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Conductive Floors and Static Dissipating Mats: Do They Really Work?

Anti-static equipment is utilised across many industries particularly in electronics manufacturing where static sensitive components are at a high risk to ESD damage. Two products which are particularly in the limelight of static control are conductive floors and static dissipating mats. In essence, these products are the core essentials to any ESD-safe establishment. Many companies incorporate these grounding solutions to their workplace in the hopes to eliminate ESD. However, there has been some ambiguity regarding their ability to mitigate static charge effectively. Therefore, due to this conception, we will touch on these in more depth and delve into how they function and help to mitigate ESD.

Anti-Static Mats

Electrostatic discharge (ESD) can be a problem for many appliances. A component and another object, like a hand, can conduct electrostatic charges by contacting each other, and the difference in ground potential between the two objects affects rapid charge transfer. When an ESD occurs, touching a computer component with your hand has the potential to seriously damage it. By properly grounding devices, such as anti-static mats and wristbands, ESD issues can typically be avoided. It is proven that electrostatic discharge in ESD-protected areas can be controlled effectively with anti-static mats and ESD flooring. Static electricity can be safely discharged by antistatic matting, which decelerates and regulates discharge. During assembly of static sensitive components, they also help protect these devices by preventing or eliminating surface wear and tear which could have otherwise happened with the lack of matting. Furthermore, anti-static mats are used in a variety of industries (including flat panel manufacturing and the alike) as part of the ESD protective gear. The resistance of anti-static mats typically ranges from 100 kilo-ohms to 100 mega-ohms, depending on their manufacturer. The performance of ESD matting is based on the material it’s constructed from, as well as its electrical properties and abilities to withstand heat, chemicals and mechanical abrasion. Generally, anti-static mats have a low electrical resistance of between 0.1 and 1000 MegaOhm (MΩ). The use of anti-static matting prevents the build-up of electrostatic charge in the body by dissipating this charge and thus prevents a sudden discharge between electrically charged objects on contact.

Mats designed to eliminate static electricity usually have at least two layers of compounds. Despite the different layers, the bottom layer is typically conductive, allowing a quick discharge path to Earth, while the top layer is typically static dissipative. Standard mats will not contain these special compound layers and therefore cannot mitigate static charge.

Anti-static mats are also called grounding mats and are used to reduce the risk of electrostatic discharge while working with equipment that is electrostatic sensitive. Static-dissipating mats are intended to drain static electricity from items placed on their surfaces. To ground an item effectively, a mat must be conductive or dissipative and coupled with a suitable grounding point. Rubber and vinyl ESD mats are common options. As with anti-static mats, you will typically find a grounding stud on the mat that can be connected to a common ground via a wrist strap and grounding cord. Anti-static mats are especially useful in the field and are an essential part of any ESD Protective Area.

An anti-static mat can be used effectively by following these steps:

Step 1:  A workbench’s desktop surface should be covered with an anti-static mat. The mat’s connection to the ground should be plugged into a wall socket. If the mat has only an alligator clip, then you will need to move on to the next step.

Step 2:  The anti-static mat should be placed underneath the computer or electrical component to be assembled. Make sure the electrical component or device is not plugged into electricity.

Step 3:  A wrist strap that protects against static electricity can be worn on your wrist. The alligator clip on the wrist strap should be attached to the anti-static mat. At this point, you are ready to get started working on the component you are working on.

Moving on, ESD floors vary in terms of their properties and characteristics compared to an anti-static mat. We will discuss them in further depth below.

ESD Floors

ESD flooring, also known as conductive flooring, is a flooring material with a grounding resistance of less than 1.0 x 10⁶ ohms, a floor designed to prevent, mitigate, dissipate, conduct, remove or ground the body, furniture, moving carts and equipment with excessive static electricity. ESD flooring gives a much higher level of protection than anti-static matting. This is because it is actually grounded. Interlocking ESD floor tiles, for example, have millions of small stainless steel fibres running all the way through them. The tiles are then laid out on top of a conductive grid. Earth points are then laid down every 80 -100 m² so that the electricity flows out through the conductive grid. This is much better than anti-static matting because the stainless steel fibres run all the way through each tile, so their conductive performance never diminishes.

Essentially, an ESD and anti-static floor both prevent a person from building up a charge as they walk across the floor so they do not get a shock when they touch something that conducts electricity. However, the difference between them is that an anti-static floor has a top-layer coating that dissipates static across its surface so you never build up enough charge to get a shock.

An ESD floor, on the other hand, is a much more robust solution that delivers greater long-term results because it is actually Earthed. It is important to note that floors should never be purchased based solely on whether they are described as conductive or static dissipative. Often, the two words are confused which is why it is so crucial that you check the description and specification before purchasing. Perhaps this could also be why there is some ambiguity surrounding ESD flooring’s performance since the floor has been mislabelled.

If static sensitive items need to be moved throughout a facility or ESD-protected area, an ESD floor is essential to enable a safe and comfortable workflow. Due to the low profile design, foot traffic and cart traffic can easily pass through these corridors, which can also be used for complete pathways along equipment or assembly lines.

