ESD in Workplace

In electronics Industry, damage by ESD outweighs many other factors. Controlling ESD not only saves money but assures the reliability of the product and future headache in down tiome and replacement of vital electronic equipment

Static electricity is defined as an electrical charge caused by an imbalance of electrons on the surface of a material. This imbalance of electrons produces an electric field that can be measured and that can influence other objects at a distance. Electrostatic discharge is defined as the transfer of charge between bodies at different electrical potentials.

Electrostatic discharge can change the electrical characteristics of a semiconductor device, degrading or destroying it. Electrostatic discharge also may upset the normal operation of an electronic system, causing equipment malfunction or failure. Another problem caused by static electricity occurs in clean rooms. Charged surfaces can attract and hold contaminants, making removal from the environment difficult. When attracted to the surface of a silicon wafer or a device's electrical circuitry, these particulates can cause random wafer defects and reduce product yields.

Controlling electrostatic discharge begins with understanding how electrostatic charge occurs in the first place. Electrostatic charge is most commonly created by the contact and separation of two similar or dissimilar materials. For example, a person walking across the floor generates static electricity as shoe soles contact and then separate from the floor surface. An electronic device sliding into or out of a bag, magazine or tube generates an electrostatic charge as the device's case and/or metal leads make multiple contacts and separations with the surface of the container. While the magnitude of electrostatic charge may be different in these examples, static electricity is indeed generated.

Figure 1
The Triboelectric Charge.
Materials Make Intimate Contact

Figure 2
The Triboelectric Charge
Material Separation

Creating electrostatic charge by contact and separation of materials is known as "triboelectric charging." It involves the transfer of electrons between materials. The atoms of a material with no static charge have an equal number of positive (+) protons in their nucleus and negative (-) electrons orbiting the nucleus.

In Figure 1, Material "A" consists of atoms with equal numbers of protons and electrons. Material “B” also consists of atoms with equal (though perhaps different) numbers of protons and electrons. Both materials are electrically neutral.

When the two materials are placed in contact and then separated, negatively charged electrons are transferred from the surface of one material to the surface of the other material. Which material loses electrons and which gains electrons will depend on the nature of the two materials. The material that loses electrons becomes positively charged, while the material that gains electrons is negatively charged. This is shown in Figure 2.

The actual level of charge is measured in coulombs. Commonly, however, we speak of the electrostatic potential on an object, which is expressed as voltage.

This process of material contact, electron transfer and separation is really a more complex mechanism than described here. The amount of charge created by triboelectric charging is affected by the area of contact, the speed of separation, relative humidity, and other factors. Once the charge is created on a material, it becomes an "electrostatic" charge (if it remains on the material). This charge may be transferred from the material, creating an electrostatic discharge, or ESD, event.

Basic Principles of Static Control

Sometimes, controlling electrostatic discharge (ESD) in the electronics environment seems to be a formidable challenge. However, the task of designing and implementing ESD control programs becomes less complex if we focus on just four basic Principles of control. In doing so, we also need to keep in mind the ESD corollary to Murphy’s law, "no matter what we do, static charge will try to find a way to discharge."

1. Design In Immunity

The first Principle is to design products and assemblies to be as immune as reasonable from the effects of ESD. This involves such steps as using less static sensitive devices or providing appropriate input protection on devices, boards, assemblies, and equipment. For engineers and designers, the paradox is that advancing product technology requires smaller and more complex geometries that often are more susceptible to ESD.

2. Eliminate and Reduce Generation

Obviously, the product design isn’t the whole answer. The second Principle of control is to eliminate or reduce the generation and accumulation of electrostatic charge in the first place. It’s fairly basic: no charge -- no discharge. We begin by reducing as many static generating processes or materials, such as the contact and separation of dissimilar materials and common plastics, as possible from the work environment. We keep other processes and materials at the same electrostatic potential. Electrostatic discharge does not occur between materials kept at the same potential or at zero potential. We provide ground paths, such as wrist straps, flooring and work surfaces, to reduce charge generation and accumulation.

3. Dissipate and Neutralize

Because we simply can’t eliminate all generation of static in the environment, our third Principle is to safely dissipate or neutralize those electrostatic charges that do occur. Proper grounding and the use of conductive or dissipative materials play major roles. For example, workers who "carry" a charge into the work environment can rid themselves of that charge when they attach a wrist strap or when they step on an ESD floor mat while wearing ESD control footwear. The charge goes to ground rather than being discharged into a sensitive part. To prevent damaging a charged device, the rate of discharge can be controlled with static dissipative materials.

For some objects, such as common plastics and other insulators, grounding does not remove an electrostatic charge because there is no conductive pathway. Typically, ionization is used to neutralize charges on these insulating materials. The ionization process generates negative and positive ions that are attracted to the surface of a charged object, thereby effectively neutralizing the charge.

4. Protect Products

Our final ESD control Principle is to prevent discharges that do occur from reaching susceptible parts and assemblies. One way is to provide our parts and assemblies with proper grounding or shunting that will "dissipate" any discharge away from the product. A second method is to package and transport susceptible devices in proper packaging and materials handling products. These materials may effectively shield the product from charge, as well as reduce the generation of charge caused by any movement of product within the container.

