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The 3 Dangers of ESD You Need to Know

Posted on February 20, 2023

From agriculture and petrochemicals to pharmaceuticals and plastics, just about every industry has had problems contending with electrostatic discharge (ESD). Today, manufacturers of certain electronic components are most vulnerable to the dangers of ESD.

If you’re a manufacturer of ESD-sensitive products, you need to take anti-static precautions to ensure the quality of your products and the safety of your team. In this piece, MFG Tray, a leading provider of ESD-safe material handling equipment, discusses what ESD is, what causes it, and its potential dangers.

What is ESD?

Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is the sudden release and flow of electric current between two electrically charged objects. In order for an ESD event to occur, there needs to be a build-up of an electrostatic charge.

Electrostatic build-ups occur when two different materials rub together. One becomes positively charged, and the other negatively charged. The positively-charged material carries the electrostatic charge. When it comes into contact with the right material, the charge transfers, and an ESD event occurs.

The Dangers of ESD

More often than not, ESD is entirely harmless unless electronics or combustible substances are involved. The three main dangers of ESD include the following:

  1. Fire & Explosion
    Under certain conditions, ESD can cause severe fires and explosions. In general, this situation would only occur when a highly flammable or combustible substance is close to the spark. While fires and explosions are uncommon, the results can be catastrophic.
  2. Electrostatic Shock
    Humans start to feel pain from ESD when the shock is at 3,000V; the average ESD is around 5,000V. However, under severe conditions, static shock can produce up to 15,000V. While the shock itself is rarely a health concern, the recoil from getting shocked can be a danger to people and the products they’re working on.
  3. Electrostatic Damage
    Electrostatic damage occurs when there is a change to a component caused by an ESD that makes it fail to meet one or more specified parameters. Damage often results from handling items in an uncontrolled ESD environment.

Depending on the electronics being manufactured and the voltage, ESD can damage electronic components by causing either:

  • Soft errors/soft failures: ESD can cause various soft errors in portable electronic products. These errors are particularly critical for products with displays such as digital cameras, cell phones, and tablets. Common soft errors include lines on a display and hang-ups/freezing.
  • Catastrophic failures: When ESD causes a metal melt, junction breakdown, or oxide failure, the component becomes damaged beyond repair. These failures must be discovered during testing, or they may go into production.

As electronic devices’ circuitry gets smaller, they become more sensitive to ESD. As this sensitivity continues to increase, electronics manufacturers must optimize their handling processes to minimize the chances of an ESD event. Without static control, manufacturers face an array of issues, including:

  • Reduced production yields
  • Increased manufacturing costs
  • Diminished product quality
  • Weakened product reliability
  • Reduced profits

Not all electronics are sensitive to ESD. However, the ones that are, are known as ESD-sensitive components or static sensitive devices (SSDs). The sensitivity of a component depends on its voltage withstanding and heat dissipation capabilities.

Typically, the most sensitive components are those that use metal oxide semiconductors (MOS) and complementary metal oxide semiconductors (CMOS) such as microprocessors, microcontrollers, memory chips. They can be damaged with as little as 100 volts (V). In fact, some components are so sensitive that even 1V can cause damage.

Charged surfaces also attract and hold contaminants. When that charged surface is part of a semiconductor, air-borne particulate can cause serious defects, reducing product quality and yield.

Magnetic storage components are also at risk, as ESD can erase or corrupt data. This damage should be top of mind for any technology company specializing in data storage.

Other device types that are particularly sensitive include, but are not limited to:

  • Charged coupled devices (CCDs)
  • Integrated circuits
  • Junction field-effect transistors (JFETs)
  • Laser Diodes
  • Microwave devices
  • Operational amplifiers

According to the ESD Association, “the cost of ESD-damaged electronic devices alone ranges from only a few cents for a simple diode to several hundred dollars for complex hybrids.” However, you also need to consider the cost of lost production time. Furthermore, when you add in the associated costs of repair and rework, shipping, labor, and overhead, the cost for a given company can be devastating to the bottom line.

Research from Desco indicated the cost to be:

  • $10 Device
  • $10 Device in board – $100
  • $10 Device in board and in system – $1,000
  • $10 Device and system fails – $10,000

Some industry experts actually estimate the total cost of ESD damage to be in the billions of dollars annually.

Three Causes of Device Failure

For components that can dissipate the energy of the discharge and withstand the voltage of the ESD event, little to no damage will occur. However, for ESD-sensitive parts, there are three core causes of damage:

    1. Direct ESD to the device: An ESD event can occur when any charged conductor, such as a human body, metallic tool, or fixture, discharges to an item.
    2. ESD from the device: An ESD event can also occur when an electrical component accumulates a static charge and transfers it to a conductor.
    3. Field-induced discharges: When an object becomes electrostatically charged, there is an electrostatic field around it. If an ESD-sensitive device is placed in the electrostatic field and grounded while located within the electrostatic field, a transfer of charge from the device occurs as a charge device model (CDM) event. When the item is removed from the electrostatic field and grounded again, a second CDM event occurs.

Maximize the Safety of Your People and Products

Manufacturers producing ESD-sensitive parts need to find handling equipment that minimizes the chances of ESD events. At MFG Tray, we’ve created a line of ESD products, including trays, containers, and specialty handling equipment that dissipate ESD and have a surface resistivity of 105 to 1011 ohms/square. Moreover, our Fibrestat products meet and exceed the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/ESD S20.20 standards for ESD protection.

If you’re interested in learning more about our composite trays, totes, and containers, visit our ESD products page or contact us today for a customized solution. You can also check out our extensive resource on ESD Trays.


Leading manufacturer of high-strength, glass-reinforced composite containers, trays, boxes, flats and totes for material handling in the metal working, plastics and electronics assembly industries, as well as in food service, confectionery and pharmaceutical processing.

MFG Tray continually develops customized solutions for specific material-handling challenges and applications. Customers are encouraged to contact MFG Tray to discuss any unique handling and design requirements.