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Common Mistakes in ESD Control And How to Avoid Them

Static Control In Electronic Environments

Static control in electronic environments is not always as simple and straightforward as we think it may be. With hundreds of different types of static control products available in the market, it can be quite challenging to understand how to use every one of these products correctly. Not only that, but also knowing when ESD products are required in different situations, when and how to test them, and even understanding the differences between each one (for example, ESD floor tiles seem similar to ESD floor matting at a glance, but each have very distinctive attributes and purposes). Often, it may be that we don’t follow simple practices that could lead to costly damage to electronics. When this happens, we may realise our mistake after, but other times we may not and continue to do the same in the future.

Most misunderstandings and issues generally tend to arise when a company implements an Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) Control Program with the aim of improving their operations. Effective ESD control can be a key to improving:

  • Productivity
  • Quality
  • Customer Satisfaction

This is because when an organisation invests in ESD protective products and/or equipment, they tend to misuse them due to a lack of ESD training. Misuse of ESD protective products and/or equipment wastes invested money and can also be causing more harm than good.

Mistakes can cause major issues, especially when it comes to the handling of static sensitive components. Despite using the correct static control equipment, your devices and components could be hampered by simple mistakes that could have been easily avoided in the first place. This could lead to expensive replacements of electronics and even equipment. Therefore, when working in the electronics industry, there are certain rules that need to be followed when it comes to work hygiene and practices with electronics.

In places where electronic devices and components are assembled or produced, Electrostatic Protected Areas (EPAs) need to be created. Failing to do so will render the devices or components faulty or completely broken.

To help you improve your operations in your static controlled area and avoid making simple mistakes, this guide will help you understand some of the most common mistakes that we have come across and ways for how to avoid or resolve these.

Not Knowing The Difference Between ESD And Anti-Static

Most operators know the difference between “ESD” and “anti-static”. However, a few of those may be confused with the two terms and the difference between them. Often, this is due to a lack of ESD training and guidance. Understanding what “ESD” and “anti-static” means is easy to learn and remember once you know what each of them are.

The two terms ‘ESD’ and ‘anti-static’ can be easily confused because they are so similar in what they do. However, there are defined differences as you can see below.

E.S.D – E.S.D, otherwise known as Electrostatic Discharge, is an uncontrolled surge of “static” between objects with different voltage potentials. ESD allows a safe and effective route for the static charge to the ground.

Anti-Static – Minimal generation or retention of a “static” charge. Anti-static products prevent generation and accumulation of static charge as the user is moving around.

Not knowing the difference between the two terms can pose a problem, especially if the person is required to purchase the correct static control equipment or if they work with static sensitive components on a regular basis.

It is crucial that you understand the distinct differences between the two terms to prevent damage caused through the lack of awareness. Not all static control products offer grounding capabilities, which presents an issue if people in your EPA do not understand this.

One way to resolve this is by providing basic ESD training for all operators within the static controlled area. On top of this, you should ensure that your operators know the equipment required before entering the EPA. If you would like to learn more about Electrostatic Discharge, head over to our blog post What Is Electrostatic Discharge (E.S.D) | Bondline Electronics.

Insulators In The Electrostatic Protected Area (EPA)

Workbench with insulators - Bondline

If there are non-ESD items (insulators) such as tape, document holders, carboard or plastic boxes on the workstation within the static controlled area, you could be putting your static sensitive electronics at risk to ESD damage.

In addition, personal items in the form of radios, picture frames, purses, or water bottles will most likely have insulative qualities, in which case should be removed from the workbench immediately. These items are not essential to get your job done and all of them pose a risk to your sensitive components.

Any item on your workbench that isn’t anti-static or has ESD qualities should be immediately removed from the workbench. If the item is kept in its place, it could generate a static charge which could disperse and transfer onto a static sensitive electronic, damaging it.

Therefore, it is an absolute must that all non-ESD items are kept outside of the Electrostatic Protected Area (EPA) to ensure a static-free work area. Otherwise, costly replacements could incur.

If you do require insulative equipment in the EPA, there is a possibility to control them, but it is much easier to just remove them.

To control insulators in an EPA:

  • Always keep insulators a minimum of 30cm from ESDS items; or
  • Replace regular insulative items with an ESD protective version; or
  • Periodically apply a coat of topical Staticide.

