25 Feb

Building an Electrostatic Protected Area (EPA)

How to Build an Electrostatic Protected Area

Almost everyone’s familiar with the image of a white “cleanroom” or “bunny suit.” They show up in just about every depiction of people working in computer facilities in popular entertainment, and it’s a highly sought after specialty ‘armor’ in the video game Fallout 4.

What most people may not know is that the suits are designed not to protect the person inside, but the delicate circuitry they’re working on.  But not everyone who works with small, sensitive electronics needs to spend money for a full-on, disposable suit.

If you work with a lot of small electronics, a more affordable solution is to put together an electrostatic protected area (or EPA).  This doesn’t have to take up a lot of space and can actually be quite portable.  It just needs to be done properly.

Let’s start with the basics and work our way up to the safest and most expensive options.

Simple EPA

At a bare minimum, all personnel working within an EPA should have a personal grounding wrist strap.  These make sure any excess energy is grounded – forced away – from the electronic devices and circuit boards being handled.

Connected to that grounding strap is a dissipative mat. Dissipative means quite simply to disperse or disappear.  A properly designed and implemented dissipative mat does for the surface what the grounding wrist strap does for the person – protects sensitive electronics from electrical discharges.

Mats can be purchased pre-cut or in rolls, depending on what your needs are.

Attached to both of these is a common point cord, also referred to as a grounding cord.  These cords are fully insulated and take any electrostatic charges away from the person and the ESD mat to be grounded safely.

Often these simple options are packaged together as a field service or workstation kit that can be purchased as one unit to avoid forgetting any key elements.

Now that we’ve established the minimum requirements for an EPA, let’s look at additional options that can be easily implemented within your system to further insure the safety of the components and reduce the risk and excess cost of replacement.

From the Ground Up

For more permanent EPA installations, there are a variety of flooring options that can be integrated.  Everything from conductive and dissipative vinyl tiles to anti-static carpeting that can be utilized in the work area or just in the area surrounding your EPA system.  You can even add flooring with a high-end moisture barrier as well as anti-static protection.

Sole Protection

One of the most obvious ways we build up a potentially dangerous electrostatic discharge is just by walking.  Static charges build up naturally.  While a personal grounding wrist strap will help dissipate the charge, there are additional options for your feet.

Shoe covers with conductive strips are a quick, low cost addition to an existing EPA system and great for alleviating the risk of allowing visitors into the EPA area.

For employees whose duties mean they spend substantial time in the EPA area, you can add foot and heel grounders, toe grounders and sole grounders.

For even more protection, grounders can be upgraded to ESD shoes.  These come in a variety of styles for your business setting – even weatherproof boots and hiking models.

Additional Considerations

Adding isolation protocols and ESD protective containers can also complement your EPA system and reduce the chance of any accidental charges building up or discharging into your electronic components.

Of course grounding should be a consideration with any additions to your EPA system.  Whether it’s flooring or matting, grounding cords with a built in resistor add that much more protection to your area.  And the more working parts you have, the more grounding capability you require.

There are simple options to increase the grounding ability of any size EPA system, as well as monitors that can be added to the system – at the personal or system-wide level.

And if you really feel the need to cover yourself top to bottom, there are more workable clothing options as well.

Contact us today for more information; we would love to be your full service, seamless ESD solution provider.

18 Jun

We don't need no stinking wrist straps, do we?

Q: I have read the White Paper 1: A Case for Lowering Component Level HBM/MM ESD Specifications and Requirements and found the ESD Control Programs and Resulting Data (Chapter 1, Page 20-23) particularly interesting.

Assuming a production environment with ESD flooring, footwear (and clothing), by the time a person walks to a workstation and sits down, the voltage of this persons should not exceed 500V (or even 100V as seen in Figure 3). That would mean even a seated operator in this case would not need to wear wrist strap, that theory would be correct right? After sitting down and this person sits on a stool (feet off the floor) with resistance to floor < 1.0x10exp9ohms, any HBM risk would be further reduced wouldn’t it?

