I have been given a device at work to do some testing on. Basically an IC is becoming obsolete so I need to test a replacement part. Upon redoing the ESD checks, the device failed.

I checked the history of the device, and there were problems passing ESD before. There was a note from the testing facility that as the device was entirely metal (Stainless steel housing) only contact discharge up to 4kV was needed to pass (I am in UK). Apparently it failed a few times untill a capacitor/resistor was added between the USB shield and ground, and a small metal tab was introduced to add better contact between PCB ground and the metal case. This then apparently allowed it to pass.

Move on 5 years and I am redoing the tests. Each time I perform the contact discharge test at +4kV, the device loses its memory (this is a datalogging device) and it needs a factory reset and restart logging to work again. I rechecked some old ones using the previous IC and found that this also fails. It seemed that it was an intermittent problem (some devices passed 3 in 10 tests, others failed all 10 etc) so it seems to me like the pass on the ESD test previously was likely a fluke.

I tried a number of things, I put extra capacitors in parallel with the current one connecting the USB shield to ground (different values, high/low), I changed the resistor to different values (higher/lower resistance) and tried ferrite beads in parallel, and ferrite beads instead of the Resistor/capacitor as I had seen some places recommend, but still it failed. The only way I got it to pass was by grounding the USB shield directly.

Looking online I can't seem to find anywhere that says explicitly whether you should or shouldn't ground the USB shield. This discussion HERE has different views, this HERE also has a discussion on it. THIS link mentions the shield should only be connected to ground at the host, but no device should connect the shield to ground.... THIS document says the shield should be connected to the chassis. Yet, in fig 12 it seems to show the USB shield should be tied to GND plane.

There just seems to be a lot of different views on this so I am a bit unsure what to do next. Grounding the shield allows it to pass ESD, but is this something that should be done? Or should I continue to look for a better solution? If so, what is a good solution?


  • The PCB is very irregular, and tight on space, making the ground plane near the USB connector very small.
  • I am not allowed to change any mechanical design on this. I am just to find a solution which can be easily implemented and does not require a redesign of the PCB or product so those suggestions are pointless to make.
  • This is a a work device and as such, I am not allowed to show the schematic, so please do not ask. The USB input circuitry was based on this design: enter image description here
  • The common-mode choke, ferrite and TVS diode protection are all in the design already.
  • I am not the original design engineer. They do not work for the company any more so I am unable to find their reasoning for the design choices they made
  • The device is USB 2.0
  • The unit passes the test at -4kV, it is just the +4kV where it fails


And more info required in comments will be added here.

  • Andy aka: I can show you this much:

    enter image description here

All I can show of the actual PCB is this:

enter image description here

You can see that the ground plance stops short of the USB socket. The large hole is where the tabs for the USB shield to have a mechanical connection to the PCB. R1 is then connecting the shield to GND, and capacitor C3 is doing the same on the other connection. The shield is connected to ground via the 100k res/100nF cap. There is a metal tab fitted to the PCB which rests on the metal chassis. According to the old ESD report, this was needed or the device failed. As far as I can see, these were the only things added in addition to that example circuit to protect from ESD.

In response to the questions in the comments:

  • The failure occurs when doing a contact discharge ESD test on the USB shield (all other areas it is fine, just the USB shield it fails)
  • The test occurs while the unit is logging. It is not connected to any device via USB.
  • I have tried a 0R link to GND instead of the resistor/capacitor solution, but this still fails. When I add a wire link direct from the USB shield to the chassis (which is connected to PCB GND) then the issue is resolved. I believe this is because of the PCB design. The ground plane near the USB side is very small (about 12mm x 15mm). Yet the chassis is large. This is something I cannot change.
  • The location of the Chassis to PCB GND tab is on a sub-PCB, with a 30thou trace to the tab. (yes, I know it sounds strange, but the space constraints were ridiculous and this was not my design!)
  • \$\begingroup\$ Take that picture and add details that show what extra you have done to connect the shield to the metal box (via a cap and resistor?). At the moment, the picture gives no clue to me what is the device that fails and what other precautions have been made i.e. it is too generic to be useful. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy aka
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 11:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Andyaka I have added what I could. I did say things I have tried myself earlier in the question. Let me know if any more information will help and I will provide what I can \$\endgroup\$
    – MCG
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 11:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Barleyman yes, as I replied in a comment to the answer by oliver, shorting the USB device to the chassis directly solved the issue. The 'zapping' is on the USB shield. On all other parts, the unit passes, it is only this where it fails. The device is not connected to anything via USB during the test, it is just logging. The issue is when downloading the data the memory gets wiped. As I said, I have managed to solve the ESD issue, I just need to know whether it is ok to do it via the method I used, because of the things mentioned in the question \$\endgroup\$
    – MCG
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 14:21
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ GND tab is on a sub PCB? So there's actually a connector of some sort between that and the main PCB? I think we have a winner.. You can try shorting the device GND near the USB connector to the ground, this should make the problem go away. You may also try to disconnect the capacitor / resistor between shield and GND. You shouldn't get a zap after doing that. If you do, shield is (weakly) connected somewhere to GND all the same. \$\endgroup\$
    – Barleyman
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 14:48
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ related (if not duplicate): How to connect USB Connector shield? and Portable device shielding & ESD \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 14:51