There are ESD products in the market that you can use as an alternative to your non-ESD items that are suitable to use in an EPA. For example, if you require a form of storage to replace your plastic/carboard boxes, there are many anti-static storage solutions to this – see here! Likewise, stationery and office ESD protective alternatives can be found here.

There may be a time when you are unsure of whether an item is insulative. In this case, use a surface resistivity meter to check the resistance of the item to determine whether it is conductive, static dissipative or insulative.

Tip: Think before entering your EPA! Are you bringing in items that are highly insulative? If you are, ensure they are kept outside of the EPA.

Poorly Fitted Wrist Straps

Wearing An Anti-Static Wrist Strap - Bondline

Since a majority of ESD damage occurs from people mishandling static sensitive items correctly, it is imperative that anti-static wrist straps are worn as they are the first line of defence against ESD!

However, there are a number of issues we see repeatedly when it comes to anti-static wrist straps:

  • Operators feel restricted by the wrist strap and stop wearing it altogether.
  • Operators leave their workstation and forget to re-connect their wrist strap when returning to their workstation.
  • Operators don’t pay attention when fitting their wrist straps resulting in an incorrect fit.
  • Operators use ripped wristbands or patched-up coiled cords.

Remember: If your wrist strap is worn incorrectly (or not at all), charges on your body will not dissipate to ground resulting in dangerous ESD exposure to sensitive ESD components.

Before using a wrist strap, ensure that it is in good condition with no signs of wear and tear and test its effectiveness with a wrist strap tester. It is recommended that you test your wrist strap before each use and keep records of the testing. Periodic testing is not required if a continuous monitor is used.

Wiggling the resistor strain relief portion of the coiled cord during the test will help identify failures sooner. Analysis and corrective action should take place when a wrist strap tester indicates a failure. An even better solution is the use of continuous monitors that will alarm if the person is not properly grounded. Some monitors will beep if a discharge occurs or when a certain voltage level of electrostatic charge is on the person.

When testing a wrist strap, make sure you are wearing it and it is connected to ground via a cord. If you do not test your wrist strap before using it, you could inevitably be putting your static sensitive items at risk.

“Because wrist straps do not last forever, they should be tested periodically. A good testing program not only tests the wrist strap itself, but also indicates the quality of the skin contact when performing a system test. Wrist strap bands that are soiled, incorrectly sized or improperly worn will show resistance higher than acceptable.”

[CLC TR 61340-5-2 User guide Wrist strap clause 4.7.2.4 Wrist strap testing]

Often, you may find that it is the bonding between your skin and wrist strap that is causing issues. One way to resolve this is by using an anti-static hand lotion. The static dissipative formula moisturises the skin for better bonding between the skin and wrist strap, improving the overall performance.

ESD Awareness/Warning Signs In Electrostatic Protected Area (EPA)

ESD signs are a must-have in facilities that have chemical storage and electrical areas that need to be static-free. Many people do not realise that the ESD awareness/warning signs in their EPA are insulative and pose a risk to their static sensitive electronics. Although, there can be some confusion when it comes to ESD awareness/warning signs. There are some signs in the market that have anti-static properties which can be placed in an Electrostatic Protected Area (EPA). However, others like ours are made from insulative materials such as PVC or foam.

When looking to purchase an ESD sign, ensure that you check its technical specifications to see whether the sign is anti-static or in fact insulative. Most ESD awareness/warning signs are placed at the entrance of the EPA – this would be the most appropriate area to place your insulative sign.

If you are unsure of whether your ESD sign is insulative or anti-static, you can always conduct a quick surface resistivity test with a surface resistivity meter.

Wearing Anti-Static Clothes, But With No Grounding Equipment

An easy misunderstanding – wearing anti-static clothes solely will provide full protection and shielding against static discharge. Although, this is not the case. We have come across so many people in the electronics industry who believe that they do not need a wrist strap, cord, etc as long as they are wearing anti-static clothes.

It is important to note that anti-static clothing cannot ground an operator to Earth without the proper electrical bonds to a grounding system. Regardless of the type of clothing, its material and so on, grounding devices must be used in conjunction with the anti-static clothing. A good grounding system will include either the appropriate flooring, wrist straps, cords, and bonding points or hip to cuff grounding. Without this grounding, all components, and devices that the operator comes into contact with are prone to ESD.

Always ensure that the operators in the EPA are kitted out in the appropriate clothing, footwear, and grounding wrist straps. As with most things, ESD clothing does not last forever and its ESD properties will degrade overtime. Therefore, periodic testing should be conducted in your EPA.