A: Hello ****.  Nice try.  Even if you have an ESD flooring system and even if you have ESD footwear and even if you have an ESD task chair with ESD casters or an ordinary task chair with an ESD chair cover (very effective as well), ESD smock on… you STILL have to wear the wrist strap when seated at an ESD workstation.

The only time, per ANSI/ESD S20.20-2007 page 4, 8.2 Personnel Grounding, that personnel in the EPA (ESD Protected Area) should be without a wrist strap is when doing standing or walking about operations, and then two conditions must be met;
·         “When the total resistance of the system (from the person, through the footwear and flooring to the grounding / Equipotential bonding system) is less than 3.5E7 Ω…”
·         “When the total resistance of the system (from the person, through the footwear and flooring to the grounding / Equipotential bonding system) is greater than 3.5E7 Ω and less than 1.0E9 Ω and the BVG is less than 100 v per 97.2…”

This is what is said about seated personnel:

“When personnel are seated at ESD protective workstations, they shall be connected to the grounding / Equipotential bonding system via a wrist strap system.”

Hope this helps.   I guess you could say redundancy is good in the realm of ESD.  It’s the weak link in the chain that will cause an ESD event.  If someone lifts their ESD footwear from the ESD flooring system while seated, they can tribocharge to above 100 volts.  It takes only 0.3 seconds of charge time to exceed 20.20 requirements.  If personnel is seated and getting up to go to break, it seems best to stand up, remove the wrist strap from the wrist, carefully set it down and walk away from the ESD workstation.  Worst case is to take the wrist strap off while still seated, set it down, put your hand on the ESD workstation and near ESDS devices, then stand up out of the task chair before leaving the work station.  Under proper conditions and with good bench mats, clean ESD floors, ESD task chairs, etc. in place, no ESD event.  The problem with ESD events is that we cannot see, hear, feel them.

The only alternative to not wearing a wrist strap while seated may be the used of a smock with a grounding coil cord attached to it.  You can see the footnotes on the 20.20 document at the bottom of page 4 for further details.

 We adhere to and meet or exceed requirements put forth in ANSI/ESD S20.20-2007 or IEC 61340-5-1, which assumes a target HBM of 100 volts and less.

16 Jun

How do we test ESD conductive or dissipative gloves?

Q: How do we test ESD conductive or dissipative gloves?

A: The glove industry offers gloves for the protection of ESD sensitive items by using materials that will provide specific measurable “intrinsic electrical resistance of gloves and finger cots” as per ANSI/ESD SP15.1-2005.

Some materials are being used which reduce the amount of charge generation “and/or have static dissipative properties to reduce charge accumulation”, such as Nitrile or vinyl.  I would image cotton could be effective based on the layer of sweat on our skin.  But if you require ESD gloves in the Static Conductive range, those would need to be specifically made for that purpose.  I’m currently working on nailing down an exact value of what these gloves should read and how that affects the ESD testing of it and the closest I could find comes from a test fixture from Prostat called the CAFÉ, or Constant Area & Force Electrode.  They recommend using 1.5 to 10 volts when the measurement of glove in combination with personnel through a wrist strap assembly without the 1 meg Ω resistor is less than 1 meg ohm.  They use 10 volts between 1.0E6 Ω and 1.0E7 Ω.  Then they use  100 volts for above that.  This is fairly easy to do using a sophisticated megger like the 801 in manual mode, otherwise the mere testing of the glove per 15.1 could be a challenge.

Here’s what confuses about ANSI/ESD S20.20-2007 and -1999 …

 What’s the range of the glove and finger cots?  Only in 20.20-2007 Tables 1, 2, and 3 final column does it give us “Required Limits” to measure up against.  So then what?  Go to manufacturing specs.  Some list a value, some don’t.  Be careful how they’re categorized; anti-static (describes that it’s low charging but doesn’t really quantify a resistance range unless you’re talking about packaging), static dissipative (1.0E6 Ω to 1.0E9 Ω ??), and static conductive (less than 1.0E6 Ω but greater than what??  1.0E4 Ω rings a bell, but I’d hope it’s not less than that.).

