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Douglas C. Smith

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Technical Tidbit - May-June 2012
Destroying Electronic Components from Across the Room With ESD
(Today's sensitive components are really sensitive!)

Overview of test setup

Figure 1.
Test Setup for Measuring Induced Current in a One Meter Cable

Abstract: Electronic components are getting smaller and more sensitive every day, and with this comes a greater possibility of damage from electrical stresses in the environment. Some devices are so sensitive, they can be destroyed by an ESD event across the room because the radiated fields from the ESD event generate enough current in wires to do this. Measurement of currents in a one meter cable from a remote, small ESD event are presented and related to device damage thresholds.

Discussion: Figure 1 shows the test setup used for the experiment (the first one done in my new Boulder City, NV facility) and Figure 2 shows a close-up of the test table. A one meter Cat 5 Ethernet cable was used and the current in the cable was measured by a Fischer F-65 current probe.

Close-up of test setup

Figure 2. Test Setup for Measuring Induced Current in One Meter Cable

The ESD source is shown in Figure 3. It is described in June 2001, A Static Field Powered EMI Source on this site. ESD is generated in the very small gap between the points of the strips of copper foil tape when a charged object is brought close to one of the copper foil strips. This is caused by electrons jumping across the gap due attraction or repulsion by the applied electric field. Figure 4 shows a charged strip of Teflon™being passed back and forth along the plastic backing of the copper foil strips. This generates hundreds of ESD events between the copper foil strips as electrons are chased back and forth across the gap. I estimate the breakdown voltage of the gap to be several hundred volts. The rising edge of the radiated field is on the order of 200 to 300 ps.

Spark gap EMI source

Figure 3. Spark Gap EMI source for Experiment

Discharge at one meter from the cable

Figure 4. Test Setup for Measuring Induced Current in One Meter Cable [1]

Three distances were used between the ESD events and the one meter cable/current probe: 3 m, 1 m, and 30 cm. Figure 5 shows the induced current at 3 m. The ringing in the waveform is due to the resonant frequency of the copper foil strips (~500 MHz) and to some extent the lower resonant frequency of the 1 m cable. Note the peak current of about 17 mA. One of the most sensitive devices in use today are the read heads in disk drives. They have an ESD Human Body damage threshold of just a Volt or two (not thousands or even hundreds of volts, a few volts)! [2]  It takes just a milliamp or two for a nanosecond to destroy the head. [2] Clearly, if such a head was not in a shielded enclosure and connected to wires (for testing possibly), it could easily be damaged from across the room. If one were to split the 1 m cable in the middle to form a dipole, the two terminals at the middle of the dipole would have enough voltage between them at a 70 Ohm source impedance to damage a disk drive head from a voltage point of view as well.

Figure 6 shows another typical current waveform generated showing greater than 20 mA flowing in the 1m cable, an even worse case. This is enough to damage even the older GMR heads of 15 years ago. Those heads were damaged by 20 mA flowing for a nanosecond.

Discharge at three meters

Figure 5. Discharge at 3 m From Cable and Current Probe - #1
(Vertical scale ~ 5 mA/div, Horizontal Scale = 2 ns/div)

Discharge at 3 m from cable and current probe

Figure 6. Discharge at 3 m From Cable and Current Probe - #2
(Vertical scale ~ 5 mA/div, Horizontal Scale = 2 ns/div)

Figures 7 and 8 show the measured currents at a distance of one meter from the ESD events. The peak current for this distance was over 40 mA!

Discharge at 1m

Figure 7. Discharge at 1 m From Cable and Current Probe - #1
(Vertical scale ~ 10 mA/div, Horizontal Scale = 2 ns/div)

Discharge at 1m

Figure 8. Discharge at 1 m From Cable and Current Probe - #2
(Vertical scale ~ 10 mA/div, Horizontal Scale = 2 ns/div)

Figures 9 and 10 show the measured currents at 30 cm. The peak current is greater than 80 mA in Figure 10. The induced current from a remote discharge having more energy could be much larger than this.

Discharge at 30 cm

Figure 9. Discharge at 30 cm From Cable and Current Probe - #1
(Vertical scale ~ 20 mA/div, Horizontal Scale = 2 ns/div)

Discharge at 30 cm

Figure 10. Discharge at 30 cm From Cable and Current Probe - #2
(Vertical scale ~ 20 mA/div, Horizontal Scale = 2 ns/div)

In order to check for EMI from the ESD directly into the measurement, a null experiment, the 1 m cable was removed from the current probe, leaving the probe alone on the table as shown in Figure 11. ESD was generated as before at about 30 cm and the results are shown in Figure 12 and 13. The peak reading recorded was about 4 mA. This represents less than 5% error compared to the greater than 80 mA displayed in Figure 10, an acceptable amount of error.

Null experiment, 30 cm from discharge

Figure 11. Null Experiment Discharge at 30 cm From Current Probe

Null experiment at 30 cm

Figure 11. Null Experiment Discharge at 30 cm From Current Probe - #1
(Vertical scale ~ 5 mA/div, Horizontal Scale = 2 ns/div)

Null experiment discharge at 30 cm

Figure 12. Null Experiment Discharge at 30 cm From Current Probe - #2
(Vertical scale ~ 2 mA/div, Horizontal Scale = 2 ns/div)
There are many devices very sensitive to ESD in use today. They carry an ESD damage threshold rating of Class 0, less than 50 volts Human Body Model. For such devices, especially the very sensitive devices like modern disk drive heads, damage from ESD remote from the device is a real possibility. ESD must be controlled not just at the component, but in the nearby environment as well.

Summary: Devices have gotten so sensitive that we now have to worry about ESD damage from ESD events that may be several meters from the device in question. The implication for ESD control is obvious, much stricter ESD controls must be employed and not just at the workstation where the device is handled. ESD must be controlled for a distance of several meters from the sensitive device. This is especially true for disk drive read heads.

I am writing this from my new office in Boulder City, NV!!! Soon I expect to do morning 5 to 10 minute podcasts on technical topics every morning I am in the office. These podcasts will appear on the home page of http://CircuitAdvisor.com by late morning each day except for days when I am not in the office.

[1] Thanks to my youngest son, David, for generating the ESD events while I measured the result. He just finished four years in the Army in electronic repair and will be going into EE or CE towards the end of this year.
[2] From a discussion with Al Wallash, HGST, a Western Digital Company, about published data.

Additional articles on this website related to this topic are:
Equipment used in this Technical Tidbit:
  1. Fischer Custom Communications F-65 Current Probe
  2. Agilent DSO5054A
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Copyright 2012 Douglas C. Smith