Humidity, workbench surfaces, temperatures, surface conductivity, and material type all affect your ability to implement static control. Static electricity can be a thorn in your side. When you’re responsible for the safety of an entire manufacturing facility, lab, or even a small team of technicians and engineers, you spend a significant amount of time looking for ways to control static levels.
The principle of static electricity was first noted around 585 BC in ancient Greece. After rubbing a piece of amber against a piece of fur, Thales of Miletus discovered that lightweight objects were drawn to the amber. Over time our understanding of static control methods have grown, thanks to pioneers in the field of electricity, such as Michael Faraday and Greg Ohm to name a few.
We now know that the most common cause of static electricity is triboelectric charging, which occurs when friction is generated by two materials rubbing against each other. The first observations of triboelectric charging were performed and recorded in the early 18th century by the Swedish scientists, Johan Wilcke. Interestingly, while Wilcke was the first to record his observations on triboelectric charging, the practice of static control began long before the 18th century.
The Practice of Static Control
In the early 1400s military outposts and forts in Europe and the Caribbean used static electricity control procedures to safeguard against the danger of explosions in storerooms filled with gunpowder. These first measures of control became more prevalent as industry progressed. When manufacturing and industrial facilities began to boom during the mid-19th century, static control measures became much more prevalent. Paper mills especially took advantage of static safety processes still used today, including electrical grounding and flame control systems.
However, it wasn’t until 1831 that the basic principles of electricity generation were discovered. It would be another 70 years before the first electrical grids were constructed in the United States, and more than a decade until most of the nation’s population gained access to electrical power.
The Evolution of Electricity Usage
While still in its infancy, electricity as an energy source was first used to power industrial buildings, such as factories and repair shops. These environs quickly realized the need to implement static control procedures that would contain the dangers posed by the rudimentary electrical grid. Static control procedures soon became a necessity in almost every aspect of American industry, including manufacturing, construction, healthcare, agriculture, publishing, and transportation.
In our modern era of technological wonders that rely on electricity, ubiquitous printed circuit boards have proven to be the most vulnerable to damage caused by static discharges. Static control measures have increased in importance as electronics have continued to expand into every facet of American industry.
Static Electricity Control Fun Facts
- A single spark of static electricity can be up to 6 times as powerful as the currents produced by electric eels.
- The human body can store anywhere between 500 and 2500 volts of static electricity, which is more than enough to damage a microchip, but we can only feel a discharge of approximately 2000 volts or more.
- Although most static electricity discharges take place on a microscopic level, larger (and much more dangerous) discharges come in the form of lightning.
Even the most sophisticated multi-threaded central processing unit can be damaged beyond repair by an errant brush with a highly-charged human body. This means that no matter how big or small your organization is, static control procedures are necessary wherever highly sensitive electronic products and equipment are used.
Here’s 3 best practices to follow that can help you make the most of your static control program:
- Provide employees with ESD-safe work equipment
- Establish electrostatic-protected areas (EPAs) inside personnel workspaces
- Regularly audit manufacturing facilities for static electricity threats