Next time your gadgets act up, remember the quiet danger of ESD. Armed with these tips, keep your electronics safe and power through without the sparks!
Have your electronics ever malfunctioned or suddenly died without warning? The cause behind these failures could be electrostatic discharge (ESD) — an almost instantaneous event that can leave your devices fried. So, how can you prevent it from occurring?
What Is ESD?
Electrostatic discharge (ESD) occurs when an electric current suddenly transfers between two objects with different charges. It sounds complex, but you’ve probably experienced or seen it before — a visible spark is a telltale sign. Despite its fleeting nature, it can have lasting impacts on your electronics.
Even though your electronics might appear unharmed after an ESD incident, certain types of damage are only visible through careful inspection, meaning they’ll likely stop working soon. You can call this a latent defect — a critical issue that takes time to appear. It can be a frustrating experience, considering you may not connect the ESD with the failure after enough time passes.
It might surprise you that such a small, quick event can have lasting impacts, but most technology is sensitive when it comes to sudden electric shocks. Even a minor ESD can damage electronics permanently, so you should take as much preventative care as possible.
Who Is At Risk For ESD?
ESD can occur anytime — including while it’s still in the manufacturing process. Have you ever ordered a brand-new computer part only for it to be dead on arrival? The cause may have been ESD. Even though most facilities take care to prevent such situations, it still happens. People return electrical components all of the time for these defects.
Many electronics manufacturing companies in the United States must adhere to strict grounding standards during production. However, certain standards are optional, leaving compliance to the discretion of manufacturers. For example, the International Electrotechnical Commission has ESD protection guidelines for electronic manufacturing, but they are not mandatory.
How Does ESD Damage Electronics?
If you’re not careful, ESD can cause minor and catastrophic damage to your devices. Users typically encounter component malfunctions or system crashes, with the possibility of devices suddenly failing altogether.
The three primary types of damage are as follows:
- Shorting: Have you ever been on your computer when it suddenly shorted out? This type of damage can only occur when your electronic device is active. While it might not immediately cause permanent harm, its cumulative impact can lead to lasting issues.
- Overheating: Although you might not sense the heat from a shock, ESD can generate significant heat in an instant. Such sudden high temperatures can easily fry electronic components.
- Overpowering: ESD can exceed the power rating of your electronics, causing significant internal damage.
Static electricity is the driving force behind these occurrences. Given its potential to strike anywhere, taking extensive measures to safeguard your electronics is crucial.
Keep Your Devices Safe From ESD
How can you protect your devices from ESD if it can happen instantly and static electricity is everywhere? While it might seem impossible, you can keep them safe in multiple ways.
Prevent Electricity Buildup
Regularly monitor the electricity buildup to see if you’re at risk of ESD. Reducing this buildup could help you prevent it from happening. Thankfully, devices specifically for this purpose exist. For instance, an electrostatic field meter can detect the size of electric fields around you.
Once you figure out the potential causes of ESD, you can work to eliminate them. Common sources are dry air, synthetic materials and ungrounded equipment. While you don’t need a special device to detect these things, it can help you recognise if they’re actually the problem.
You can remove fans or install a humidifier to reduce the amount of electricity in the air. Additionally, you can clear your workspace of specific materials. For example, move highly conductive materials like plastic, foam and vinyl away from your electronics.
Shield Your Electronics
Shield your devices to protect them better. You have to isolate them from electric fields, stopping or reflecting them with particular materials. An electrostatic field meter or an ESD-event detector may help you find them and begin the process.
If the parts you order don’t typically work once you get them, consider looking into manufacturers who use shielding techniques. These could be specific anti-static containers or static-resistant packing material. Anything that protects the technology in transit gives you a much higher chance of getting something functional upon delivery.
Get The Right Equipment
There’s lots of equipment you can use to protect your electronics. For example, anti-static mats would help significantly if your tech setup is on a carpet. Alternatively, you can wear wrist or heel straps — although these are more common in professional manufacturing.
You can accidentally cause ESD if you touch your electronics when you’re not grounded. To prevent this, minimise your electric potential by discharging any static electricity you’ve built up. Since metal is a good conductor, you can touch it to balance your charge. However, ensure the surface doesn’t have paint or a coating.
Protect Your Electronics From ESD
Although ESD can happen anytime, you can take measures to protect your devices. Minor things like using an anti-static floor mat or moving your fan away from your electronics can significantly lower the chance of component failure.