What is Electrostatic Discharge? Your Complete Guide to ESD Safety

what is electrostatic discharge

Do you ever sit down on a metal chair and feel a shock run through you? It’s not a pleasant feeling.

Now imagine that shock going to your electronics. You can probably imagine how that can be bad.

This is called electrostatic discharge.

Now you may be wondering, what is electrostatic discharge? Keep reading to find out what it is, the damage it causes, and how you can prevent it.

Let’s dive in!

What is Electrostatic Discharge?

Electrostatic discharge is what happens when the flow of electricity between two objects that are electrically charged is suddenly shorted by contact between those two objects. This happens because there has been a buildup of static electricity between the two objects.

Static electricity can build up between objects due to tribocharging or by electrostatic induction. Usually, when electrostatic discharge occurs, there is a visible spark of electricity between the two electrically charged objects that were brought together.

what is electrostatic discharge

In fact, electrostatic discharge can produce amazing electrical spark shows. In the natural world, lighting that is accompanied by the sound of thunder is a large electrostatic discharge event. Other times, electrostatic discharge may produce no sparks or noise at all.

However, even when it is unnoticed, electrostatic discharge can still cause damage to electronic devices.

Dangers of Electrostatic Discharge

Industries that use electrical devices have to constantly be on guard against electrostatic discharge. It can have harmful effects on a variety of industries.

The electrostatic discharge causes explosions in natural gas, vapors of auto fuel, and coal dust. Additionally, it can also destroy integrated circuits. Because of the dangers to products and instruments from electrostatic discharge, the manufacturers of electronics have established areas in dangerous environments that are static-free. These are electrostatic-safe areas.

Create these areas by taking measures to prevent charging and to remove static, such as:

  • Using grounding of human workers
  • Supplying antistatic devices
  • Avoiding highly charged materials
  • Controlling the humidity in an environment

Following these steps will help decrease the chances of electrical discharge.

What is Tribocharging?

Tribocharging, which is a common cause of static electricity, can be accomplished through a variety of means. Walking on a rug is an example of tribocharging, as it brings two electrically charged materials (the human and the rug) together, then quickly separates them.

Rubbing a plastic comb on dry hair is another example of tribocharging that produces static electricity. Rubbing a balloon against a piece of wool, getting up from an upholstered car seat, and taking certain types of plastic packaging off of a product all tribocharge and produce static electricity. When one of the tribocharged items touches another charged item, a spark may be seen or felt, and electrostatic discharge occurs.

How Does Electrostatic Discharge Occur?

Electrostatic discharge can also occur via electrostatic induction. This happens when an electrically charged object is near an object with conductive properties not touching the ground.

The charged object creates a field of electrostatic energy that redistributes the electrical charges on the surface of the non-grounded object. When this happens, the un-grounded object now has areas where there is an excess of positive and negative charges on it.

Electrostatic discharge may occur when the un-grounded object touches something with conductivity. An example of this is the surface of styrofoam cups. They cause electrostatic induction on nearby sensitive objects. Electrostatic discharge may occur if they are touched with anything made of metal.

Most spacecraft are prone to electrostatic discharge because of charged particles pinging against them. This causes increased charging on the surface, making them prone to electrostatic discharge.

Damage to Electronic Equipment

what is electrostatic discharge

The most dangerous part of electrostatic discharge is the spark. It can cause minor pain to people, and severe damage to electronic equipment. Fires and explosions may occur in areas with charged air and combustible gases and/or particles.

However, even without a spark, damage from electrostatic discharge can occur. Even tiny amounts of discharge can damage electronics. Either by breaking them completely or by making them more prone to degradation over time. This affects their long-term reliability and performance.

Types of ESD Events that Cause Electronics to Fail

Discharge to Electronic

This typically occurs when an electrostatic charge comes from a person to the device. For example, if they walked across the room and accumulated electrostatic charge and then began working on the device. Similarly, damage can occur if you use a charged conductive tool to work on an electronic during assembly.

Discharge from Electronic

Your electronic device can accumulate a static charge during manufacturing when rubbed against a surface or shipping in its packaging material. When things are mass-produced with automated assembly it can lead to a higher chance of component failure.

Field-Induced Discharge

When an object becomes electrostatically charged it creates an electrostatic field. Then when an electronic device is in that field and grounded, a charge transfers from the device. Then, if removed from the field and grounded again, a charge occurs from the device.

Protecting Against Damage

Because electronic discharge damages so many electronic components, it is necessary to protect against it. Protect sensitive materials during every process including:

  • Manufacturing
  • Storage
  • Shipping
  • Assembly
  • Consumption

An effective and important method of preventing electrostatic discharge is grounding. Perform grounding regularly and routinely check everything is in the proper position to be effective.

While electrostatic discharge is a natural phenomenon, it can damage electronic equipment, hurt humans, and even damage workplaces and cities. Minimized or prevent possible damage with the proper safety precautions in place. This is good for the safety of all.

Keep Your Devices Safe From Electrostatic Discharge with Hallmark Nameplate

If you have any questions about electrostatic discharge and how Hallmark Nameplate maintains an ESD-Safe environment give us a call or visit our website. We have seasoned personnel who can answer any questions you may have about our electronic assembly services.

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