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Conductors & Insulators

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We’ve previously published a post that explains when you need ionisation. However, following this post, we got a number of questions that prompted us to dive a bit deeper into the whole subject of ionisers. Basically with this post we’re starting right at the beginning so stay tuned…
Before talking about ionisers in more detail, we need to have a little chat about the types of materials that can be found in an EPA – conductors and insulators:

Conductors

• Electrical current flows easily
• Can be grounded

Materials that easily transfer electrons (or charge) are called conductors and are said to have “free” electrons. Some examples of conductors are metals, carbon and the human body’s sweat layer. Grounding works effectively to remove electrostatic charges from conductors to ground. However, the item grounded must be conductive.
The other term often used in ESD control is dissipative which is 1 x 104 to less than 1 x 1011 ohms and is sufficiently conductive to remove electrostatic charges when grounded.

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

Insulators

• Electrical current does not flow easily
• Cannot be grounded

Materials that do not easily transfer electrons are called insulators and are by definition non-conductors. Some well known insulators are common plastics and glass. An insulator will hold the charge and cannot be grounded and “conduct” the charge away.
Both conductors and insulators may become charged with static electricity and discharge. Grounding is a very effective ESD control tool; however, only conductors (conductive or dissipative) can be grounded.

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

Insulators, by definition, are non-conductors and therefore cannot be grounded. Insulators can be controlled by doing the following within an EPA:
• Keep insulators a minimum of 31cm from ESDS items at all times or
• Replace regular insulative items with an ESD protective version or
• Periodically apply a coat of topical antistat

“Process essential” Insulators

When none of the above is possible, the insulator is termed “process essential” and therefore neutralisation using an ioniser should become a necessary part of the ESD control programme.

Examples of some common process essential insulators are a PC board substrate, insulative test fixtures and product plastic housings.
An example of isolated conductors can be conductive traces or components loaded on a PC board that is not in contact with the ESD worksurface.
Reduction of charges on insulators does occur naturally by a process called neutralisation. Ions are charged particles that are normally present in the air and as opposite charges attract, charges will be neutralised over time.
A common example is a balloon rubbed against clothing and “stuck” on a wall by static charge. The balloon will eventually drop. After a day or so natural ions of the opposite charge that are in the air will be attracted to the balloon and will eventually neutralise the charge. An ioniser greatly speeds up this process.

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

What is an ioniser?

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

IoniserAn ioniser creates positively and negatively charged ions.

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

Summary

This citation from the ESD handbook provides an excellent summary:
The primary method of static charge control is direct connection to ground for conductors, static dissipative materials, and personnel. A complete static control program must also deal with isolated conductors that cannot be grounded, insulating materials (e.g., most common plastics), and moving personnel who cannot use wrist or heel straps or ESD control flooring and footwear. Air ionization is not a replacement for grounding methods. It is one component of a complete static control program.
Ionizers are used when it is not possible to properly ground everything and as backup to other static control methods. In clean rooms, air ionization may be one of the few methods of static control available.” (ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20 Ionization, section 5.3.6.1 Introduction and Purpose / General Information)

Now that you know what conductors and insulators are, how to treat them in an EPA and when to use ionisation, the next step is to learn about the different types of ionisers available. However, as this post is already quite long, we will save that part for next week so stay tuned…. Click here to read the follow-up post.

Storage and Transport of ESD Sensitive Items

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We thought today we could focus on ESD during storage and transport. If you have read our recent post on Tips to Fight ESD, you will remember how important it is to protect your ESD sensitive items when leaving an EPA. Yet, too often we see customers who have the perfect EPA, but when it comes to transporting and storing their precious components, it’s all falling apart.

1. Packaging required for transporting and storing ESD sensitive items

During storage and transportation outside of an EPA, we recommend that ESD sensitive components and assemblies are enclosed in packaging that possesses the ESD control property of shielding.

Remember:

  • In ‘shielding’ we utilise the fact that electrostatic charges and discharges take the path of least resistance.
  • The charge will be either positive or negative; otherwise the charge will balance out and there will be no charge.
  • Charges repel so electrostatic charges will reside on the outer surface.


2. The Faraday Cage effect

A Faraday Cage effect can protect ESD sensitive items in a shielding bag or other container with a shielding layer. To complete the enclosure, make sure to place lids on boxes or containers and close shielding bags.

ESDPackaging
Cover must be in place to create Faraday Cage and shield contents.

3. Types of shielding packaging

The below list gives a few examples of what types of shielding packaging is available on the market. This list is by no means complete; there are many different options out there – just make sure the specifications state “shielding” properties.

