Browse Definitions :

electrostatic discharge (ESD)

What is an electrostatic discharge?

Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is the release of static electricity when two objects come into contact. Familiar examples of ESD include the shock we receive when we walk across a carpet and touch a metal doorknob and the static electricity we feel from clothes coming out of the dryer. Lightning is also electrostatic discharge.

While most of ESD events are harmless to the human body, they can cause challenging and expensive problems in certain industrial environments. Static electricity is a problem for electronic and medical device manufacturing, vehicle fabrication, industries that use plastics and paper, and ones that need clean room environments. ESD issues can slow production, negatively affect product quality issues, attract contaminants and create safety issues.

What causes an electrostatic discharge?

An ESD event reflects a buildup of an electrostatic charge. This occurs when two different conductive materials, or conductors, rub together. One of the materials becomes positively charged; the other takes on a negative charge. The positively charged material now has an electrostatic charge. When the electrically charged object comes into contact with another conductive material, such as a Styrofoam cup or plastic bag, a static charge is transferred and an ESD event occurs.

How does electrostatic discharge affect electronic components?

High voltage isn't necessarily the issue with ESD. Many electronic devices are susceptible to low voltage ESD damage. For example, hard drive components are sensitive to 10 volts of electrostatic discharge.

The heat from an ESD event can be extremely hot, although we might not feel the heat when we are shocked. However, when the static discharge is released onto an electronic device, such as a semiconductor or an expansion slot or card, the heat from the charge can melt or vaporize the tiny parts, causing the part to fail.

Sometimes an ESD event can damage sensitive devices, but they continue to function. This is called a latent defect, which is hard to detect but ultimately shortens the life of the device.

Diagram showing sources of heat in data centers
Heat in a data center can contribute to electrostatic discharge issues.

How to manage and prevent ESD

Electrostatic discharges can occur without warning. Prevention requires understanding the environment in which an electronic device is manufactured, handled and used, and taking measures to reduce the likelihood of an event.

Electronics manufacturers incorporate various ESD protection measures to prevent issues in the manufacturing process, which includes fabricating, testing, shipping and handling. ESD preventive measures include the following:

The ESD susceptibility symbol
The ESD susceptibility symbol indicates that a device or assembly could be damaged by an ESD event.
  • Use devices, chairs and other furnishing that are classified as ESD-safe.
  • Ensure all devices and machines are grounded according to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards.
  • Use personal grounding equipment and methods, such as antistatic wrist straps and footwear.
  • Cover floors with antistatic mats that send charges into the ground and away from devices.
  • Store devices in static-reducing containers.
  • Package electronics using materials that shield them from ESD.
  • Make antistatic spray available where appropriate.
  • Only use static-attracting components in an area that is static-minimized.
  • Avoid coming into contact with metallic parts or components, such as wires and connectors.
  • Remove unnecessary components from static-protected work areas.

Knowing that an ESD can potentially damage electronic equipment makes it essential to include antistatic measures as part of daily IT operations.

ESD standards

Various standards help address ESD control issues and create protected areas. They define the sensitivity of the products to ESD and the requirements for specific measures in environments where electrostatic fields are a problem.

ESD standards are voluntary in the United States but can be included in sales agreements and other contracts. The EOS/ESD Association is accredited by ANSI to develop ESD standards and testing methods. The following are some of the ESD standards available:

  • ANSI/ESD S20.20-2021: Protection of electrical and electronic parts.
  • International Electrotechnical Commission IEC 61340-5-1: Protection of electronic devices from electrostatic phenomena -- general requirements.
  • ANSI/ESD S8.1-2021: Standard for the protection of electrostatic discharge susceptible Items -- symbols.
  • ANSI/ESD S6.1-2019: Electrostatic discharge grounding.
  • ANSI/ESD S541-2019: Standard for packaging ESD susceptible materials.

Learn the best practices and safety standards involved in creating a comprehensive electrical safety strategy to keep your data center free of electrical hazards and protect sensitive components.

This was last updated in March 2023

Continue Reading About electrostatic discharge (ESD)

  • subnet (subnetwork)

    A subnet, or subnetwork, is a segmented piece of a larger network. More specifically, subnets are a logical partition of an IP ...

  • Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)

    Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is a standard protocol on the internet that ensures the reliable transmission of data between...

  • secure access service edge (SASE)

    Secure access service edge (SASE), pronounced sassy, is a cloud architecture model that bundles together network and cloud-native...

  • personally identifiable information (PII)

    Personally identifiable information (PII) is any data that could potentially identify a specific individual.

  • zero-day vulnerability

    A zero-day vulnerability is a security loophole in software, hardware or firmware that threat actors exploit before the vendors ...

  • DNS attack

    A DNS attack is an exploit in which an attacker takes advantage of vulnerabilities in the domain name system.

  • data collection

    Data collection is the process of gathering data for use in business decision-making, strategic planning, research and other ...

  • chief trust officer

    A chief trust officer (CTrO) in the IT industry is an executive job title given to the person responsible for building confidence...

  • green IT (green information technology)

    Green IT (green information technology) is the practice of creating and using environmentally sustainable computing resources.

  • diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)

    Diversity, equity and inclusion is a term used to describe policies and programs that promote the representation and ...

  • ADP Mobile Solutions

    ADP Mobile Solutions is a self-service mobile app that enables employees to access work records such as pay, schedules, timecards...

  • director of employee engagement

    Director of employee engagement is one of the job titles for a human resources (HR) manager who is responsible for an ...

Customer Experience
  • digital marketing

    Digital marketing is the promotion and marketing of goods and services to consumers through digital channels and electronic ...

  • contact center schedule adherence

    Contact center schedule adherence is a standard metric used in business contact centers to determine whether contact center ...

  • customer retention

    Customer retention is a metric that measures customer loyalty, or an organization's ability to retain customers over time.