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.