a blog post on the subject. So let’s get started:

ElectroStatic charges vs. ElectroStatic discharges

ElectroStatic charges and ElectroStatic discharges are different. All material can tribocharge (generate ElectroStatic charges). This is static electricity which is an electrical charge at rest. When an electrical charge is not at rest but discharges (i.e. ESD), problems can occur. All matter is constructed from atoms which have negatively charged electrons circling the atom’s nucleus which includes positively charged protons. The atom having an equal number of electrons and protons balances out having no charge.

Balanced AtomBalanced Atom with no Charge

Electrostatic charges are most commonly created by contact and separation; when two surfaces contact then separate, some atom electrons move from one surface to the other, causing an imbalance. One surface has a positive charge and one surface has a negative charge.

Charge Generation

The simple separation of two surfaces, as when tape is pulled off a roll, can cause the transfer of electrons between surfaces, generating an ElectroStatic charge.

  • Unwinding a roll of tape
  • Gas or liquid moving through a hose or pipe
  • A person walking across a floor with heels and soles contacting and separating from the floor

Charge Generation Unwinding a Roll of TapeCharge Generation Unwinding a Roll of Tape

The amount of static electricity generated varies and is affected by materials, friction, area of contact and the relative humidity of the environment. At lower relative humidity, charge generation will increase as the environment is drier. Common plastics generally create the greatest static charges.

Typical Electrostatic Voltages

Many common activities may generate charges on a person’s body that are potentially harmful to electronic components.

  • Walking across carpet: 1,500 to 35,000 volts
  • Walking over untreated vinyl floor: 250 to 12,500 volts
  • Vinyl envelop used for work instructions: 600 to 7,000 volts
  • Worker at bench: 700 to 6,000 volts
  • Picking up a common plastic bag from a bench: 1,200 to 20,000 volts

Generating Charges by walking across a Carpet
Generating Charges by walking across a Carpet

Electrostatic Discharge (ESD)

If two items are at the same electrostatic charge or at equipotential, no discharge will occur. However, if two items are at different levels of ElectroStatic charge, they will want to come into balance. If they are in close enough proximity, there can be a rapid, spontaneous transfer of electrostatic charge. This is called discharge, or ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD).

Examples in daily life:

  • Lightning Steel handle on the door close-up
  • Lightning, creating lots of heat and light
  • The occasional zap felt when reaching for a door knob
  • The occasional zap felt when sliding out of an automobile and touching the door handle

Electrostatic Discharge in Daily Life

In a normal environment like your home, there are innumerable ESD events occurring, most of which you do not see or feel. It takes a discharge of about 2,000 volts for a person to feel the “zap”. It requires a much larger ESD event to arc and be seen. While a discharge may be a nuisance in the home, ESD is the hidden enemy in a high-tech manufacturing environment. Modern electronic circuitry can be literally burned or melted from these miniature lightning bolts. Even less than 100 volts might damage a sensitive Class 0A component! ESD control is necessary to reduce and limit these ESD events. For more information on the damages ESD can cause, check out this post. For tips on how you can fight ESD in your production area, you should read this post.

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 5.3.2.4.4 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.

Zero Volt Monitor SoloThe 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 Multi-Mount Monitor to Ground the WorksurfaceInstalling 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.

Using ESD shielding bagsThe 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 LogsNo 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.

ESD foot grounders or ESD shoes – what’s best?

We get a lot of customers asking us if they should use ESD foot grounders or ESD shoes in their EPA. And our answer is always the same: it depends! There really is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing but there are obviously a few things you need to consider before investing in one or the other.

Safety First!

In some cases, protective footwear (shoes, boots, etc.) is required to prevent foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects or from objects piercing the sole. Safety of the operator takes priority over ESD control at all times. If protective footwear with reliable ESD properties is not available or ESD foot grounders cannot be worn with the protective footwear in the ESD Protected Area, other personnel grounding devices such as wrist straps should be used. For more information on using wrist straps, check out this post.

Introduction to ESD Foot Grounders

ESD 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.