Ok, so for our Static Conductive or black finger cots, they measure between 1.0E6 Ω and 1.0E8 Ω per ASTM D257 and meet the static decay specs per MIL-STD-81705B from 5000 to less than 100 volts in less than 0.01 seconds.

So here’s the upshot;   My improvisation in measuring ESD gloves and finger cots involves using the PFA-861-H Handle (see attached), a DUT (esd glove), and a wrist strap without the 1 meg ohm resistor for measurements known to be below about 1.0E7 Ω  , I hook that up to my meg ohmmeter and see what I get (see attached photos).

wand wand-and-sd-glove wand-and-sc-glove


This ESD TR20.20-Handbook has a wealth, a plethora of information about ESD gloves and finger cots, such as referring to yet other standards such as ANSI/ESD STM11.11 Surface Resistance Measurement of Static Dissipative Planar Material , and let’s not forget ANSI/ESD STM11.12 Volume Resistance Measurement of Static Dissipative Planar Materials, oh, and of course ANSI/ESD STM11.13 Two-Point Resistance Measurement of Static Dissipative and Insulative (what the??) Material, then it goes on to tell us to use the CAFÉ method, which is specifically designed for resistance measurements at the thumb and fingertips, which can yield much lower results than those obtained by the above test BECAUSE THEY INVOLVE A REAL LIVE PERSON, THE WAY THEY ARE ACTUALLY USED IN PRACTICE!  Oh, and they say you can only measure once due to a “person’s skin emissions”.  Fair enough.  Time to reorder?

So…  If this info helps anybody, let me know and send over a comment.

05 Dec

People are a great generator of static electricity

Q: How does ESD Gloves, Aprons and Bunny Suit help for static discharge? WIll it not be mandatory to wear the wrist band, footwear and heel strap along with it?

A: People are a great generator of static electricity, among other things. The ESD gloves, aprons, etc. enable you to work and interface with sensitive components and equipment while protecting them from an ESD event as well as other things like contamination from human skin, street clothes, dirt, dust, etc. It will be mandatory for personnel ground to wear a wrist strap when in seated operations in a manufacturing environment or in the field. For personnel ground in an environment where you are standing or walking about, you do NOT have to wear a wrist strap if you have sufficient ESD footwear in conjunction with an ESD flooring system. The above requirements are per ANSI/ESD S20.20-1999 Table 1.

05 Dec

ESD Garments in addition to Wrist Straps and Footwear/Grounders

Q: Is it necessary to use the ESD garments? Is it not possible to ground the charges developed through a person’s clothing through the human body which is grounded through a wrist strap, footwear or heel strap while working at an EPA?

A: This depends who’s in charge.  If the ESD manager wants to require ESD personnel clothing and redundancy of ESD compliance for improved ESD control, they are the one to determine that.  More and more I’m seeing the use of ESD smocks outside of the cleanroom environment.  The company and their clients are reaping the benefits of increased quality control and reduced “out of box failures”.  Cloth is proven to be a better conductor of ESD charges than some types of clothing, but not everybody wears cotton.  Some people have dry skin and the ESD garments are a good idea for added protection and a requirement in some environments.

I’d like to add that when seated in an EPA, you must have your wrist strap on regardless of ESD Garments, ESD footwear, ESD flooring system, etc.  That’s a requirement of ANSI/ESD S20.20-2007 page 4 section 8.2 Personnel Grounding; “When personnel are seated at ESD protective workstations, they shall be connected to the grounding/equipotential bonding system via a wrist strap system.”

Further, per Table 2 note 2, “For situations where an ESD garment is used as part of the wrist strap grounding path, the total system resistance including the person, garment and grounding cord shall be less than 3.5E7 ohms.”