by Jenny Knodell, IQS Editor
Everyone has had plenty of experiences dealing with electrostatic discharge—reaching out a hand to open the car door on a dry winter day and hesitating, because you know that zap is coming. Annoying isn’t it? Unfortunately, ESD can be a lot more harmful than that. Without proper prevention, it could damage a computer to the point of no return. The zap you felt when you opened the door was at least 2,500 volts of ESD, caused by the transfer of electrons from one surface (the door handle) to another (your hand). Charges as weak as 200 volts can severely damage your computer, and since they are below the threshold of human feeling, you might have no idea it’s happening.
Catastrophic failure, damage to your computer that cannot be undone, is commonly due to ESD, and it can be direct or latent. Direct isn’t really a problem to anyone but manufacturers, since it is usually detected in initial testing. Latent catastrophic failure is what you should worry about. Low-voltage static charges may be slowly causing damage to your computer system, and may not show symptoms for weeks or even months. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, you’ve got a computer that won’t turn on and can’t be fixed.
This problem hits offices hardest, as they have many computers, fax machines and other electronics susceptible to ESD damage. These days, however, ESD catastrophic failure can affect manufacturers and factories too. CNC, or computer numerical control equipment, is now used all over the manufacturing industry. Lathes, mills, routers, grinders and automated machinery are all run by a computer system instead of manually. There are many benefits to CNC. Machines are faster, more precise, don’t require manual work, and are able to repeat the same action exactly, an unlimited amount of times. With these new capabilities, though, come new precautions. It is vitally important to protect CNC machines against ESD damage, and there are a number of inexpensive, simple products available to help avoid catastrophic failure via static control.
Opening up a computer system is very risky in terms of electrostatic discharge damage and is a major factor in causing catastrophic failure. However, there are a couple things you can do. If a computer system needs upgrades or repairs, placing parts in an anti-static bag will rid them of any static, so they are safe to place back inside the computer. Cleaning the inside also requires computers to be opened, but using static brushes will also protect against ESD damage. There are a few other everyday preventative products that do a great job of keeping computer systems and CNC equipment safe. Using an anti-static spray prevents static electricity by coating equipment with a thin layer of liquid that rids computers of ESD. Ionizers are also very effective. They are devices that generate positive and negative ions and then blow them across a work surface to remove any static charges and dust on equipment.
These static control products are inexpensive and easy to use. Always remember that even though your computer system is running fine, there could be a low-voltage static electric shock doing irreparable damage to your expensive machinery. Since latent catastrophic failure shows no symptoms until it is too late, taking these precautionary measures is critically important for any company that uses electronics or CNC equipment.