Types of ESD Mats and Floors

With the wide range of anti-static mats and ESD floors available in the market, it can be hard to differentiate each one, let alone know each of their intended functions. When it comes to anti-static matting, it is important to note that there are two forms of matting, one for use on a floor and one for use on a table / bench. Often at times, this can confuse people as floor and table matting can look very similar to each other. It can even be generalised that anti-static matting can be used for anything whether it be for flooring, shelving or benches; despite it highlighting its specific use. This again has led to many people being uncertain about the function of ESD matting.

Let us help you identify the different types for you. Generally, ESD mats are divided into two categories: ESD work surface mats and ESD floor mats.

Bench Mats

ESD work surface mats, also known as table top mats, are typically thinner than floor mats. They are usually available in either smoothly or lightly embossed finishes. Bench mats’ surfaces are generally embossed to help to reduce the surface’s reflective properties, reducing glare and improving operator comfort – aiding workers with complicated electronic assembly tasks. With that in mind, bench mats tend to come in bright, light colours to help workers find smaller components on their surface, and are designed to be used with other ESD controls such as wrist straps and grounding points.

Floor Mats

A floor mat designed for electrostatic discharge protection safeguards sensitive equipment and components against damage caused by static discharge. ESD mats that provide standing comfort for operators during processing or assembly are much more ergonomic than standard mats.

Underfoot ESD mats are usually larger and thicker than table mats as they need to absorb more wear and tear. They have more durability and, because of their strong formation, they often last longer too. They feature heavier embossing, or sometimes grooves, to prevent workers from slipping. Additionally, many come with anti-fatigue cushioning to improve operator comfort so that long periods of standing at a time is more comfortable and improves the operator’s health. Colour-wise, they typically come in dark colours to hide dirt and scuffs from workers’ shoes. However, the darker colours can make seeing components challenging if they accidentally drop from the worktop onto the floor. ESD floor mats are designed to work as part of a wider ESD protection scheme. When using ESD floor mats, you should always ensure to use ESD footwear in conjunction with the floor matting. This allows full grounding and Earthing so you can be sure you are static-free when moving around the EPA.

Let’s move on to ESD flooring:

ESD flooring, on the other hand, is quite different to ESD matting. Although very similar in terms of function, ESD flooring is the most effective solution for static control. ESD flooring provides a much higher level of protection against ESD and is therefore a great long-term solution opposed to anti-static matting. Their exceptional durability allows them to withstand high levels of foot traffic and withheld much of the static control equipment you may have such as trolleys and storage cabinets.

Conductive Mats (ESD Mats)/Static Dissipative Mats

Conductive mats and static dissipative mats protect delicate equipment, such as computers and explosive chemicals, by pulling static electricity off workers before they touch such items. When walking, changing positions, or swivelling a chair around, humans produce static electricity rapidly. Electrical energy can be passed through the smallest touches onto sensitive equipment, causing processors to ruin or flammable chemicals to ignite. We provide both static dissipative and electrically conductive mats to avoid these issues.

The use of conductive mats near ultra-sensitive equipment, therefore, is recommended. The proper functioning of conductive matting and dissipative matting requires grounding. Our products consist of ground cords, heel grounders, and wrist straps.

People who work on field repairs can use specialised anti-static work mat kits as a portable and relatively compact solution. In addition to being low-cost, ESD mats can be very useful for hobbyists and other purposes where a full ESD bench cannot be justified.

The anti-static mats usually come with the standard snap-on connections so that they can be connected to the grounding points on the special plugs that use the mains part connections. A wrist strap can also be attached to the anti-static mats. It is possible to provide a workable anti-static solution using this method to work with electronic boards and assemblies.

Static charges that may appear on the anti-static work mat can be safely dissipated by the static dissipative surface. This surface is not conductive, since it would dissipate charges too quickly, as well as provide a surface that could cause short circuits across the board, again resulting in damage.

Conclusion

We hope that this article has shed some light on any of the misconceptions you may have had around ESD matting and flooring. We can conclude that ESD mats and floors do mitigate ESD effectively and any ambiguity around them is most likely due to simple misunderstandings of the products. However, it is important to note that on rare occasions ESD mats / floors can have imperfections or be damaged upon arrival. If this is the case, contact your supplier as soon as you can to discuss the matter.

If you do find that your anti-static mat or ESD floor isn’t quite working as it should be, consider these three things:

1) Determine whether you are using the right type of ESD mat / floor. Often it could be the incorrect material or perhaps mislabelled as one thing but really it is actually something else.

2) Conduct a test on your ESD mat / floor by using a Surface Resistivity Meter.

3) If all else fails, contact the supplier of the ESD mat / floor. The supplier should be able to address the issue and help you resolve situation.

Bondline Can Help with Bench and Flooring Solutions!

We’re always on hand to help with you with anything static control wise! Our trusted experts in ESD can discuss requirements and solutions for needs whether that be for floors or benches. Plus, we’re happy to give you advice and answer any of your questions you may have – just give us a call on 01793 511000 or email us at sales@bondline.co.uk.

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