  • Metal-In Shielding Bags
    ESD bags which protect ESD sensitive items. The ESD shielding limits energy penetration from electrostatic charges and discharge. They offer good see-through clarity. Available with and without dissipative zipper.
  • Metal-Out Shielding Bags
    Integral antistatic and low tribocharging bags which will not electrostatically charge contents during movement. Bags have an aluminium metal outer layer of laminated film. Available with and without dissipative zipper.
  • Moisture Barrier Bags
    Offer ESD and moisture protection and can be used to pack SMD reels or trays. Check out this post for more information on MBB and ESD Control.
  • Bubble Shielding Bags
    These bags combine the “Faraday Cage” and mechanical protection. They shield about twice as well as normal shielding bags of equivalent size.
  • Component/Circuit Boards Shippers
    These boxes offer an efficient way of shipping or storing ESD sensitive circuit boards and other items. They provide ESD shielding with the lid closed. The foam cushioning reduces stress from physical shock.
  • In-Plant Handlers/Storage Containers
    Shield ESD sensitive items from charge and electrostatic discharges (with lid in place). They provide ESD and physical protection for ESD sensitive circuit boards.


4. Additional options for storing ESD sensitive items

Do you have the following in place?

  • ESD flooring
  • Grounded personnel (using foot grounders). Read this post for more information on how to ground moving personnel.
  • Grounded racking

TEAMOperator wearing foot grounders

IF (and this is a BIIIG IF) the above requirements are fulfilled, you can use conductive bags or containers to store your ESD sensitive items. Conductive materials have a low electrical resistance so electrons flow easily across the surface. Charges will go to ground if bags or containers are handled by a grounded operator or are stored on a grounded surface.
Conductive materials come in many different shapes and forms:

  • Conductive Black Bags
    Tough and puncture resistant bags which are made of linear polyethylene with carbon added. The bags are heat sealable.
  • Rigid Conductive Boxes
    Provide good ESD and mechanical protection. Boxes are supplied with or without high density foam for insertion of component leads or low density foam which acts as a cushioning material.
  • PCB Containers
    Are flat based and can be stacked. They are made of injection moulded conductive polypropylene.

Again, there are many more options available on the market so make sure you do your research.

Note: we do not recommend using conductive packaging to transport ESD sensitive devices. Also, pink antistatic and pink antistatic bubble bags are not suited for storing or transporting ESD sensitive components.

5. Final thoughts

Packaging with holes, tears or gaps should not be used as the contents may be able to extend outside the enclosure and lose their shielding as well as mechanical protection.
Also, do not staple ESD bags shut. The metal staple provides a conductive path from the outside of the ESD bag to the inside. The use of a metal staple would undermine the effectiveness of the ESD bag making a conductive path for charges outside the bag to charge or discharge to ESD sensitive components inside the bag. To close an ESD bag, it is recommended to heat seal or use ESD tape or labels after the opening of the bag has been folded over. Alternatively, you can use ESD bags with a zipper.

Picture5Sealing ESD Bags the correct way

One final word of warning:
When ESD sensitive items are unpackaged from shielding bags or other containers, they should be handled by a grounded operator at an ESD workstation

 

 

What you need to set-up an ESD Protected Area

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An ESD Protected Area (EPA) is a defined space within which all surfaces, objects, people and ESD Sensitive Devices (ESDs) are kept at the same potential. This is achieved by simply using only ‘groundable’ materials, i.e. materials with an electrical resistance typically of less than 109 ohms, for covering of surfaces and for the manufacture of containers and tools. All surfaces, products and people are bonded to Ground. Bonding means linking, usually through a resistance of between 1 and 10 megohms. Movable items, such as containers and tools, are bonded by virtue of standing on a bonded surface or being held by a bonded person. Everything that does not readily dissipate charge must be excluded from the EPA.

Example of an EPA Area:

EPA Area

1. Bench Top Ionisers 8. Ground Cords 15. Floor Mats
2. Packaging Containers 9. Overhead Ionisers 16. Wrist Straps
3. Earth Bonding Point Bar 10. Shielding Bags 17. Foot Grounders
4. Testers and Monitors 11. Data Acquisition 18. Lab Coats
5. ESD Tape 12. PCB Storage 19. Floor Maintenance
6. Worksurface Mats 13. Signs and Labels 20. Waste Bins and Liners
7. Surface Resistance Meters 14. Floor Marking Tape 21. Document Handling

What’s Happening to Electronics Device ESD Sensitivity

Factory ESD control is expected to play an ever-increasing critical role as the industry is flooded with even more HBM (Human Body Model) and CDM (Charged Device Model) sensitive
designs.

ElectroStatic Discharge (ESD) is the hidden enemy within your factory. You cannot feel or see most ESD events but they can cause electronic components to fail or cause mysterious and
annoying problems. There are two types of ESD damage: 1) catastrophic failures, and 2) latent defects. By definition, normal quality control inspections are able to identify catastrophic failures, but are not able to detect latent defects.

