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Specifying Static-Free Floors

Are you tasked with writing an ESD Flooring specification?

This article is a great place to start.

Page 1 of 3

Specifying any floor requires a special set of skills, but when it comes to static-control environments, the challenges take on even more dramatic proportions. Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is a multi-billion-dollar industry problem affecting manufacturing facilities and end-user environments that use electronic parts. Providing the right specifications presents an opportunity for design/construction professionals to help prevent personal injury, equipment failures, product returns, and critical communication errors.

ESD is the sudden, spontaneous transfer of electric current. Essentially, a charge flows through a spark between two bodies at different electrostatic potentials as they approach one another. A common example is the built-up static electricity from walking on one surface and touching another—sometimes the result is a minor shock, other times it can be permanent damage to expensive electronic equipment.

Electrostatic discharge has always presented an invisible and imperceptible threat. While people cannot feel electrostatic charges of up to 3500 V, it may only take 50 V or less to zap telephony equipment, fry circuit boards, and knock out networked computer systems. This occurs when workers walk on a charged surface, touch equipment, and release electrostatic charges trapped in them. Without the right flooring in place, few realize this is a problem until it is too late.

To make matters worse, the ESD problem is intensifying. Electronic devices continue to become smaller and more powerful—this miniaturization reduces the room for on-chip protection, increasing vulnerability to ESD.1 The result is more environments are at risk if they do not have specialized anti-static, fault-tolerant flooring designed to perform regardless of variables such as controlled footwear, maintenance, and humidity.

On a practical and ethical level, one wants to provide clients with flooring solutions that best meet their needs. However, designers should also protect themselves against costly litigation when things fall short—an increasing concern among industry professionals. In this light, the legal standard of "What are the basics you need to know?" is evolving to become "What else should you have known?"

Timelines of ESD

Through the 1990s, damage to electronic devices from ESD declined as many manufacturers invested in on-chip circuit protection. Unfortunately, these circuit design strategies diminished the electronic equipment's performance—they were eventually eliminated to meet the demand for smaller components. As a result, numerous environments have become more sensitive to levels of static discharge.

Preventing the sources of static generation has become a priority for designers at electronics factories, data centers, and mission-critical environments reliant on sophisticated electronic systems. Static discharges cannot occur in a space with flooring that dissipates existing static charges and prevents new ones. Many facility managers view static-free flooring as the most effective means to prevent ESD from ever becoming a problem.

Regardless of the environment, some form of static-control flooring can meet almost any space's physical, aesthetic, and ergonomic needs. In fact, facility managers in environments as diverse as semiconductor manufacturing, flight control operations, and casino command centers view static-free flooring as the most effective way to mitigate ESD problems.

Due diligence

Fortunately, installing the right kind of anti-static floor eliminates the source of ESD problems. Unfortunately, most organizations fail to understand the risks, and most specifiers do not install flooring that meets the latest industry standards. Part of the problem is a disconnect among architects, contractors, flooring distributors, manufacturers, and end users.

Flooring manufacturers and distributors know about flooring, and ESD specialists know about static prevention, but neither has much communication with the other. This puts specifiers in a bind because the information they receive from flooring professionals is usually inconsistent with that from static-control providers. Even with the best of intentions, most specifiers do not know where to turn.

Another issue hindering communication is the technical jargon—terms that are particularly confusing because they are not always used in the same way. For example, some static-dissipative tile might be marketed as an ‘anti-static flooring solution,' but may not meet the needs of most applications unless polished with three to five coats of special anti-static waxes.

As another example, many specifications are written based on a resistance range; however, what happens if the range is so broad it includes an ineffective portion? Research has shown floors measuring in the upper half of the static-dissipative range often lack the ability to adequately drain static charges.2 If a floor is specified as just having to be "static-dissipative," the specification allows for both the effective and ineffective portions of the range. This means the client could end up with a floor that meets the spec, but still does not prevent ESD problems.

The point is electrostatic-discharge protection is a very specialized industry—without an understanding of the terminology, specifiers and facility managers cannot tell if they are specifying the proper floor.

To firm up one's vocabulary, it is important to pay special attention to terms like those found in the glossary. Due to the liabilities associated with a catastrophic ESD event, specifiers should also have some knowledge about electricity, grounding, and the associated standards and test methods.

Continue reading this article:
Part 1: Specifying Static-free Floors
Part 2: Specifying ESD Flooring Types
Part 3: Specifying Factors Affecting ESD Flooring Applications

Resources/Technical Info
Originally published in Construction Specifier Magazine
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