8 Answers 8


Best Practice

Firstly (as a bit of a cop out) personally, in designs I always ground through a 0R resistor so that the decision can be changed. This goes for pretty much any shield (Ethernet, USB etc)

The main problem that can arise is when the shield is grounded at either end, and the two ends don't agree on what 0V is. This can cause damage to either end, by currents flowing where they shouldn't (if the shield path is 0.2ohms, and the voltage difference 1V, that's 5A going where it shouldn't)

You might think why would this ever happen? But think of the situation where a laptop is connected to a piece of mains powered equipment over USB. The laptop could be on battery only (no true earth reference), but the equipment is connected to mains and thus may have a true 0V earth reference.

So the solution is to connect at only one end, but have some agreement on which end.

Generally, a USB host will be expected to provide the power and the device is quite often entirely bus powered and has no connections to anything else in the outside world (think USB memory stick, WiFi dongle etc). In general, the USB host should connect the shield to ground (and earth, if possible). This is why the host side is typically expected to tie the shield to ground or earth.

The fact that there are so many conflicting comments from people and different experiences shows clearly that it is far from safe to assume this is always adhered to, so as I mentioned firstly - add the option to change it easily.

In This Situation

After discussing this in a chat, the proposed solution is different. Since this is a question about ESD, it's messy and complicated and involves many aspects of the design (electrical, mechanical, system). The chat is available for all to see, but there important bits:

  • This datalogger has no other connections, apart from the USB connection to a PC/laptop
  • The datalogger has a metal chassis, that is bonded to the PCB board ground.
  • When the USB shield is not directly connected to PCB board ground (for example connected by R||C or HiZ), the datalogger fails (loses memory contents).
  • In the ESD test, the USB cable is not attached (or is floating at the other end).
  • The OP is not the design author, and has very limited scope for making design changes to solve this problem.

I surmise the problem is most likely PCB layout related. The ESD surge is taking a path from the shield, past sensitive electronics and finally reaching the chassis. By directly connected the shield to the chassis with a wire, ESD surge path reaches the chassis without going near the PCB so avoids the problem.

In this situation, as the datalogger has no other connections to any other devices; the potential issues (pun intended) cannot occur. So I would suggest connecting the shield to the chassis. Either by a wire, or a more production friendly approach is an ESD gasket around the connector which is a spongey conductive material that gives a connection without manual soldering and doesn't permeantly attach the chassis to the board.

In a more ideal world, I would respin the board so the chassis is isolated from the PCB board ground and the chassis is connected to the shield. That means that its not possible for ESD surges to reach the sensitive electronics at all. Except if you poke the datapins on the USB connector for fun - in which case, ESD diodes on the datalines that give a path to chassis ground, not PCB board ground.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good answer. I like the reasoning. However (I can add this to the question if need be) I replaced the capacitor and resistor with a 0R link and it failed ESD. As you can see in my question, I tried a few methods, and the only one that passed was grounding the USB shield directly. It was actually a loop of wire to put it in contact with the metal housing. Again, I can add this to the question if it helps. The only reason I can think that this may work is the surface area of the ground plane is very small (about 12mm x 15mm) and the shielding is much larger. \$\endgroup\$
    – MCG
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 13:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Any advice for this situation? Would it be an issue to proceed and recommend adding something to make this connection? Or would it be better to persevere with different methods? Bear in mind the restrictions of not being able to modify the PCB or housing \$\endgroup\$
    – MCG
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 13:50
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Is this a USB slave device, connected to something else via USB and nothing else? \$\endgroup\$
    – Oliver
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 13:51
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Please don't tack on "EDITn:" sections, it's irrelevant for everyone reading the answer and makes it harder to follow. The edit history is available for those who are curious. \$\endgroup\$
    – pipe
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 14:38
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @dotancohen: I must admit I usually assume its obvious, but that sounds like a failing on my part. This seems like a place for a quick note on the schematic next to the part. Notes anywhere else will get lost, or ignored. The schematic is the best place. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oliver
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 7:01