In general, the ESD susceptibility of modern electronics are more sensitive to ElectroStatic Discharge; that is the withstand voltages are lower. This is due to the drive for miniaturization and with electronic devices operating faster. Thus the semiconductor circuitry is getting smaller. What’s happening currently? The width of electronic device structures continues to get smaller. Intel began selling its 32nm processors in 2010 that would be 0.032 micrometer equal to 0.000032 millimeter or 0.00000128 inch.

See www.ESDA.org, the ESD Association’s latest White Paper “Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) Technology Roadmap” Revised April 2010” forecasts increased ESD sensitivities continuing the recent “trend, the ICs became even more sensitive to ESD events in the years between 2005 and 2009. Therefore, the prevailing trend is circuit performance at the expense of ESD protection levels.” The White Paper’s conclusions include:

  • With devices becoming more sensitive through 2010-2015 and beyond, it is imperative that companies begin to scrutinize the ESD capabilities of their handling processes. Factory ESD control is expected to play an ever-increasing critical role as the industry is flooded with even more HBM (Human Body Model) and CDM (Charged Device Model) sensitive designs. For people handling ESD sensitive devices, personnel grounding systems must be designed to limit body voltages to less than 100 volts.
  • To protect against metal-to-device discharges, all conductive elements that contact ESD sensitive devices must be grounded.
  • To limit the possibilities of a field induced CDM ESD event, users of ESD sensitive devices should ensure that the maximum voltage induced on their devices is kept below 50 volts.
  • To limit CDM ESD events, device pins should be contacted with static-dissipative material instead of metal wherever possible.

See May 2010 article by Dr. Terry L. Welsher The “Real” Cost of ESD Damage which includes “Recent data and experience reported by several companies and laboratories now suggest that many failures previously classified as EOS [Electrical Overstress] may instead be the result of ESD failures due to Charged Board Events (CBE). Some companies have estimated that about 50% of failures originally designated as EOS were actually CBE or CDE [Charged Device Events].”

ANSI/ESD S20.20, the ESD Association document covering the development of an ESD control program, lists numerous ESD Protected Area (EPA) ESD control items. Each company can pick and choose which ones are appropriate for their program. The selection of specific ESD control procedures or materials is at the option of the ESD Control Program Plan preparer and should be based on risk assessment and the established electrostatic discharge sensitivities of parts, assemblies, and equipment.” [ANSI/ESD S20.20-2007 Annex B] “An EPA [ESD protected area] shall be established wherever ESDS [ESD Sensitive] products are handled. However, there are many different ways to establish ESD controls within an EPA. Table 3 lists some optional ESD control items which can be used to control static electricity.” [ANSI/ESD S20.20-2007 section 8.3 ESD Protected Areas (EPAs)]

There are companies with good ESD control programs who are pleased with their quality and reliability results. But to maintain that level, they would be wise to consider ESD control program improvements. Now might be a good time to do that.

From published article “Now is the Time for ESD Control Programs to be Improved” by Fred Tenzer and Gene Felder. See full article at InCompliance Magazine– September 2012

Reducing Floor Maintenance Costs while Improving ESD Performance


by Rick Cardinale, Bird Electronic

Bird Electronic, founded in 1942 by J. Raymond Bird, soon became a leader in radio frequency instrumentation. Today, Bird also has moved into digital instrumentation test equipment.

With the development of digital instrumentation came the increased need for controls to prevent ESD events. Improving ESD protection has been an ongoing process since the late 1980s. In 1997, the company determined that an automated PCB production line would be installed and that the entire manufacturing area should be protected against ESD.

This decision led to an evaluation of ESD protective flooring. In 1998, 20,000 square feet of conductive floor tile were installed in the main production area. To help brighten the area, white tile was selected. The floor resistance measured less than 1.0 × 10^6 ohms.

High-Cost Maintenance

A bright, high-gloss appearance was part of the selection criterion for the floor. While the electrical properties were unchanging, by 1999, the floor was starting to dull. It was being maintained like a regular tile floor. No waxes or finishes were used; however, the tile manufacturer did recommend using buffing pads.

After consulting with the tile manufacturer and the installer, maintenance was increased to sweeping clean and damp mopping two times per week and buffing once per month. Monthly floor maintenance was $1,700 per month, a $20,400 annual expenditure.

In late 1999, the maintenance schedule was modified to add more buffing since this was the only way to keep the floor shiny. The floor now was swept and damp mopped weekly and buffed twice per month. The floor was clean and shiny, but the cost went up 41% to $2,400 per month, a $28,800 annual expenditure.

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