Q: As a facilities engineer, how do I go about planning an electrostatic discharge (ESD) control program?
A: “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” Winston Churchill
Electrostatic discharge (ESD) control is an ongoing challenge to facilities engineers working in the realm of controlled environments. While ESD may seem a modern day menace, the problem has literally plagued manufacturing for centuries. The consequences today of ineffective ESD management may include damaged or destroyed equipment or product (sometimes in the millions of dollars), a reduction in yield and product quality, even injured employees—all with potential to dramatically impact your company’s bottom line and reputation. And in today’s controlled environments, contaminants are attracted to charged surfaces, creating additional challenges.
Our ancestors dealt with electrostatic discharge in factories, handling everything from munitions to agriculture goods, explosives, and chemicals. ESD in those days had similar impacts as today but without the sophisticated research, resources, and equipment the facilities engineer has at his/her disposal.
So, what’s a facilities engineer to do? Your immediate task is to develop a sound ESD control program, while your never-ending task will be to ensure your department and your organization continually train, execute, monitor, and evolve your ESD control efforts.
Let’s start with a simple definition. Techopedia defines ESD this way: “Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is a swift discharge of electric current between two objects with different charges and different numbers of electrons. This exchange of electrons creates a large electromagnetic field buildup, resulting in ESD.”
Now let’s take a look at how to build an effective ESD program. Take Winston Churchill’s advice, and move your worrying about ESD into action with thorough thinking and planning.
Developing an ESD program
In previous Ask the Facilities Guy columns, we’ve reviewed how to develop a number of prevention and maintenance programs, including tackling the issues of airborne molecular contamination (AMC), equipment reliability, disaster recovery, and risk assessment/safety. Despite the wide spectrum of topics, the fundamental roadmap to success remains the same:
1. Develop the case for an ESD program
2. Get buy-in from upper management, including the C-suite
3. Establish a strong team
4. Carefully assess your facility and corporate needs
5. Develop the plan
6. Roll out the plan and gain buy-in
7. Develop and instill an ongoing training program
8. Develop a review and assessment program, leading to continuous improvement
The bottom line to remember is that an effective ESD program must be comprehensive in its analysis and identification of ESD impact, comprehensive in its development and execution, and comprehensive in its training, effectiveness assessment, and modification against future requirements.
“Where’s the beef?”—Developing a business case
Like any program of significance in today’s business world, your first step is to develop the business case for an ESD control program. This step will lay the foundation for a more in-depth assessment of your facility. But most importantly it will set the stage with upper management, and may significantly impact your level of support—both in financial terms and ensuring your program is mainstreamed into your organization and viewed as a critical component of your operations. So do your job well.
Pull together data on losses attributed to ESD, past incidents, vulnerable product and process points, and the potential yield, along with financial and operations impacts that a well-crafted ESD control program will deliver. To do that you’ll need to determine the costs of ESD as accurately as possible, so dig out records such as customer returns, failure analyses, quality incidents, yield data, and any other sources related to ESD issues. And if your process spans multiple locations—for example, when final assembly and test is located offshore—be sure your analysis covers the entire manufacturing process.
Then seek champions within the organization to review your draft. Make adjustments and recruit those champions to informally support the program. You will need them at your next milestone: getting upper management (and potentially C-suite) buy-in.
Taking it to the top—Getting buy-in
The business world is littered with discarded ideas and necessary initiatives that were tossed aside or died a slow, quiet death because of one defect: failure to get buy-in from key members of management. You need to step into the ring, and you need to lead with your most deadly punch—anticipated positive impact to the bottom line.
The “who” you target depends on the structure and organization of your company. In a large corporation, it could be the head of operations. In a small company it could be the CEO. Or you may need to reverse the players in the two preceding sentences. The advice here: know your organization, and know the players who could impact both the funding/approval of your ESD control program and the success of its execution. You need to be sure to identify all influencers, and some are not immediately apparent.
Once you reach the point of rolling out the plan, it will be critical that top management visibly supports the effort. Lobby to have the ESD control initiative included in employee communications vehicles, including remarks from your top executive.
Bench strength—Draft a strong team
There’s a reason the NFL puts significant time and resources into their draft; a strong team makes or breaks success. Carefully structure your team and spend the necessary time onboarding your selections. Every member of your team needs to thoroughly understand the mission, objectives, and markers that will define success. If one of your picks is lukewarm, drop them from the lineup.
Consider that you can’t do it all. You will need to provide strong leadership, oversight, and direction while guiding the program through political waters and making course corrections for either substantive, financial, or political reasons. For that reason you need a strong second-in-command who’s committed to the program. Look to the military model and select an XO (Executive Officer) to execute and deliver key components like budget, project administration, and internal consultancy. In civilian terms we’d label this key individual a coordinator, but no matter which title you select, choose this person carefully.