Good shielding simply means good shield continuity. The PC board usually doesn't even figure in any of it - for shield continuity, you should mentally replace the board with an insulator. For purpose of analysis, replace the board with a piece of bare FR4, no copper, just holes and epoxy used to fasten the connectors. The shielding between all shielded cables and the enclosure must still be continuous when you do that.

This implies that there must be direct electrical connection between the metal of the connector (each and every connector!) and the metal enclosure, and there must be direct connection between the cable shield and the metal of the plug going into the connector, and such connection must be done in 360-degree fashion to surround the apertures being protected. You're quite literally working to cover all the holes/gaps as well as you can. The fact that signal lines run through those apertures is secondary :)

In the cable plugs it the shield must be captured in a cage that extends to form the plug shield itself, and then the plug and the connector must interoperate to provide multiple contact points around the circumference to keep this 360-degree requirement carried throughout.

Any sort of a pigtail in the shield connection introduces so much impedance that it is an instant qualification failure. If you use any high-frequency signaling cables that have any visible shield pigtails in them - junk them, and use good stuff instead. This will fail EMC, and has good potential to fail your customers in their applications even if it somehow squeezes through. There are HDMI cables sold by reputable dealers (I'm not talking about Walmart) that have pigtails in them. It's on you to actually qualify the cable for your application, including the disassembly (butchery) of any overmolded plugs to inspect their construction. If you don't do that, you'll eventually pay for it in failed tests or "mysterious" customer complaints, and any savings you may have amassed over the years of ignoring this basic good engineering practice will vaporize in an instant.

In the device receptacles, 360-degree shielding continuity is often assured using EMI spring tabs or using cast-metal connectors that can be fastened directly to the enclosure while assuring good, 360-degree contact all around the plug's outer shield.

No matter what you do, external shielding is not the PCB's job, so any such analysis should begin by forgetting that the PCB even is there. Nothing you do on the PCB itself can even remotely match the performance of a continuous external shield. As you have learned, the hard way.

This also points to a common misunderstanding: mechanical and electrical design are both an integral part of the design-for-EMC - and thus an integral part of the overall design process, for EMC is not some "bolt on" but really fundamental, and are truly inseparable from each other. Whenever you design anything electrical, there's no separate "case" it's put into. The enclosure is part of the electrical design process, and its properties are just as important as those of the components on the board itself.

There are quite often retrofit situations like what you face where the inadequacy of the original design process is unveiled, and you should never assume that the device you got has really "worked well" or "passed the tests", for you can't know how close it was to failing, and sometimes the tolerance stackups end up working to one's atrocious advantage. Why is the advantage atrocious? Because it's a lie, a lie that is known to have wasted thousands of engineering hours and millions of dollars. You "pass" the tests whereas you really have a marginal device that may never pass those same tests again once it goes into production. Therein is the lie. Your prototype had an atrocious advantage. Once. It's gone now. Forgetaboutit. You get presented by management with "this device that always worked well and passed the tests" and you have to "make it pass again". Unh-unh, dear managers. You can't win an argument with nature. Poor engineering will always come to bite you back in the rear end, no ifs, no buts. It's never "keep the case the same". If the case was the source of the problem to begin with, you can't use your will to convince nature that, retroactively, let's not talk about the case anymore. If the enclosure is the problem, you have to accept it and solve it - usually by modifying the case, choosing better connectors, etc.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a really good and detailed answer, and I don't understand why it hasn't gained any votes. +1 from me. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 15:44