Controlling ESD

1. Wrist Straps

Typically, the primary means of controlling static charge on personnel is with a wrist strap. When properly worn and connected to ground, a wrist strap keeps the person wearing it near ground potential. Because the person and other grounded objects in the work area are at or near the same potential, there can be no hazardous discharge between them. In addition, static charges are safely dissipated from the person to ground and do not accumulate.

Wrist straps have two major components, the cuff that goes around the person’s wrist and the ground cord that connects the cuff to the common point ground. Most wrist straps have a current limiting resistor molded into the ground cord head on the end that connects to the cuff. The resistor most commonly used is a one megohm, 1/4 watt with a working voltage rating of 250 volts. Wrist straps should be tested on a regular basis. Daily testing or continuous monitoring is recommended.

2. Floors, Floor Mats, Floor Finishes

A second method of controlling electrostatic charge on personnel is with the use of ESD protective floors in conjunction with ESD control footwear or footstraps. The combination of floor materials and footwear provides a ground path for the dissipation of electrostatic charge, thus reducing the charge accumulation on personnel and other objects to safe levels. In addition to dissipating charge, some floor materials (and floor finishes) also reduce triboelectric charging. The use of floor materials is especially appropriate in those areas where increased personnel mobility is necessary. In addition, floor materials can minimize charge accumulation on chairs, carts, walking stackers, lift trucks and other objects that move across the floor. However, those items require dissipative or conductive casters or wheels to make electrical contact with the floor.

3. Shoes, Grounders, Casters

Used in combination with ESD protective floor materials, static control shoes, grounders, casters and wheels provide the necessary electrical contact between the person or object and the floor material. Insulative footwear, casters, or wheels prevent static charges from flowing from the body to the floor to ground.

4. Clothing

Clothing is a consideration in some ESD protective areas, especially in clean rooms and very dry environments. Clothing materials can generate electrostatic charges when they contact and separate from other objects and the clothing itself. These charges may discharge into sensitive components or create electrostatic fields that may induce charges on the human body. Although a person may be grounded, that does not mean that insulative clothing fabrics can dissipate a charge to that person's skin and then to ground. Clothing usually is electrically insulated or isolated from the body. Grounded static control garments are intended to minimize the effects of electrostatic fields or charges that may be present on a person’s clothing.

5. Workstations and Worksurfaces

Worksurfaces and workstations are important parts of an ESD protective program. Many ESDS devices and assemblies are handled, assembled or repaired at workstations.

An ESD protective workstation refers to the work area of a single individual that is constructed and equipped with materials and equipment to limit damage to ESD sensitive items. It may be a stand-alone station in a stockroom, warehouse, or assembly area, or in a field location such as a computer bay in commercial aircraft. A workstation also may be located in a controlled area such as a clean room.

The workstation provides a means for connecting all worksurfaces, fixtures, handling equipment, and grounding devices to a common point ground. In addition, there may be provision for connecting additional personal grounding devices, equipment, and accessories such as constant ground monitors and ionizers. The key ESD control elements comprising most workstations are a static dissipative worksurface, a means of grounding personnel (usually a wrist strap), a common grounding connection, and appropriate signage and labeling. A typical workstation is shown in Figure 3.

Static protective worksurfaces with a resistance to ground of 106 to 109 provide a surface that is at the same electrical potential as other ESD protective items in the workstation. They also provide an electrical path to ground for the controlled dissipation of any static potentials on materials that contact the surface. The worksurface also helps define a specific work area in which ESD sensitive devices may be safely handled. The worksurface is connected to the common point ground.

6. Production Equipment and Production Aids

Although personnel generated static is typically the primary ESD culprit in many environments, automated manufacturing and test equipment can also pose an ESD problem. For example, a device may become charged from sliding down the feeder. If the device then contacts the insertion head or another conductive surface, a rapid discharge occurs from the device to the metal object--a Charged Device Model (CDM) event.

In addition, various production aids may also pose an ESD problem. Production aids are those materials, tools and fixtures that help to produce finished products but do not become part of the finished product. Some examples are hand tools, soldering irons, tapes, solvents, and so forth.

Grounding is the primary means of controlling static charge on many production aids and equipment. The metal chassis or conductive enclosure of equipment that uses utility power is required by the National Electrical Code to be connected to the equipment ground (the green wire) in order to carry fault currents. This ground connection also will function for ESD purposes. All electrical tools and equipment used to process ESD sensitive hardware require the 3 prong grounded type AC plug. Hand tools that are not electrically powered, i.e., pliers, wire cutters, and tweezers, are usually grounded through the ESD worksurface and the (grounded) person using the conductive tools. Holding fixtures should be made of conductive or static dissipative materials when possible. If a conductive fixture is not sitting on a ESD worksurface or handled by a grounded person, a separate ground wire may be required. For those items that are composed of insulative materials, the use of ionization or application of topical antistats may be required to control generation and accumulation of static charges.