Remember that ESD issues impact and cross over many functions, so make sure each impacted area has a role to play. Don’t forget departments outside the manufacturing floor like quality, internal communications, and training. Staff your team Remember that ESD issues impact and cross over many functions, so make sure each impacted area has a role to play. Don’t forget departments outside the manufacturing floor like quality, internal communications, and training. Staff your team with all levels of the organization: from production personnel to management level employees. The more diversely you staff the effort with key stakeholders, the deeper your pool of expertise. The deeper the expertise, the stronger your success.
Know thy company—Assess the problem
The effort you put into building your business case will serve as the foundation for your assessment of your operations, facilities, and challenges. Dive deep into evaluating all components that impact your ESD record: the facilities, processes, and materials across the spectrum of your operations. From purchasing and receiving to the warehouse and shipping, review the equipment, product, processes, materials, and procedures that could be contributing to ESD. Then audit your facilities (including your people) to identify the location and measure the presence of electrostatic fields in your operations. Pay special attention to equipment, processes, and products that have high ESD sensitivity.
Put on your futurist hat. Take the time to examine the company’s technology and product development roadmaps to try to anticipate future challenges and design those considerations into your plan.
The heart of the matter—Creating the plan
Armed with your research and assessment, it’s time for your committee to develop the plan.
A practical word of advice: concise and bulleted is better. Today’s electronic world demands a new form of writing. If you plan to print to paper, remember that corporate bookshelves are loaded with dusty narratives that could rival War and Peace and whose pages have never been cracked open to see the light of day.
Make sure your ESD control plan covers the full range of your operations. Clearly delineate responsibilities, procedures, and required reviews. Subdivide the plan into rational sections that can be intuitively and quickly navigated.
Your team will determine acceptable ESD sensitivity levels and you must develop procedures that will ensure protection. Don’t skimp on delineating fully developed procedures—these will be the heart of your plan. Remember, clear procedures are important for ISO certifications and in meeting ANSI requirements.
From buzz to buy-in—Rolling out the ESD control plan
Put on your marketing hats (and enlist the help of corporate communications and marketing) to develop and execute a roll-out plan. While this part of the process doesn’t exactly reside in the comfort zone of most facilities engineers, it’s a critical path to success.
Position the program as central to happy customers, enhanced profits, and future business success. Make sure senior management has a big role in the plan—without their imprimatur it will be difficult for the initiative to gain traction. The best communication is two-way, so build in components that allow employees to pose questions and offer feedback. The employees directly linked to ESD control will require more in-depth communications—developing more technical, detailed information for them will pay off.
Don’t limit your ESD control communications to only a roll-out program. Working with your communications group, be sure to keep it front and center in employees’ minds with timely and compelling updates. Don’t waste anyone’s time communicating for communication’s sake but be sure to let employees know about performance improvements or changes to the plan.
Train the team—And train them again
Training for ESD control is an ongoing loop that will continue to yield increasing returns. Enlist the services of your training department (usually a component of Human Resources) to design a program targeted to your objectives. Because ESD control is an issue across many parts of the organization, you may wish to prioritize departments based on the data you developed when you assessed the problems and the opportunities for improvement.
Training without verification is usually less effective than a program that includes testing—both to measure the comprehension of participants and to gauge the effectiveness of the training program. Be prepared to make adjustments to the program—and plan to periodically overhaul the training approach and materials in order to keep the program fresh.
Finally, your training program is also a front line marketing tool so be sure to build in statistics and information that clearly defines the scope and costs of the ESD problem. And remember to update your training to also communicate the improvements.
Review, assess, adjust—And do it again
An effective ESD control program is constantly being reviewed, analyzed, and adjusted in a continuous improvement loop. You will also need to make changes as new products and processes are ramped up, as technology changes, and as issues with quality or customer response arise. And never underestimate the interest of the finance department on your program; you will need to document the return on investment (ROI) to ensure continued necessary funding. Keep a dedicated, ongoing log of key metrics that can demonstrate both operations improvement and ROI. If you start with the statistics before adoption of the program and track these statistics faithfully, you should have a winning case.
Don’t hesitate to make changes or mid-course adjustments. To paraphrase Darwin: survival doesn’t go to the strongest, it goes to those willing to adapt to change.
Richard Bilodeau’s 30-year career includes plant engineering positions in clean manufacturing. He has designed, operated, and supervised the construction of advanced technology facilities and engineered clean manufacturing facilities for lithium-ion batteries, medical devices, electronics, and pharmaceuticals. Contact: TheFacilitiesGuy@smrtinc.com
This article appeared in the October 2013 issue of Controlled Environments.