Static electricity may be as natural to humans as our skin—one body is capable of storing a 20,000V charge—but it can wreak havoc on solid state electronics.
When an electrostatic discharge (ESD) passes between two electrically charged objects, the current will seek a path to ground with as little impediment as possible. In controlled environments, this could mean the ESD current will travel to ground via the metal frame of a device. Current isn't discriminatory, however, and will sometimes travel on every available path—including through integrated circuits. In this case, the current will burn holes right through your circuitry.
The potential results are bad and worse: catastrophic failure or a latent defect.
The ESD Impact on Electronics
If a component fails catastrophically, like our aforementioned circuits with visible burn holes, the device will fail QA testing. At least in this case, the faulty compenent will be identified early and major repair costs can be saved.
Latent defects are trickier—and often far more expensive to deal with—because the damage isn't immediately apparent.
Let's say your instrument gets a zap, an ESD that wasn't catastrophic at the time. The instrument burns in and passes testing.
The true danger comes when it fails during operation. If a blender fails, dinner might be ruined. But if a navigational instrument on an airplane fails, you could end up in a life or death situation.
Since all materials are sources of ESD it's unlikely you could ever completely eliminate it from a job site. Instead, you have to try and protect against it.
Protecting Against ESD
In the controlled environment of electronic assembly, an ESD-safe work station is grounded to direct current away from sensitive components. The bench is grounded, the technician wears a grounding strap, and the printed circuit board is designed with a ground plane (which serves as a return path for current from the components on the board) as a feature of the circuitry.
Electrostatic dissipative or anti-static tools and supplies can also be used to further protect electronic components during production or repair.
Puritan offers a line of ESD applicators that includes seven different styles with ESD-safe plastic shafts. The polymer of these shafts is formulated with a thermoplastic compound of polypropylene blended with chemically coupled glass fibers to reduce static.
Puritan’s anti-static swabs have shafts that incorporate carbon, making five styles that are inherently “static-free.” In these, carbon reduces or eliminates buildup of static electricity.
Guarding critical instruments against ESD as much as possible is crucial. Protect your process and product through training, conscientious ESD-safe planning, and the right selection of tools for the job.
By choosing Puritan swabs for your controlled environment, you can be sure you have laid the groundwork for success.