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For an embedded software engineer who is working and handling prototype boards (microcontroller systems, no crazy stuff like bare wafers or so):

What is a good ESD protection setup?

Background: I want to improve the ESD situation at the office. Right now there is no protection at all and we could clearly improve here. Then again we don't need 100% protection. If we can avoid most ESD issues it'll be fine.

On my list I have an ESD mat and some ESD trays to move boards from one desk to another.

Is a wrist strap essential? From my experience people just ignore these for various reasons even if the company tries to enforce the usage. One argument that I've heard is, that you'll be in contact with the grounded mat anyway, so the risk of a potential difference between you and the device you're working with has already been taking care off. The wrist strap adds no benefit.

Also, besides mat and trays, what would you consider to be the essential and practical equipment to have for the workplace?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you handling parts that might be shipped to customers, or just prototypes? \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Jul 22 '16 at 5:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a software engineer, you shouldn't worry - that's a hardware problem. ;^) \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Jul 22 '16 at 5:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Public service announcement: Wrist straps are the dorkiest thing in the world of electronics. They are sometimes necessary, but nothing will ever change the immutable fact of their dorkiness. \$\endgroup\$ – jbarlow Jul 22 '16 at 6:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Couple of comments. Most people don't bother. Prototypes wander cubicle land and software engineers don't take ANY precautions. If you live somewhere with high humidity, you don't have to worry about it, because you probably never get charged up. Probably the greatest danger is when someone hands you a board. So the ESD trays (or bags) will be good for that. I don't think ESD wrist straps are necessary unless you handle customer goods. \$\endgroup\$ – mkeith Jul 22 '16 at 7:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Similar job role here - my desktop is an ESD mat, I handle prototypes etc. all day long and that's the only precaution we take. If your hardware can't survive basic handling it's better to find out during development (dead prototype) than production ;) \$\endgroup\$ – John U Jul 22 '16 at 8:15
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If you really want ESD protection there is no half-baked setups. ESD protection is annoying and usually only enforced in industries where quality control is essential because failures are costly (areospace) or deadly (medical). NASA's JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) has a great training document describing how to control ESD. ESD comes from several sources including 1) Humans, and clothing and chairs 2) Paper and other materials and surfaces that are susceptible to triboelectric charging

If you have a wrist strap, that's great, but your still going to build up quite a charge on clothing and still generate a few kV potential through the air. No your not shocking your boards by providing a path directly to ground through the board when people touch them, but you still have charging through the air. ESD lab coats are required to prevent this.

You also have materials that build up charge, paper is a nemesis and shouldn't be allowed near electronics. Wood is another bad material and there are lists to find out if the materials you have are bad for charging around electronics.

Wrist straps are a way to prevent ESD, but there are a few problems. If you don't know how much contact the wrist strap is making to the wrist, then it may not be doing anything, they make monitors that ensure the person wearing them is actually actively being 'grounded' (its not a 0 ohm ground, but enough to dissipate high voltages).

One way you could prevent ESD is by enclosing your electronics in a metal\conductive box of some kind. This would prevent electric fields from getting to the boards and keep people from touching them.

The biggest problem is personnel, if everybody doesn't buy in and the ESD rules aren't enforced, then you might as well not have them. I know there are places where you could get written up for not following the ESD rules. You don't need to be that strict, but try and incentivize good and deincentivize bad behavior.

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