Tips to Prevent Surges rom damag to Your Electronics

Beware! Don't let your electronics be damaged.

Beware! Don’t let your electronics be damaged.

Baby it’s cold outside!  You can add the much talked about “polar vortex” to your list of enemies of your electronics.  It’s not that the cold specifically is the problem, but the dry air that comes along with the cold upping the chances of electrostatic discharge (ESD) which can result in damaged electronics.

Did you know humans can hear static between 2,000 and 3,000 volts, feel static above 3,000 volts, and actually see static at 5,000 volts?  The staticy party balloon may be funny, but damaged equipment?  Not so much.

There are two types of damage that occur from ESD:  The first is Catastrophic Damage which happens immediately and makes your equipment inoperable.  If this happens the damage is typically at a semiconductor junction or solder joint.    The good news about catastrophic damage is at least you know right away you have a problem.

The second, more insidious damage is Latent Damage in which the equipment sustains some damage but continues to function.  It will likely eventually fail at which point you may not have any idea what caused the original damage.  In either case, you are looking at unexpected and unwanted expenses for either replacement or industrial electronic repairs, not to mention the cost of down-time.

Some simple facts to know about ESD and how to protect your expensive electronic equipment:

  • Typical sources of static electricity in a manufacturing setting include:  Plastic or painted work surfaces; Flooring of vinyl tiles or sealed concrete;  Synthetic fabric clothing;  Packaging made of plastic or foam;  Tools such as heat guns, blowers,  CRTs, spray cleaners, and brushes;  Chairs made of vinyl, finished wood or fiber-glass
  • Digital circuits are more susceptible to electrostatic discharge than analog circuits.
  • To check for static charge problems regularly use an electrostatic field meter.
  • Watch humidity levels. When the relative humidity dips below 30% ESD is likely to occur.
  • Work stations should use grounded static dissipative mats on work surfaces and have antistatic floor surfaces; avoid stainless steel work surfaces.
  •  Workers should use a grounded antistatic wrist straps, wear antistatic smocks and shoes, and use antistatic tools, carrier tape, and bags.
  • Keep sources of static electricity at least three feet away from static-free work stations
  • Using an air ionizer can help neutralize electrostatic discharges however this requires regular testing to make sure ions are properly balanced.

These are just some basics.  ESD can cause a host of nightmare scenarios including gas, fuel vapor and coal dust explosions as well as failure of electronic devices such as life-saving medical equipment.  You can see that controlling ESD is important for many reasons.

There are a number of companies that sell ESD protective garments and products as well as references such as American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards to help.

Damaged industrial electronic equipment such as controls, power supplies, drives, and touch screens  are often repairable.  Get your damaged equipment evaluated to see if the damage is catastrophic or if repairs are possible.  Repairs are usually more cost effective than purchasing new and ACS Industrial repairs come with a two year warranty.

The Case of the Mysterious Servo Drive Repair

Damaged Hypertherm Servo Drive

Burnt components in Hypertherm drive

Ever wonder what happens to your servo drive when the motor is bad or there are line spikes?  Besides the obvious (it stops working) nearly every component inside gets damaged, burnt or blown to bits, often beyond recognition.  What then?

What if the part numbers are no longer visible and there are no schematics?  How do you know if this drive is repairable?  That’s when you will be glad to have an experienced repair technician on call who is one part electronics whiz and one part Sherlock Holmes.  The short answer is yes; this drive is most likely repairable and let me prove it to you.

Check out the pic of the Hypertherm servo drive that came out of a U.S.-based farm equipment manufacturing plant.  It is worse than it looks in the picture…. blown IGBT, open 3 phase bridge, old e-caps, blown resistors, blown film cap, blown TVS diode, bad opto, and PCB/trace damage for starters.  To up the challenge factor, many of the component part numbers had been obliterated.

As bad as it may seem, this kind of servo drive repair is not unusual.  The risk comes from potentially using replacement parts that are not the right value which could result in the drive still not working or, worst case, cause it to blow up again.  Some experience and a little sleuthing will get the right component part numbers to avoid this trouble.  In this case, we had a similar drive on hand with much less damage which made it fairly simple to identify the correct part numbers.  Mystery solved.

This Hyperthem drive was repaired, tested and sent back into action manufacturing farm equipment.  We are glad this manufacturer can get back to business keeping our farmers supplied with sturdy equipment.  Don’t wanna mess with our groceries!