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ESD Protection, a Lean Manufacturing Approach

Daan Stevenson
By Daan Stevenson CEO and Co-Founder, IONA Tech

For as long as we’ve been producing microelectronics, we’ve been trying to fight off the effects of electrostatic discharge (ESD). Unfortunately, this fight has not gone too well. It’s estimated that, despite billions of dollars invested annually, ESD failures are responsible for as much as 30% of all electronic failures.

At its crux, the problem with tracking down ESD is that it’s invisible. When you’re fending off ESD, you’re chasing ghosts: it’s impossible to tell what is actually happening. To confound matters, we also have very little data on the subject. To date, there are very few comprehensive studies exploring ESD and existing tools—like wrist straps and mats—are open-loop and don’t provide any insights into the events.

StatIQ Band
The StatIQ Band connects via Bluetooth to a mobile app where users can track real-time voltage measurements.

Meanwhile, when you look at almost any other field across the board today, the clear trend is a huge increase in data, transparency and connectivity. A prime example is the lean manufacturing movement, which embraces real-time data analytics to improve processes and reduce overheads.

If ESD has been an issue for so long, why is there so little data on it?

We believe that a key step in solving the ESD problem is to apply a lean manufacturing approach. For example, with our StatIQ band and the StatIQ network, we now have the tools to make this possible for the industry.

The Value of Lean Manufacturing

While the ESD problem has been unsolved, other fields have been innovating at blistering rates. Within manufacturing, one of the most brilliant trends in recent memory is the advent of lean manufacturing.

At its core, lean manufacturing is a management philosophy that emphasizes creating more value for customers by minimizing waste while maximizing productivity. To do this, lean manufacturing sites rely on modern technological advances in sensing, connectivity and data analytics.

The general approach is that all equipment around the factory is equipped with a variety of sensors such as cameras, vibration sensors and temperature sensors. These sensors continuously communicate data with a centralized dashboard, where it can be analyzed and tracked by management.

With the availability of real-time data and analytics, factory operators gain unprecedented transparency and insight into the operations of the factory—leading to improved yields and product quality. This practice of taking a data-driven approach to minimize defects and variability in manufacturing is known as “Six Sigma.”

By the same token, a lean manufacturing approach allows for issues to be detected immediately, or  before they even happen through predictive maintenance. This allows operators to instantly stop the line and prevent the cascading of issues. The result is greater quality control, less machine downtime and more time spent producing positive results.

Gleaning Insights

Lean manufacturing is only possible through the availability of reliable, real-time data. Unfortunately, this is something that the ESD industry has historically been lacking. To solve this, we’ve developed the most significant innovation in ESD protection in decades—our StatIQ band.

StatIQ is a wearable and wireless real-time ESD monitoring device. The band provides real-time insights into significant ESD information by determining the wearers’ bodily charge build-up and voltage. By tracking changes in bodily charge over time, the band can detect the occurrence of ESD events or predict when an event may occur.

To counteract this, when the user’s voltage surpasses an adjustable threshold, an audible alarm sounds to alert the user that it is unsafe to handle electrical components. If the device identifies electrostatic discharges as low as 100V (i.e., an ESD event has occurred), it provides traceability for the first time into possible damage from ESD events.

Where StatIQ truly becomes powerful, however, is when it’s coupled with our newly launched StatIQ Network.

The StatIQ Network revolves around a hub network of hardware throughout the facility. The center of the network is a Server Hub, which an unlimited number of StatIQ Bands can connect to, either directly or through the use of repeaters to extend their range. The Hub then communicates with a centralized dashboard, where data on body voltage and ESD events can be viewed in real-time. The dashboard, whose server is installed within the corporate firewall, can be accessed by authorized individuals from any computer on the network.

Together, these technologies provide a level of transparency and insight into ESD that had not yet been attainable.

ESD Through the Lens of Lean Manufacturing

With the combination of the StatIQ Band and the StatIQ network, the industry can start to apply a lean manufacturing approach to the ESD problem.

For starters, this level of transparency can enable the “stop-the-line” capabilities of lean manufacturing. If users on the network are behaving in a way that is unsafe for ESD (e.g., their bodily voltage is too high), or their equipment fails in general, they can be notified immediately before an ESD event actually occurs. Then, the line can stop until the ESD issues are mitigated and the situation is brought back under control. This stop-the-line quality control prevents catastrophic events before they happen, and results in less failed equipment, less confusion, and improved yield.

Taking this one step further, the network can actually help identify the root cause of ESD issues such that they can be eliminated entirely.

By geolocating users on the network, ESD hotspots can be determined. For example, the data can show that every time someone walks in a certain area, their bodily voltage increases significantly. With a hotspot identified, the factory operators can take precautions to mitigate the ESD impacts of a certain area, like improving grounding or adding extra ESD protection. This level of transparency adds a new dimension to ESD protection that was simply not possible before.

When compared to the conventional “blind” approach to ESD protection and prevention, this approach closes the loop on ESD products and practices to decrease the impacts of ESD by an order of magnitude.

A New Approach to ESD

ESD has historically been a major issue for the electronics industry, but conventional solutions were lacking. With the StatIQ Band and Network, IONA is providing the industry with a solution that enables real-time analytics for greater transparency into the ESD problem. By taking a lean manufacturing approach to ESD, we can finally start to address this longstanding issue and lead to a future with less waste, less confusion and greater quality control.

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