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I'm designing a battery powered device. The device will be placed in an environment where the relative humidity is below 20%. So it is essential to protect the electronics from potential ESD events. However, it's hard to identify dangers myself. It would be appreciated if someone could answer the questions below.

  1. Possibility of ESD from enclosure to PCB
    I need to use a plastic rectangular enclosure and mount my PCBs in the enclosure using nylon screws. Can ESD events occur between the inner surface of the enclosure and PCB through air? For sure charge will build up in the PCB and enclosure at some point, Then the polarity of the coppers in the PCB and the polarity of plastic enclosure, or parts of it, can be different. I wonder if ESD can happen between them, when they are charged with different polarity.

  2. Mounting SMD components on bottom layers of the PCBs
    It seems very hard for me to place components only on the top layers of the PCBs. Would it be dangerous to place SMD components on the bottom layer? Their pads will be exposed to air, and the distance to the plastic surface will be shorter than 5mm.

  3. Shielding PCB from ESD sources using tape
    Is there a general solution to protect PCB pads from ESD? Could one use something like Kapton tape?

It would be very appreciated if one could provide useful references(technical documents addressing the ESD protection for isolated systems)

Note: It's not possible for me to change the environment. So it's not a solution to not work in such dry place, to not use a plastic enclosure, or to not have a floating ground. The problem that I have would be common in some applications, so I think this is a relevant question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe there exist some kind of conductive varnish in spray that is made to solve this. Not sure. \$\endgroup\$ – dim Jul 13 '18 at 5:28
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The best possible condition for an electronic enclosure is a faraday cage (a box made of metal). Electric fields on the inside of the box will be close to zero. The air functions like a capacitor and if the ground of the PCB is tied to the box, both sides are zero. No dangerous electric fields.

Mounting a PCB in a plastic enclosure poses risks. The first one is charge buildup. If a net charge is on the outside of a plastic box, the inside is not zero and electric fields and charges that build up on the outside can transfer to the inside (if the plastic is not ESD safe). There is no where to tie a ground and the air functions like a capacitor, on both sides of the board.

Either use ESD safe or conductive plastics or make the inside of the box conductive. An ESD safe plastic will not build up charge on it. The biggest danger of a plastic box is one that has friction (triboelectric charging) on surfaces when some one moves it, the plastic could build up large amounts of charge on the inside or outside of the box. Either that or build a shield around the PCB on the inside of the box. Copper tape would also work to some extent.

Can ESD events occur between the inner surface of the enclosure and PCB through air?

Yes, ESD can jump through plastic (I've seen myself with an ESD gun) and plastic can collect charge (unless its ESD safe)

Would it be dangerous to place SMD components on the bottom layer? Their pads will be exposed to air, and the distance to the plastic surface will be shorter than 5mm.

It won't matter which side of the PCB in the plastic box the components are on, because the charges could build up anywhere.

Is there a general solution to protect PCB pads from ESD? Could one use something like Kapton tape?

Kapton makes a nice capacitor when placed between two sheets of metal, and has a breakdown voltage, so use a conductive tape, like copper tape.

schematic

simulate this circuit – Schematic created using CircuitLab

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, I cannot avoid using a plastic enclosure, because it should be a 3D printed custom structure. The material is resin. \$\endgroup\$ – Nownuri Jul 13 '18 at 3:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your detailed explanation. I'm sure it should be helpful for many readers. But I hope that an answer is given assuming the circumstance above. For instance, using a Kapton tape between two metal sheets is a different story from the original question. \$\endgroup\$ – Nownuri Jul 13 '18 at 3:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Kapton tape is an insulator, but it won't stop thousands of volts it has a breakdown and if its on a surface it will still collect charge on the other side, that's why I gave that example. \$\endgroup\$ – laptop2d Jul 13 '18 at 4:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for pointing out that Kapton tape cannot withstand the large potential difference. \$\endgroup\$ – Nownuri Jul 13 '18 at 4:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ How about printing your enclosure using conductive filament? They also make permanent ESD coating spray that will adhere to plastic ( google.com/search?q=esd+spray+permanent ) \$\endgroup\$ – crj11 Jul 13 '18 at 12:34

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