Using ESD Foot Grounding, But With No Appropriate Flooring

Abeba Shoes at Bondline

In most electronic manufacturing industries, the static generated when people walk is the biggest contributor to random ESD events (or problems caused by electrostatic discharge). For this reason, a static-protective floor—or an ESD floor/footwear combination—is the cornerstone of any effective static-control program.

An electrostatic discharge can have a highly damaging effect on electrical components, costing manufacturers a lot of money. There can also be more serious consequences within medical applications if an electromagnetic charge causes components within medical equipment to fail, and in some chemical applications a small spark electrostatic discharge can set an entire laboratory or warehouse up in flames. Therefore, it is crucial that you invest in the right ESD solutions for your needs to prevent catastrophic damage.

A common misconception is how ESD foot grounding makes the wearer completely exempt from the damage that ESD can cause. In this case, operators may walk around the static controlled environment whilst handling static sensitive electronics, wearing the correct ESD foot grounding, but with no ESD flooring system / static-protective floor.

Similarly to ESD clothing, ESD foot grounding also lacks a grounding path to Earth. If there were to be a lack of ESD flooring / matting, then the static charge will not dissipate. This could cause damage to the static sensitive devices that the operator may be handling.

The majority of ESD foot grounding in the market still requires the wearer to be grounded. This is where a good ESD flooring solution can help! Although a more expensive option, it makes an excellent long-term solution to protecting an area from ESD. Plus, ESD flooring tends to be more durable and performs better for heavy foot traffic areas, lasting for many years to come.

For a much more cost-effective flooring solution, you can always opt for ESD matting. ESD matting is supplied in many different forms, usually as either a solid sheet, multiple layers, or single layer polymer. ESD matting is typically manufactured from either a vinyl or rubber material, with each providing differing levels of ESD protection and characteristics.

Either one you choose, ESD flooring is a great investment to make and is a smarter way of combating electrostatic discharge in the workplace.

Just to recap, here are some of the benefits of utilising ESD flooring as part of your ESD control plan:

  • Protection of sensitive electrical components from damaging static electricity.
  • Protection of personnel.
  • Save money on replacing or repairing electronic equipment that has failed or been damaged due to static electricity.
  • Creating a 100% efficient static controlled environment with ESD footwear.

Cleaning ESD Equipment With Standard Household Cleaners

Household Spray - Bondline

Cleaning an ESD mat is straightforward, right? Not quite so. Cleaning and treating your ESD equipment are vital processes of your ESD Control Routine. These processes are important because they not only remove contaminants and excess static charge, but also maintain the longevity and effectiveness of your static control equipment – often extending the shelf-life. Whilst this is one thing, it is important to remember to use the right type of cleaning products to treat your ESD equipment. Otherwise, you could be doing more harm than good.

The use of standard household cleaners on ESD equipment, such as ESD matting, can put an ESD Control Program at risk and damage the ESD properties of the items. Many household cleaners contain silicone or other insulative contaminants which are great to use on surfaces in your home but can be damaging to ESD equipment. The problem is that silicone and other chemical contaminates can create an insulative layer which reduces the grounding performance of the mat. Therefore, the mat will become more susceptible to static charge build-up which can then dissipate and transfer onto the static sensitive item, damaging it.

Using the correct form of cleaning products is particularly important if you have invested a lot of money into ESD control equipment. You wouldn’t want to spend a large amount of money to then coat it in an insulative layer by using household products. There are many specially formulated ESD cleaners available on the market, you can check them out here. Only clean your ESD working surfaces using those cleaners.

Changing Cleaning Contracts

When a company changes cleaning contracts, it can pose an issue if the new cleaners have had no ESD training. Sometimes companies forget about this and only realise when it is too late. If the cleaning contractors have had no ESD-training, they can use a cleaning product that leaves a layer of non-conductive residue behind, thus increasing the surface resistance to ground. If a non-conductive polish is used, the floor could need stripping and retreating. This will lead to costly replacements and precious time will be lost.

To prevent this from happening, always ensure that you check with the cleaning contractors to see whether they have had ESD training. If they haven’t, you may need to find another cleaning contractor who has received ESD training.