Example of ESD Foot GrounderExample of ESD Foot Grounder – more info

Guidelines for ESD foot grounders:

  1. It is recommended that ESD foot grounders are worn on both feet in order to ensure that a continuous path to ground is maintained at all times (even when lifting one foot).
  2. Contact strips should be tucked inside the shoe with as much contact area as possible to the bottom of the stockinged foot. ESD foot grounders rely upon the perspiration layer inside of the shoe to make contact through the stocking.
  3. A current limiting one or two megohm resistor in series with the contact strip is recommended but not required.
  4. ESD foot grounders should be tested independently at least daily while being worn.

Advantages of ESD Foot Grounders

ESD foot grounders are often preferred over shoes because one size fits many foot sizes, thereby reducing stock holdings and simplifying operations.
ESD foot grounders also usually pass the mandatory resistance test as soon as worn, whereas some ESD shoes require a ‘warm-up period’ in order for the operator’s RG to drop below 35 megohms.
They are easily replaceable, quick to put on and less bulky than ESD shoes. They can also be easily taken off when leaving an EPA.

Disadvantages of ESD Foot Grounders

A common complaint with ESD foot grounders is that they don’t last very long. However, there are a few simple tricks to avoid a quick ‘burn-out’:

  • The useful life of an ESD foot grounder will depend a lot on the floor and its surface roughness: the rougher the floor the greater the wear. We recommend ESD foot grounders only to be used indoors where floors are usually smoother (and where the ESD foot grounder is less likely to become wet, thereby short circuiting the resistor).
  • The manner in which the wearer walks can also affect the life span of the grounder.

In summary, with reasonable care and if used only indoors, ESD heel and toe grounders can last several weeks.

Introduction to ESD Shoes

Conductive additives are blended into the sole (inside to outside) of ESD shoes and connect to the operator’s feet. ESD shoes provide an electrically conductive path from the wearer to the floor – from the operator’s socks (through the sweat layer), to the insole and then to the other outer sole.

Examples of ESD ShoesExamples of ESD Shoes

There are a number of considerations when selecting ESD shoes:

  1. Does the ESD shoe meet the ESD Association (ESDA) standards?
    Many manufactures of ESD shoes often reference ASTM standards for their ESD specification but state nothing about ESDA standards. The ESDA standards are written specifically for electronics manufacturing and handling. The walking test defined in the ANSI/ESD STM97.2-2006 is one of the most important methods for qualifying ESD shoes for use in ESD Protected Areas.
  2. Not all ESD shoes is created equal.
    There are different styles of ESD shoes. In most cases the specifications of each style will vary. While one style of ESD shoes may retain its ESD properties for 6 months or longer, another will start failing within 90 days. The performance of all styles of ESD shoes should be verified at least daily on an on-going basis and records should be kept for quality control purposes.

Advantages of ESD Shoes

The major advantage of ESD shoes is that they do not require a tab to connect to the operator. There won’t be any issues with the tab not staying inside the shoe – as soon as ESD shoes are put on, the operator is grounded.
ESD shoes are unlikely to be put on incorrectly and have a lower chance of breaking compared to ESD foot grounders. They are generally more reliable and durable.

Disadvantages of ESD Shoes

A big drawback with ESD shoes is obviously the larger initial investment cost. Especially, if you have a large number of operators working in your EPA, it will be costlier to equip everyone with ESD shoes.

Final Thoughts

Now you know all the ins-and-outs of ESD foot grounders and ESD shoes, you’re probably more confused than ever. ESD Foot Grounders in UseSo what should you go for? Well, as we said right at the beginning of this post: it depends! It depends, e.g.

  • On your budget: are you prepared to initially invest a larger amount of money or would you prefer to spread the costs evenly over time? Also consider the cost over a longer period of time (i.e. 2 or 5 years). Whilst ESD shoes are more expensive initially, ESD foot grounders have to be replaced regularly which adds up, as well.
  • On your operators: When selecting your ESD grounding device, it is a good idea to consider the opinion of the operators. They may not find the style of ESD shoe being considered to be comfortable or they may become frustrated that the ESD foot grounder that has been selected does not stay secured properly. In some facilities, many operators are temporary or on a flexible schedule that would not justify certain types of ESD footwear and it is never recommended that operators share footwear due to hygiene issues.

So have a hard look at the numbers and an honest conversation with your employees and then take it from there!

 

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