Are you planning a DIY project lately? Do you consider yourself quite a handy-man in handling electronic components? Do you understand electronic device service ethics and minimum level of precautions? We believe you do. If you consider a little more ideas and knowledge-base won’t hurt, this page will benefit you. This page will help you understand what ESD truly means by and probably help you succeed your project safely.
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Electro Static Discharge (ESD) is Lethal
You’ve probably heard the term ESD or electrostatic discharge, or at the very least you’re aware of the danger of touching computer parts without touching the metal of your computer case. Gotta touch the case first, right?
Maybe you’re scared to death of it frying your computer parts. Maybe you have no fear of it at all, slinging computer parts around with reckless abandon. Maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about right now.
ESD is a more lethal threat than most professional techs know, doing untold damage that might not show itself for months to come. You won’t see the damage happen and you won’t feel it. ESD truly is the silent killer.
What is ESD?
Every material you can think of has the potential to carry to an electrical charge. Clothes, people, coffee cups, even air all have the potential to pick up a charge. Electrostatic discharge occurs when one of these materials transfers its charge to another material.
A quick bit about the different types of materials in relation to static electricity. Materials fall into two different categories, conductors and insulators.
Conductors are things like metal and human sweat that can transfer electricity easily. Insulators are materials like styrofoam and many plastics that have a harder time transferring electricity.They will still hold an electric charge if they are imbued with one. Think about rubbing a balloon on your head in order to get you hair to cling to the balloon. Both of these carry risk in terms of ESD, as the problem occurs when an item with a negative charge gets close to an item with a positive charge and they interact causing an electrostatic discharge.
The most common example of an ESD event is when you walk on a carpet then touch a door handle and feel a slight shock. This is actually a fairly large discharge as it takes 3,000 volts for a human to feel the effects. Meanwhile, circuits can be deformed by as low as 10 volts, depending on their ESD safety rating.
Is ESD really a problem?
The Electrostatic Discharge Association says that ESD is the leading cause of failures in integrated circuits in the field. Despite this, I have personally heard dozens of people say some version of “I never worry about it, and it’s never been a problem.”
ESD today is a bit like Germ Theory was 150 years ago. Before Louis Pasteur came along and proved that germs were responsible for the vast majority of illness, everyone thought that tiny invisible creatures that we couldn’t hear or feel causing that much damage was downright ludicrous. They knew about bacteria, they just thought they were harmless.
Similarly, most people interested in tech today are aware of ESD, but many don’t believe that it is much of a threat. Largely, this is because those people never see the damage caused by ESD. Not just because it happens at a microscopic level, but because the damage may not initially present itself. It may take days, weeks, months or even years for ESD damage to cause failure in a device. This is commonly called latent damage, as opposed to catastrophic damage which is immediately noticeable. In fact, it is more common for an ESD event to cause erratic or undesired behavior in electronics.
ESD losses are staggering
It is estimated that high-tech companies lose between 4-6% of their gross sales to ESD damage, around 5 billion dollars a year. The thing is the majority of that loss does not happen at their facilities. Manufacturers of processors, boards and other chip-based parts have stringent ESD safety in place. The majority of the loss comes from the field where techs performing installation and repair often ignore ESD safety procedure. One company estimated that a 5 dollar part could cost them up to $30,000 to replace because of ESD damage.
Obviously, that’s an extreme example but imagine wasting hundreds of dollars on an SSD upgrade only to find you may have shortened the life of you fancy new drive. The worst part is you wouldn’t know it until it was too late.
Common Causes of ESD
Many things can contribute to ESD. One of the more common, yet overlooked, factors is humidity. Dryer environments allow for a larger buildup of static energy, as moisture in the air often has a negative charge that dissipates built up positive energy in bodies moving through it.
Various materials in a workplace often contribute to ESD. We are surrounded by common insulators, such as synthetic clothing, paper, plastic bottles and even our own bodies.
Many normal work activities create a static charge that builds up in our bodies and clothing, waiting to jump to the first available ground and create microscopic damage to our computers. Some movements such as walking across carpet or removing an item from bubble wrap can create upwards of 35,000 volts. Even normal body motion can create 6,000 volts in a low humidity environment.
How to prevent ESD damage?
The first thing to think about with ESD is eliminating risks associated with electrostatic discharge. That means taking care of insulators and conductors.
Conductors are easily dealt with by making sure they are grounded. Since electricity easily flows through them, it will take the simplest route and discharge to a grounded source.
Insulators cannot be grounded. It is best to make sure they are removed from a work area before starting work. Having them even close to electronics can cause them to create a static field that discharges to the circuit.
It’s important to use static shielded bag whenever you are transporting sensitive electronics. Even if it’s just from one desk to another, anytime you are touching circuits and aren’t grounded they should be in static shielding.