7. Packaging and Materials Handling

Direct protection of ESDS devices from electrostatic discharge is provided by packaging materials such as bags, corrugated, and rigid or semi-rigid packages. The primary use of these items is to protect the product when it leaves the facility, usually when shipped to a customer. In addition, materials handling products such as tote boxes and other containers primarily provide protection during inter or intra facility transport.

The main ESD function of these packaging and materials handling products is to limit the possible impact of ESD from triboelectric charge generation, direct discharge, and electrostatic fields. The initial consideration is to have low charging materials (antistatic) in contact with ESD sensitive items. For example, the antistatic property would control triboelectric charge resulting from sliding a board or component into the package or container. A second requirement is that the material provide protection from direct electrostatic discharge as well as shield from electrostatic fields.

Many materials are available that provide all three benefits: antistatic, discharge protection, and electric field suppression. The inside of these packaging materials have an antistatic layer, but also have an outer layer with a surface resistance generally in the dissipative range.

A material’s antistatic properties are not necessarily predicted by its resistance or resistivity. However, resistance or resistivity measurements help define the material’s ability to provide electrostatic shielding or charge dissipation. Electrostatic shielding attenuates electrostatic fields on the surface of a package in order to prevent a difference in electrical potential from existing inside the package. Electrostatic shielding is provided by materials that have a surface resistance equal to or less than 1.0 x 10E3 when tested according to EOS/ESD-S11.11 or a volume resistivity of equal to or less than 1.0 x 10E3 ohm-cm when tested according to the methods of EIA 541. In addition, shielding may be provided by packaging materials that provide an air gap between the package and the product.

Dissipative materials provide charge dissipation characteristics. These materials have a surface resistance greater than 1.0 x 10E4 but less than or equal to 1.0 x 10E11 when tested according to EOS/ESD-S11.11 or a volume resistivity greater than 1.0 x 10E5 ohm-cm but less than or equal to 1.0 x 10E12 ohm-cm when tested according to the methods of EIA 541. Be aware that the very wide range of resistance and resistivity results in a wide range of performance.

8. Grounding

In our discussion to this point, we have seen how important grounding is to effective ESD control. Consequently, effective ESD grounds are of critical importance in any operation, and ESD grounding should be clearly defined and regularly evaluated.

ESD Association Standard ANSI EOS/ESD 6.1-Grounding recommends a two-step procedure for grounding ESD protective equipment.

The first step is to ground all components of the work area (worksurfaces, people, equipment, etc.) to the same electrical ground point called the "common point ground." This common point ground is defined as a "system or method for connecting two or more grounding conductors to the same electrical potential."

Figure 3--Common Point Ground Symbol

This ESD common point ground should be properly identified. ESD Association standard EOS/ESD S8.1-1993 recommends the use of the symbol in Figure 3 to identify the common point ground.

The second step is to connect the common point ground to the equipment ground or the third wire (green) electrical ground connection. This is the preferred ground connection because all electrical equipment at the workstation is already connected to this ground. Connecting the ESD control materials or equipment to the equipment ground brings all components of the workstation to the same electrical potential. If a soldering iron used to repair an ESDS item were connected to the electrical ground and the surface containing the ESDS item were connected to an auxiliary ground, a difference in electrical potential could exist between the iron and the ESDS item. This difference in potential could cause damage to the item.

Any auxiliary grounds (water pipe, building frame, ground stake) present and used at the workstation must be bonded to the equipment ground to minimize differences in potential between the two grounds.

ESD Symbols

A final element in our static control program is the use of appropriate symbols to identify static sensitive devices and assemblies, as well as products intended to control ESD. The traditional symbols traditionally used to identify ESDS parts or ESD control materials have been replaced with newer, more appropriate symbols. ESD Association Standard ANSI ESD S8.1-1993 — ESD Awareness Symbols provides two symbols for ESD identification.

Figure 4--ESD Susceptibility Symbol

The ESD Susceptibility Symbol (Figure 4), consists of a triangle, a reaching hand, and a slash through the reaching hand. The triangle means "caution" and the slash through the reaching hand means "Don’t touch." Because of its broad usage, the hand in the triangle has become associated with ESD and the symbol literally translates to "ESD sensitive stuff, don’t touch."

The ESD Susceptibility Symbol is applied directly to integrated circuits, boards, and assemblies that are static sensitive. It indicates that handling or use of this item may result in damage from ESD if proper precautions are not taken. If desired, the sensitivity level of the item may be added to the label.

Figure 5-- ESD Protective Symbol

The ESD Protective Symbol (Figure 5), consists of the reaching hand in the triangle. An arc around the triangle replaces the slash. This "umbrella" means protection. The symbol indicates ESD protective material. It is applied to mats, chairs, wrist straps, garments, packaging, and other items that provide ESD protection. It also may be used on equipment such as hand tools, conveyor belts, or automated handlers that is especially designed or modified to provide ESD control.

Neither symbol is applied on ESD test equipment, footwear checkers, wrist strap testers, resistance or resistivity meters or similar items that are used for ESD purposes, but which do not provide actual protection.