Static electricity may be as natural to you as your skin—one body is capable of storing a 20,000 volt charge—but it can wreak havoc on solid state electronics. Who hasn't felt that extra zap from a peck on the cheek or a brush from a pet?
But static electricity, more formally called electrostatic discharge (ESD), can wreak havoc on our electronic devices.
When an ESD passes between two electrically charged objects, the current will seek the most direct path to ground. In controlled environments, this could mean the ESD current travels through the metal frame of a device.
But current isn't discriminatory. It sometimes travels on every available path - including through integrated circuits. When this happens, the current burns holes right through your circuitry.
The potential results? Catastrophic failure or a latent defect.
The ESD Impact on Electronics
If a component fails catastrophically, the device will fail QA testing. At least in this case, the faulty component is identified early, saving major diagnostic repair costs.
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 didn't cause catastrophic damage 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 steer 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.
Another great tactic is to use electrostatic dissipative or anti-static tools and supplies to further protect electronic components during production or repair.
These tools include ESD applicators. Puritan's line of applicators features 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.
Anti-static swabs also help reduce risk. Puritan products have shafts that incorporate carbon, making five styles that are inherently “static-free.” In these, carbon reduces or eliminates buildup of static electricity.
It's crucial to guard critical instruments against ESD as much as possible. Protect your process and product through training, conscientious ESD-safe planning, and the right selection of tools for the job.
Learn more about how to protect your controlled environment from ESD, contact a Puritan specialist today.