Electrostatic discharge protection (ESD) is no laughing matter. We generally think of static shock as that tiny spark you feel when you scoot across the floor and then grab the metal doorknob — but humans are actually ridiculously insensitive to electricity. Compare us to the platypus, which is so sensitive to electric fields that it can sense it’s prey by the minute electrical fields its’ muscles generate when they tense up — or to modern semiconductors, which can be completely destroyed by voltages so low that even the platypus couldn’t feel them.
To give a specific example, moving a plastic bench across your workstation can generate up to 20,000 volts of static — but many electrical components can be destroyed by a discharge of as little as 400 volts.
Static electricity is called ‘static’ because it’s built up in a form that can’t move anywhere — there’s no path for it to move along. The moment that ‘static’ electricity has a path to travel along, it’s not static anymore: it moves, and that’s why you feel the zap when you touch a metal object.
Obviously, then, protecting your electronics from the tiny electrostatic discharges that happen every time you touch something metallic is a key element of many commercial and industrial workplaces. So how do you keep your electronics safe? There are a couple of ways.
First, you can keep the static charge from building up on your workers in the first place. A simple conductive bracelet, wired to a grounded piece of metal, will give any electrical charges that could have built up a swift exit. But this solution can make a worker feel ‘chained to their desk’, and can cause secondary problems like tripping others.
Second, you can keep the static charge from having an escape route through the electronics you’re working on. By using an ESD-proof work mat that lines your workstation surface, you can handle electronics confidently knowing that there’s no circuit being formed — the mat keeps your electronics from having anywhere to conduct the static too. Combined with an ergonomic work bench that keeps your worker from having to reach or strain (which decreases the possibility of a trip or spill and of accidentally touching exposed metal and forming a damaging circuit for that built-up static), an ESD prevention mat can save you thousands of dollars in damaged electronics in the long run.