ESD, or Electrostatic Discharge is the sudden release of static electricity that occurs when two objects come into contact. Examples include the shock you can experience when touching the metallic surface of a car or doorknob. Another more impressive example is the bolts of lightning during an electrical storm.
When two materials rub together, one creates a positive charge and the other a negative charge. The positively charged material stores the electrical energy until it makes contact with the right material and then the energy is released. This is known as an ESD event.
The danger is that this positive charge can build up on our persons when we walk across carpets or move around in our clothes, which is then released when we touch electrical components such as PC parts. We may not feel the static discharge ourselves, but it could still be enough to permanently damage the equipment we’re touching. Because of this, precautions need to be taken to make sure that we protect our equipment; otherwise you could be looking at hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds thrown down the drain, which is obviously not good news for any business. This is where anti static mats come into play.
Anti static mats neutralise ESD by allowing the static discharge to flow across the surface of the mat at a slow rate.
Users should connect themselves to the mat via a wristband or ankle strap (depending on the type of mat they are using), and then connect the mat to an earthing point. This can either be a specially designed plug attachment, or a Common Point Ground System if multiple anti-static mats or devices are being used.
As you can now see, anti static mats provide an exceptional method for protecting your electrical equipment from ESD. With that being said, it is worth taking a look at some of the most common ESD control mistakes people make so that you can avoid making them.
Using household cleaners on your anti static mat
One thing you should never do is use household cleaners on your ESD matting. This is exceptionally damaging to the ESD programme. There are lots of cleaners designed for household use that contain silicone. Yes, it creates a lovely shine when used on the kitchen table and such like; however, it also creates an insulative layer. The problem with this is that it lowers the performance of the mat in terms of grounding.
Failing to check ESD control products
People spend lots and lots of money on ESD control products, but they never check to ensure that everything is in specification and working correctly. As is the case with all products, ESD items do end up being subject to wear and tear, so you need to keep on top of this.
Ungrounded ESD garments
Do you have an ESD coat? Great! This does not mean you can skip on the wrist straps, though. Every ESD garment must be bonded electrically to the wearer’s grounding system. If not, it merely acts as a floating conductor.
Out-of-balance or poorly maintained ionisers
Rather than neutralising charges, if your ioniser is not in balance, it will create primarily negative or positive ions. This causes an electrostatic charge on items that are not grounded. This could then mean that nearby sensitive items experience the discharge, which can cause damage.
The mat you purchase should be determined by the application. Let’s take a look at the different types of anti static mats in further detail…
When determining what sort of anti static mat you should purchase, you need to carefully consider your work environment and application. It is also important to take the time to read the descriptions and reviews that have been left by others to ensure that the mat is suitable for you. The last thing you want is to purchase something that has a poor reputation. Buying from a reputable brand and reading feedback that has already been left by other clients is a great way to ensure you spend your money on quality.
There are a few other factors you need to take into account too. This includes the material. Typically, your options will be rubber or vinyl. Vinyl is used for work surface or tabletop applications, although rubber is most widely used. This is because it has a high resistance to most chemicals and heat too. Aside from this, you should also consider the size of the mat and the composition too, which is what was discussed above, i.e. two or three layer. Electrical performance also needs consideration.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding regarding anti static mats, including what they are used for and the different options that are available to you. The importance of buying a product like this when you work with computers and other electrical equipment cannot be ignored. It may mean a small expense now, but it could save you from losing thousands of pounds in the future, so it is really not worth taking the risk. You should, however, take the time to get familiar with the different anti static mats on the market so you can find the best one for you.