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Reliable Ways to Eliminate Electrostatic Discharge in Electronics Manufacturing

EmilyNewton
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components on a circuit board

Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is a naturally occurring phenomenon that becomes problematic for electronics manufacturers if not managed. Even relatively low voltages can damage circuit boards, especially if they occur several times. Implementing strategies to eliminate ESD is a proactive method of keeping companies profitable and minimizing ruined components. Here are some trustworthy tips to try.

Establish Protected Areas

One worthwhile option is to create dedicated sections of a manufacturing plant that serve as ESD-protected areas (EPAs). All people, surfaces, objects, and sensitive devices are kept at the same potential via grounding in those places.

Using signs is an effective way to warn people about EPAs while reminding employees of the specific precautions associated with entering them. For example, the rules for going into an EPA may involve donning specific clothes, shoes or wrist straps.

Additionally, maintaining an EPA usually involves banning certain materials from it. Expanded polystyrene generates large amounts of static electricity, as do some types of bubble wrap.

Consider Using an Environmental Monitoring Approach

Keeping an eye on the humidity level in the environment can also help manage ESD. Research shows that relative humidity levels of 50% and higher reduce static buildup in people. However, maintaining lower levels can cause issues, including making solder paste dry out.

Investing in a solution that tracks the humidity levels in real-time can help electronics manufacturers keep the environment consistent to avoid electrostatic discharge. Internet of Things (IoT) products can send the data straight to smartphones or web portals, allowing authorized parties to receive up-to-the-minute details.

Keep Sensitive Electronics Away From Moving Air

Air movement — such as that caused by fans or climate control systems — can increase electric charge buildup. Think about posting visual warnings to remind people that electronic components should not come near air-producing devices.

Similarly, workers must not clean electronics components with compressed air. Doing that can also contribute to electrostatic discharge.

Prevent ESD When Transferring Components

There’s understandably great emphasis placed on where electronics assembly occurs. Managing those areas is undoubtedly important. However, people who work in electronics manufacturing should also think about how static buildup could happen when transferring components on wheeled carts.

When a company polled electronics manufacturers to learn their top concerns, electrostatic discharge generated by carts with casters emerged as a troubling matter. Fortunately, some brands offer their products in antistatic compounds. Choosing those could be a practical way to combat ESD that often gets overlooked. Such casters do not generate enough voltage to cause static electricity buildup.

Create an ESD Control Program

No single measure can eliminate all electrostatic discharge risks. That’s why it’s wise to devote the time and effort to make a thorough ESD control program. The ANSI/ESD S20.20 standard is an excellent starting point.

It relates to the specific measures that protect sensitive components from shocks. Companies can also take steps to get certified as following the standard, which can result in a competitive advantage. However, moving ahead with that approach requires a third-party audit, so it’s an involved process.

Conduct an All-Encompassing Risk Assessment

The electronics industry has certainly experienced tremendous progress over the years. For example, 3D printing allows manufacturers to make customized devices quickly or engage in rapid prototyping to develop the best version of a product. However, even with innovations emerging as game-changers, the need to safeguard against ESD remains.

As manufacturers seek to eliminate electrostatic discharge from their facilities, they mustn’t only focus on the most obvious offenders. It makes sense to look for ways to decrease ESD on the assembly line. However, it’s also necessary to target the less-obvious places, such as the parts of factories where finished items get packaged. Using antistatic bags and different materials can manage risks in that area.

Use ESD-Safe Mats

There’s an entire industry of ESD-safe products that are typically implemented into leading manufacturing facilities. Some efforts to deal with electrostatic discharge require extensive remodelling, such as replacing the flooring or installing carpeting with an antistatic coating.

However, manufacturers can also make progress with accessories that require no permanent changes to the work environment. Mats for floors and workbenches are good examples. They feature electrically conductive carbon fibres that neutralize charges.

Get Employees Involved in ESD Mitigation

Even if employees know the broad issues of ESD in manufacturing, they may not understand how some seemingly harmless movements could make them a bigger contributor. For example, a person can generate a charge just by walking across the floor. Plus, they can raise their measurable voltage by hundreds of volts if sitting on a workbench and lifting both feet off the ground simultaneously.

Another challenge is that people cannot see or feel ESD. It may help to relate electrostatic discharge in an electronics factory to germs at a hospital. Medical workers take various precautions to lower the risk of pathogens, even though they can’t see them. Remind employees that it’s not sufficient to protect against ESD most of the time. Any strategy must combat it in any place where people handle sensitive electronic components.

Choose an ESD Control Manager

An earlier tip suggested building an ESD control program at a company by following well-known, trusted standards. That’s a smart step to take, but it’s even more likely to show positive outcomes if a specially appointed person oversees the program and ensures people follow the rules.

That manager can also take a highly granular approach to deal with ESD. For example, they might create specific checklists for every workstation or job role and post them around the facility to ensure everyone remembers and abides by the necessary precautions. The individual can also keep records of audits, employee training programs or any other date-based events.

Check the Measures for Effectiveness

In addition to enacting all or some of these precautions, it’s vital to verify they have the intended results. One way to do that is to use a static field meter to see if generated charges stay below acceptable limits. Additionally, some tools detect ESD events and their associated metrics. Using those could show that preventive measures are paying off or alert people that new procedures generate additional charges.

Electrostatic discharge is a manageable issue. However, factory leaders will most likely get the best outcomes when they take the matter seriously and identify steps to take for each processing step involving handling delicate electronics.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience writing articles for the tech and industrial sectors. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily at https://revolutionized.com/subscribe/

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