Designing in ESD ruggedness

-February 17, 2016

My ESD panel at DesignCon 2016 provided attendees with some solid advice and cool demos regarding best practices for designing ESD-resistant products, and troubleshooting ones that are having problems.

I was lucky enough to have two of our industry's top ESD/EMC consultants on the panel:

Ken Wyatt kicked things off with a look at some basic ESD considerations like physical design and transient suppressor usage. For example, instead of relying on the PCB to conduct a discharge, a separate metal sheet, chassis or otherwise, is much more likely to keep you out of trouble.



Both Ken, and fellow consultant Doug Smith, showed a number of low-cost, DIY ESD generators and detectors. Ken's generators included a piezo-powered Coleman-brand lighter (only that brand can spark without turning on the butane – handy if you're not also wanting to fire-test your product), and a plastic dish full of wrapped chocolate "Kisses". Such low-tech means are capable of creating 50ps ESD edges!



Doug demonstrated another low-cost (if less tasty) ESD generator: a plastic rule with a foil spark-gap pattern glued onto it. Our loaner Tek oscilloscope, as well as an AM radio ESD detector, visually and audibly responded to the copious ESD activity generated by this simple apparatus.

Sure, no one was saying you shouldn't be able to perform more quantitative testing with proper ESD equipment, like a MiniZap ESD simulator. But having these extra DIY sources and detectors in the lab can only increase your capabilities.

But if an ESD or EMC problem has you stumped, it's good to know there are experts in our industry who can help.

Rounding out the ESD panel were Yagnesh Waghela and Bala Subramanya from Intel. They each gave their own ESD talks earlier that day, focusing on troubleshooting ESD problems in mobile platform designs. In the panel, they continued the theme, but with a stronger focus on design for prevention.

Some of the design practices they espoused were: tablet/phone system grounding sponges & gaskets, software recovery from ESD events, guarding and caging of sensitive PCB traces, and proper placement of transient suppressors.

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