You need to examine the high-current path across your design, and the design must provide a separate shield net to avoid the ESD discharge to go over signal ground, which will create "ground bounce" and disrupt functionality. This is not an easy matter. By making a simple solid connect between signal ground and shield, you might run into EMI issues and fail EMI certifications. For more details, you might want to review this topic on how to balance two contradictory requirements for USB shields.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the Information. Unfortunately, I am limited to what I can actually do with this design, as detailed in the question. However, I will upvote this as it has some very useful information \$\endgroup\$
    – MCG
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 14:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MCG, if the device passes ESD into main metal encosure, then you might want to add a mechanical spring-like contacts between USB shield and the enclosure. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 14:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ That is what I have done.... sort of. I have added a thick wire link which connects the shield to the metal enclosure. That was the only thing that solved the issue \$\endgroup\$
    – MCG
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 15:01
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @MCG, yes this is the best thing to do. Only instead of single wire you should provide the contact between USB connector and enclosure all around it evenly, for better results. Serious people do this all the time. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 15:07

Considering what you have told us about the device:

  • Battery powered
  • Not normally connected to USB
  • Does not have connections to external sensors or devices during measurements
  • Does not have any accessible metal parts apart from chassis and USB

Just connect the chassis to USB shield and be done with it.

Previous answer pointed out issues with loop currents (two different GND paths in circuit to mains) but since you have floating battery-powered device, this is a non-issue.

If you want to experiment, you may try removing resistor/capacitor between the shield and the GND. Also you may want to use smaller NP0 C0G ESD capacitor, 100nF capacitor has X7R dielectric which is not well suited to this kind of task.

The GND-to-Shield connection is apparently rather weak and not near the USB connector. So shorting shield to GND makes the transient travel through your PCB until it hits the chassis tab.

I think the problem here is that the original designer put USB shield under the signal traces. Zapping the ESD gun makes the shield "jump" which couples capacitively with the traces and components nearby. Now signal and VBUS traces are crowbarred to GND so they're protected. However, these traces then go to have CMC and ferrite while the GND is directly coupled - So probably these suppress the transient in those wires while the GND transient continues unabated.

NB this is just speculation.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Re "Previous answer": One answer or two answers? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 18:37

By the description and the basic schematics provided. It looks like they are using the wrong TVS circuit. Because the +/- data is balance transmission line, and the TVS circuit in the schematic is for unbalanced transmission lines. Shield is little of importance compared to this circuit and how well it operates to protect, and only really needs to be grounded at one end for its basic function of the circuit. Here is a good application guide from ON semiconductor for future reference. https://www.onsemi.com/pub/Collateral/AND8231-D.PDF

  • \$\begingroup\$ On a side note, they should have made usb power to be a small isolated ac supply That a way there is no possibility of power ground loops as well. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 19:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ As I mentioned in the comments, I noted the design was based on that circuit. It was just one I came across that circuit online that used TVS diodes so used it as an example. And for ESD, the shield seemed very important. The bigger problem was space constraints leading to lack of ground plane I believe. It was a while ago since I worked on this circuit as we have now released an updated version based on my findings which has eliminated this ESD issue. However, thank you for your input and the application note is indeed useful. \$\endgroup\$
    – MCG
    Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 7:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're welcome @MCG. Some applications need shielding on both ends, but what they have in the rc bonding network is essentially a DC ground lift, because typically, the resistor will be around 120 ohms in parallel to the 0.1 uf capacitor when someone is using that chassis bonding method.Instead of that 100K resistor. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 13:12

I have two solutions:

Solution A
Replace C3 with the largest capacitor possible (micro, not nano farads).
If this does not work, then

Solution B
1) Remove the resistor and capacitor that were added (R1 & C3),
2) disconnect ground from this connector,
3) solder a wire from the shield tab (R1 C3 node) to this connector ground and the other end solder it to the PCB ground tab of the opposite connector.

The net result of these instructions, is to isolate the PCB ground plane from the USB shield. This way, when the USB shield is zapped, the ESD will bypass the PSB and go to ground.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, this isn't really a correct answer. If you had read through my question fully, you will have seen that all your solutions are ones that I have tried and that I had solved the ESD issue. My question was whether it was ok to do it like that, based on the articles I had read about it. \$\endgroup\$
    – MCG
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 20:44

If I look at your circuit correctly and also look at the https://www.onsemi.com/pub/Collateral/AND8231-D.PDF I see that you have used a device (Diode Array Plus TVS) used for Use with single−ended data line and the USB protocol is supposed to be a differential protocol.

