Plastics are naturally insulative, making them resistant to electric charge – meaning that electricity cannot easily travel through pure plastics. Because plastic inhibits the flow of electrons, a static charge is unable to dissipate and can remain on the surface of an item for quite some time.
If you have ever experienced touching something (a slide at a playground or a light-switch, for example) and receiving a sharp shock in your fingers, you have come in contact with a purely insulative plastic.
In laboratory, research, medical, and technical settings, a buildup of static charge could be potentially disastrous. In some cases, built up electrostatic could cause damage to or entirely erase important information or magnetic data from electronics and other sensitive equipment.
In laboratories handling or storing flammable liquids and materials, the presence of built-up electrons could cause a fire or an explosion, potentially harming both the facility and the personnel inside.
To prevent possible damage or danger as a result of un-grounded electrostatic, lab furniture designers and manufacturers like to utilize electrostatic discharge materials (ESD) which are specifically designed to minimize risk. These materials minimize the risk of electrostatic charge by allowing electrons to slowly flow through them, moving the charge in a deliberate channel to be grounded in a controlled manner.
What Is Static Electricity?
Static electricity (as opposed to current electricity) can jump from one surface or material to another and is the result of an imbalance of electrons. The transfer of electrons occurs when two materials or items come in contact if one is highly insulative – and therefore resistant to the flow of electrons.
Upon transfer, the electrons sit on the surface of the insulative material until they are neutralized, either through a process of grounding or when it comes in contact with some material with opposite polarity.
In a laboratory or research setting, the build-up of electrons on an insulative material can result in the damage or deletion of magnetic data or information, since the electrons can become ‘neutralized’ by attaching to sensitive electronics and equipment. Similarly, built-up electrostatic energy could create a spark, setting flammable liquids or materials ablaze.
To avoid this, static electricity must either be prevented or carefully controlled, which is precisely the purpose of ESD materials.
Electrostatic Discharge Materials
ESD materials are designed specifically to minimize the risks associated with electrostatic discharge by reducing the occurrence of static electricity or by channeling electrostatic energy and neutralizing it through a process of grounding. Various ESD materials are utilized for different purposes and have varying degrees of conductivity.
ESD materials are typically classified by how quickly electricity moves through them, or how resistant they are to static electric charge.
Because plastics are naturally insulative, manufacturers of ESD materials mix plastics with a variety of conductive additives to reduce their resistance to create a path for electrostatic bleed-off and to prevent the buildup of electrons. Electrostatic discharge materials are typically divided into three basic sub-categories: Anti-static, conductive, and dissipative.
Anti-static materials are designed to prevent the creation and build-up of ‘triboelectric charging’, which occurs when two materials touch and transfer electrons. While insulative materials prevent the flow of electrons, anti-static materials prevent them from ever building or collecting on the surface of an item.
Anti-static simply refers to the ability of the material to inhibit the production of static electricity and can be combined with conductive or dissipative qualities.
Conductive materials have low electrical resistance, and allow electrons to flow quickly and easily over their surfaces. Conductive materials either ground static electric energy or transfer the charge to another conductive material.
Though conductive materials can disperse and neutralize the electric charge through grounding, their ability to transfer the charge to another item or material makes them not ideal for use in ESD environments, since they may transfer charge to vulnerable or sensitive equipment/materials.
Of the various types of ESD materials, electrostatic-dissipative materials are the most ideal for ESD environments. Created using a combination of insulative plastics and conductive metals, electrostatic-dissipative materials allow electric charges to flow slowly through the material while simultaneously reducing the energy output to prevent electrostatic discharge.
In this way, electrostatic-dissipative materials can ground built-up static energy without running the risk of channeling the charge to sensitive or vulnerable equipment and materials.
Electrostatic-dissipative materials create a controlled environment in which static electricity can easily be grounded and neutralized. Even if an individual or piece of sensitive equipment were to come in contact with the material, it would not transfer the electrostatic charge since electrostatic-dissipative materials release lower levels of energy than conductive or insulative materials.
Electrostatic-dissipative materials are also classified as ‘anti-static’, meaning that they reduce the occurrence and accumulation of electrostatic energy.
Uses of Electrostatic-Dissipative Materials
Static electricity can wreak havoc in many controlled, scientific, and technical environments. Magnetic data and sensitive electronics can easily become damaged by the transfer of electrons, which is why many facilities handling vulnerable equipment and technology choose electrostatic-dissipative materials when designing their furniture.
Similarly, labs, educational environments, and medical facilities storing flammable liquids and materials often opt for electrostatic-dissipative materials when selecting their furniture and storage.
Lab tables, countertops, storage areas, packing stations, and seating can all be made electrostatic-dissipative, depending on the particular needs of your facility. In particular, workstations, benches, and countertops that see daily use should be made electrostatic-dissipative to avoid injury, accidental damage, or some other issue relating to the buildup of static electricity.
Investing in preventative features like electrostatic dissipative laminate can help you to create a safer, more efficient environment, and save you money down the line.
Electrostatic-dissipative tables, countertops, and chairs channel unwanted static electricity away from sensitive equipment, flammable chemicals, and magnetic data, grounding and neutralizing the charge through a controlled path. Gone are the days of needing to worry about how dry your facility gets, how worn your surfaces are, or whether you’ll receive a shock each time you put a hand on your desk.
At OnePointe Solutions, we custom design, build, and install lab and commercial furniture for customers in a variety of industries. Among our many high-end materials, OnePointe Solutions offers ESD laminate for our clients that require a low-static environment. Our clients love the customizability of our ESD laminate workstations, made to protect your staff and facility from unwanted static electricity while also creating a comfortable and efficient working environment.
Along with grounding unwanted electrostatic charge, our ESD workstations are fully equipped with built-in power and data, custom shelving, and adjustable height features.
Need help setting up an ESD Lab?
Give us a call at (866) 222 -7494 to speak to a representative today to get started.