Would it surprise you to know that a good portion of our modern world would be unable to function without the help of electrostatic discharges (ESD’s)?
No one seems to know quite how it happened, but in 1984, Scott M. Kunen applied for a patent for a “touch controlled switch” – a device he had developed to allow lamps to be turned on or off with the touch of a human hand.
Little did he know that less than a decade later, computer companies would begin adapting his technology, covering it with a variety of static controlling sheaths, creating the capacitive-touch screen, the basis for all modern smart phones, tablets and touch screen laptops.
So, here’s the truth about the myths of electrostatic discharge.
Myths About Electrostatic Discharge
Myth #1 – All ESD is bad.
The truth is, most people use ESD everyday to make phone calls, send text messages, and create emails. The touch controlled switch and the capacitive-touch screen both operate by transmitting small ESD charges from your body into the devices to signal turning a light on, or the letters or numbers desired.
Myth #2 – Electrostatic Discharge is a modern day problem.
Believe it or not, ESD and necessary precautions to prevent it are older than the United States. In the 1400’s, forts and places that stored or produced explosives, gun powder, and even sawdust could fall prey to horrible accidents, so early forms of ESD control were developed and implemented.
Except, of course, when the good guys needed to blow up the bad guys’ stash in a Hollywood movie.
Myth #3 – ESD problems are really quite rare.
In truth, because of the extremely low levels of ESD required to damage small electronics and the fact that damage isn’t always visible or catastrophic, we may never know just how prevalent ESD events are.
Visible static sparks generated by our bodies have to build up between 500-1000 volts, and it takes twice that charge to be felt. Most sensitive electronics can be damaged by 100 volts or less.
And even if the device continues to function as expected, its life expectancy may be severely diminished and in some cases, latent failure can occur, causing even more damage.
Since we cannot fully prevent or even detect an ESD event, all precautions should be taken to avoid an accidental discharge.
Myth #4 – Discharging fingers and tools before using them is sufficient precaution against ESD mishaps.
Unless you are able to hold your body AND tool perfectly still, you can (and often do) build up a replacement charge that can be discharged into your electronics.
As mentioned above, because of the negligible amount of charge necessary to potentially damage the sensitive parts, you have no way of knowing you are not transmitting a dangerous ESD. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Myth #5 – You have to touch an item to transmit an ESD to it.
As mentioned above, it takes very little for the human body to build up an electrostatic discharge. Just the movement of lifting your foot off the ground can generate up to 1,500 volts.
And that generated charge can easily leap from your hand to your unprotected device inches away.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of The Truth About 11 Myths of Electrostatic Discharge…
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