We’ve all had it happen. We’re opening our car door on a cold day, or we’ve just shuffled in our socks to the door and the moment we reach out, pop! A small snap of static electricity reminds us that we’re alive.
Think back to when you were a kid – your dad or uncle perhaps, showed you the power of static electricity by rubbing a balloon on your head and sticking it to the wall or causing your hair to rise up of its own accord. These tricks with static electricity are great for a chuckle or two. When you’re rubbing the balloon or your socks on the floor, it creates an imbalance of electrons, and that potential energy rests on your body or the surface of the balloon, waiting to discharge. Eventually it does and this sudden restoring of the electrons to their neutral state is called an electrostatic discharge or ESD.
That little tiny jolt of static electricity seems small but is really 3,000 volts – for humans, it’s the amperage that gets you. Unfortunately, for small electronics: circuit boards, semiconductors or even simple devices around the home, much smaller static discharges – ones too light to ever be sensed by our skin – can cause minor errors, or even completely destroy a device’s usefulness. In this situation, ESD is no laughing matter.
In a business—especially one that manufactures or handles a lot of electronics, but even in a typical office environment—this kind of damage can get expensive quickly.
So today, we’re going to talk about the three pillars of controlling ESD: Grounding, Isolation and Prevention.
If you’ve worked with small electronics much at all, you’re probably aware that there are certain things you should do to prevent damage to that circuitry. You’re probably familiar with the third prong on many electrical cords. Just like the grounding plug diminishes the risk of you being electrocuted, grounding yourself and your work area keeps your circuit boards and electrical components safe by discharging any built up static electricity.
At a bare minimum, utilizing a grounding wrist band is extremely helpful. Many sellers include disposable bands when they ship electronic components, but we highly recommend owning and utilizing your own personal metal ground wrist strap that connects directly to your work surface with a personal ground cord. Always make sure the wrist strap is snug and is touching the skin to allow the charge to dissipate.
Static charges cannot penetrate containers that are made of conductive materials or have a conductive layer. That’s why electronic components usually arrive in metallized shielding bags or a conductive tote box. Don’t forget you must ground them before opening. And don’t set these components just anywhere. What many people fail to realize is that simple items that can be found on any normal work surface – even an ESD mat – can also cause unnecessary static buildup that could lead to a fatal discharge.
Transparent tape, plastic sandwich bags, water bottles, Styrofoam coffee cups, even paperwork or blueprints can hold a static charge just waiting to wreak havoc on unsuspecting components. And even if you are properly grounded, holding the components too close to your clothing can also result in an ESD.
Always take proper precautions when working on electronic components. Follow all of the tips above, and if you’re going to be working on several components or multiple projects, we recommend investing in some ESD bench and table matting for your work surface. It integrates well with a personal ground cord and wrist band and is the best solution for ESD prevention. A few dollars spent here as well as on ESD protective containers can mean plenty of money saved on ruined components as well as lost time while waiting for replacements.
Following these simple suggestions can mean a much safer environment for both you and your electronic components – and you can leave the static charge at home for parlor tricks.
Contact us today for more information; we would love to be your full service, seamless ESD solution provider.