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What is Static Electricity?

Definitions and Terminology Regarding Static 

Static electricity is all around us. We mostly don’t notice it, but occasionally we may get a mild electric shock when touching a door handle having walked across a carpet, or notice our hair standing on end having taken off a hat. However, whilst this atmospheric static is quite harmless, it can cause untold problems in industry and manufacturing environments, particularly where electronics are concerned.

The first recorded measures to control static electricity date back to around the 1400s, where procedures were put in place to stop electro static discharge (referred to as ESD) from igniting gun powder and other explosives. As technology has rapidly evolved over the last few decades, the need for static protection has grown as well.

 Static Electricity Images & Examples

Static DamageFaraday CageESD Safe SymbolAnti Static Testing

The causes of electro static discharge (ESD)

In essence, static electricity is caused by the movement of electrons from atom to atom. Atoms are made up protons (positive charge), neutrons (no charge) and electrons (negative charge) and, under normal conditions, an atom with equal numbers of protons and electrons has no charge.

Problems arise when the electrons move. Friction (i.e. rubbing together of materials) or separating can cause electrons to move from atom to atom or material to material. This is known as a triboelectric charge. This means that, depending on the number of electrons or neutrons, the atom can hold a positive or negative charge.

If the material in question is an insulator, any charge can be held – effectively creating static electricity. The rapid movement or decay of these charges results in everything from lightning to the electric shock you get when getting out of your car.

How it affects the electronics industry

These static charges can prove catastrophic for manufacturing industries, particularly those in the electronics industry. With devices and microchips becoming smaller through improved technology, it is not unusual for devices to be damaged by as little as 30 volts. To put this in perspective, the charges on a human body, caused by simply walking across a carpet, can be over 5000 volts!

As a result, damage caused in the electronics industry is from ESD is widely accepted as one of the main reasons of device failure, and is estimated by some studies to causes billions of dollars of worth of damage each year.

Types of damage it can cause

The damage caused however is not always instant, and can occur any when between the manufacture itself and the item being used on location. There are 2 types of failure, both of which can have disastrous consequences.

Catastrophic failure is when the item is effectively destroyed by static charges. There may be a metal melt, oxide breakdown or junction failure within the circuitry, but it effectively means the item is not fit for purpose.

The second type – known as latent damage – can be almost impossible to identify. The item or device in question will most likely still function as expected, but the lifespan will be greatly reduced (resulting in premature failure and the need for replacement).

How Cases UK can help

As a result, there is now a strong emphasis on minimising the risks of ESD. This has seen a wide range of anti-static and conductive packaging and handling supplied developed, which can be purchased online through Cases UK. This allows both organisations and individuals to safely handle, transport and ship static sensitive devices, components, tools, parts and products with a vastly reduced risk of damage from static charges.

The majority of the anti-static packaging and handling products offered at Cases UK work by creating what is known as a “Faraday cage”, diverting any static charges around the outside of the packaging in order to protect the items within. However, static dissipative options create a slow control dissipation of static (useful in foam inserts) whilst conductive products offer low resistance to slow the discharge and reduce the potential for damage.

Terminology, and what it means

  • ESD -Electro Static Discharge. This is defined as a surge of static between objects (resulting in a shock or damage)
  • Static -An electrical charge/ field that isn't moving
  • Anti-Static – A material or process which ensures minimal generation or retention of a static charge.
  • Conductive- Low resistance (less than 1 meg-ohm (106) and 1000 meg-ohm (109)) which allows for quick transfer of static charges
  • Static Dissipative -Increased resistance, which improves protection against ESD
  • Insulative – A material that does not allow the free flow of electrons, thereby generating / holding a static charge
  • Faraday Cage - A system or item that diverts static around the outside / exterior, protecting items within
  • Tribocharge – The rubbing together or separation of surfaces that causes static 

Shop for Anti-Static Solutions at Cases UK

To view the range of anti-static packaging and handling products we stock at Cases UK, please click the link below.

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