The link informs that you should use Schottky Diode Array or Diode Array instead, which are meant for Differential data lines.

enter image description here

  • \$\begingroup\$ I won't downvote as it is useful info, but it doesn't really answer the question that was asked/ And if you had read it fully, it was a circuit designed by someone else from years ago and I was unable to make any actual circuit changes. \$\endgroup\$
    – MCG
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 15:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ While USB signalling is indeed differential, the data lines themselves are always positive relative to the ground, so they require unidirectional TVS protection. I highly recommend reading AND8424-D application note by ON Semiconductor to avoid the confusion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Maple
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 14:06

The USB Type-C Cable and Connector Specification (Relase 2.1, May 2021) states:

Shield and GND shall be connected within the USB Type-C plug on both ends of the cable assembly.

The rules for shielding in electronics generally are:

  • If you want to shield electric fields, the shield must be connected to ground at either end of the cable but only at one end.

  • If you want to shield interference effect of alternating magnetic fields, the shield must be connected to ground on both ends of the cable.

  • If you want to shield EM waves, the shield doesn't require a ground connection at all (the metal of the shield has enough electrons on its own for that).

  • If you connect both ends to ground, current may run over the shield if ground levels are different which can disturb signals on the cable (especially the current varies over time).

  • If you have an issue with currents flowing over your shield, you can either break the shield in the middle and use a capacitor to connect both halves again or you can place a resistor between shield and ground at one end to limit current flow.

  • The best shield you can get is the one that triax cables use. Those cables have two shields, an inner shield and an outer shield. The inner shield is connected to ground only at one side to block electric fields, the outer shield is connected to ground at both ends to block the interference effect of alternating magnetic fields. Both are blocking EM waves to some degree. If current runs through the outer shield, the inner shield limits its effect on the signals inside the shielded cables. Usually those cables are also terminated with a termination resistor which limits undesired current flow and signal reflections.

See also Grounding of Cable Shields on how to shield electric fields and magnetic interference, and keep in mind that a microwave oven also blocks it's internal EM waves (radio waves) when not grounded at all.

Why the USB consortium has decided to connect both ends to ground, I don't know. But as the bus is supposed to have a common ground level anyway across all hubs and active devices, there shouldn't be any current flow in the shield (as that flow would otherwise also occur on the ground pins) and blocking electric fields may not be an issue.


Quoting from Universal Serial Bus Specification, Revision 2.0, April 2000):

6.8 USB Grounding

The shield must be terminated to the connector plug for completed assemblies. The shield and chassis are bonded together. The user selected grounding scheme for USB devices, and cables must be consistent with accepted industry practices and regulatory agency standards for safety and EMI/ESD/RFI.

So USB 2 did not directly require any grounding of the shield but it does require that if grounding a shield is considered "accepted industry practice".

  • \$\begingroup\$ You are quoting the specs correctly, but please take the details into account : the cable that has plugs must connect shield to plug shells. Now, how the receptacles connect the shells to somewhere, if anywhere at all, is completely separate thing, and this question is not about cables but how devices should terminate the shield. \$\endgroup\$
    – Justme
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 15:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Justme It doesn't say that shield and plug shells must be connected, it says that shield and ground (GND) must be connected. Shield also must be connected to the shell but that's stated elsewhere. And if shield and shell are connected to the ground in the cable, then it won't matter if you connect them to ground in your device or not as even if you don't, they are already connected to ground the moment a cable is plugged in. If your device also connects the shield to ground then only makes a difference as long as no cable is plugged in. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mecki
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question was not about Type-C anyway, so it does not apply retroactively to older cables and older cables don't connect shield to ground at plug, so how to handle the shield connection via metal shell is important on Type-A. \$\endgroup\$
    – Justme
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 15:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Justme You are correct, USB Type-C is a rather new standard, yet pretty much the only one that is still considered relevant for future products. But, of course, you got a point there, so I updated my answer and added what the USB 2.0 spec said about shield grounding. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mecki
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 16:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ The third bullet point contradicts the first two. And 4 contradicts 2 (unless better constrained). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 21:18

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