Poor Maintenance Of Ionisers Or Out-Of-Balance

Ionisers play a crucial role in providing absolute static elimination in an EPA. Offering ultimate protection for highly sensitive electronics, in which wrist straps and mats just can’t fully eliminate alone. In order for ionisers to perform their best, they must be maintained and kept in-balance on a regular basis.

If the ionisers are poorly maintained and/or out-of-balance, then they can produce non-neutralising charges, which defeats the objective of having an ioniser completely. This results in placing an electrostatic charge on items that are not grounded, potentially discharging and causing ESD damage to nearby sensitive items.

We recommend that you clean the emitter pins and filters using the appropriate tools to effectively eliminate this risk from happening. You should also think about creating a regular maintenance routine to keep on top of this. By taking these steps, you will extend the lifespan of your ionisers significantly while ensuring full efficiency.

Tip: Consider using ionisers with “Clean Me” and//or “Balance” alarms. These will alert you when maintenance is required.

Lack Of ESD Testing

Testing is a crucial element in your ESD Control Program. You should be aiming to test your ESD products regularly to ensure optimal ESD control in electronics environments. Quite often, we hear about companies investing in static control equipment, but they do not take the necessary procedures to either test the equipment regularly or even purchase testing equipment in the first place. With the absence of testing equipment and a regular testing schedule, the investment of ESD products would all be for nothing.

We cannot emphasise enough how important it is to regularly check your static control products and have the right ESD testing instruments. Testing your static control products will ensure your components and devices are always safe from static discharge. Plus, testing your equipment will save you time and money in the long run, without the hassle of having to replace expensive equipment and electronics. Wear and tear, along with loose connections of grounding cords and other problems can fly under the radar should your equipment not be periodically tested.

To avoid this problem, make sure that you put in a compliance verification plan. The quickest solution is to invest in testing equipment, whether that be a surface resistivity kit or wrist strap test station. Browse our website – https://www.bondline.co.uk/category/esd-testing – for ESD testing equipment or contact our team should you need any further ESD testing advice.

Improper Packaging For Components

Electrostatic discharge or ESD packaging comes in a variety of packaging containers such as static shielding bags, moisture barrier bags and anti-static bags – static shielding bags and pink anti-static bags being the most commonly used in the electronics industry.

ESD bags are considered as one of the most important components in packing, storing, and transporting manufactured products such as electronic components and devices. Static shielding bags are widely used in the electronics industry, mainly due to its faraday cage effect. This special property enables charges to be conducted onto the outside of the bag, whilst the static sensitive components or devices on the inside are safe. It is vital that you ensure your static shielding bags remain undamaged and fully intact, otherwise you could damage its faraday cage effect which will compromise the shielding qualities. If you identify any holes, wrinkles, or tears on the bags, then the bags must be thrown away and replaced. Creases, holes, or tears on your static shielding bag can break down the integrity of the metallised shield which is not good as this can lower its effectiveness. The more you use metallised shielding bags, the more they will deteriorate with use over time. Because of this, you must monitor them regularly to check for their effectiveness. Typically, a static shielding bag can be used around 6 times before it needs to be replaced, however this is dependent on a few factors. After around 6 uses, they will need to be replaced. So ensure that you are careful when re-using any ESD bags. If you are under any impression that the bag has been compromised, throw it away and use a new one.

Another mistake we have seen is operators using the incorrect type of anti-static bag. An example of this is an operator using a pink anti-static bag for storing static sensitive components such as a PCB. Using a pink anti-static bag for electronic components will not provide static protection and can damage the components – pink anti-static bags should only be used for storing nuts and bolts, etc.

Tip: Try to clearly label all of your bags that are in use with ESD warning labels. This can tamper-proof and clearly distinguish your devices whilst in transit or storage!

To Conclude

We hope that this article has helped you understand some of the most common mistakes that you may have overlooked with static control and ways on how to resolve them. These mistakes are just a few that we have come across, but there are many more out there.

To avoid making these mistakes, it is important to train all personnel using ESD products and/or equipment to follow proper ESD control programs, and maintenance procedures to avoid common ESD control mistakes.

Avoiding these mistakes can help both extend the life of your static protecting products and prevent you from having an unexpected electrical fault from a component or device.

Stay in tune for our next article where we will be focusing on the surprising industries where static has caused problems.

For static control advice or product help on protecting your workplace from ESD, feel free to give us a call on 01793 511000 or email us at sales@bondline.co.uk where we’d be happy to help!

 

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