ESD flooring: How it works and how to choose a product suited to your facility’s risk level
Electrostatic discharge (ESD) flooring is a broad term describing any flooring system designed to control static generation and discharge.
ESD flooring might be installed in missile manufacturing facilities, data centers or even small IT rooms. But because each of these applications have vastly different levels of risk, there’s a great deal of variety within the ESD flooring category. And in high-risk applications, there are great consequences (e.g., equipment failure, fire, injury) for choosing a product ill-fitted to your static control needs.
That’s why, when you select ESD flooring for your facility, you don’t choose based on brand, material or cost. Instead, you need to understand your facility’s risk level and static tolerance to choose a system perfectly aligned with your needs. This article will focus on explaining how static control flooring works, and which factors need to be weighed during the product selection process.
A basic overview of how ESD flooring works
As a person walks across a room, they generate and carry static charge called walking body voltage. If not discharged some other way, the walking body voltage can be discharged —called an ESD event— onto sensitive or flammable materials.
To get an idea of the level of risk involved, just 10 volts of electrostatic discharge is enough to harm high-tech electronics. And at a missile manufacturing facility, an ESD event would put employees and the facility at great risk.
Regardless of material, static control flooring systems minimize the risk of harm or damage in two ways:
- Minimizing the generation of static electricity.
- Giving any static charge generated a safe path to ground.
You need to understand your facility’s tolerances for both body voltage generation (measured in volts) and electrical resistance (measured in ohms).
Minimizing the generation of static electricity
The first goal refers to the anti-static properties of a flooring material, or its resistance to building up walking body voltage, which is heavily impacted by the footwear of the person walking.
Special ESD footwear is used to achieve the low walking voltage requirements of controlled mission-critical facilities (e.g., electronics or missile manufacturing). In real-world conditions where footwear cannot be controlled (e.g., data centers, labs, institutional buildings), low charge generating flooring materials such as ESD rubber or ESD carpet tile should be sufficient.
Giving any static charge generated a safe path to ground
ESD flooring systems are designed drain excess charge downward from equipment or personnel, through the flooring system and toward a designated grounding point.
Static will travel from the floor surface to the conductive adhesive to a copper grounding strip —which forms a grid below the floor surface— to the safe grounding point. Since electricity will always follow the path of least resistance, each step in the path to ground must be more conductive than the previous to ensure charges travel in the right direction.
To minimize risk and comply with industry standards, you may require a system with higher or lower electrical resistance for your facility. Generally speaking, there are two levels of electrical resistance to consider: Conductive or static-dissipative flooring.
Conductive — 1.0×106 ohms and below
Conductive flooring is the least resistant to the flow of electricity, making it perfectly suited for high-risk ESD applications like electronics handling and manufacturing. But if a flooring material is too conductive, it may stay on the flooring surface rather than following the safe path to ground — that’s why you won’t find ESD flooring with an electrical resistance below 2.5×104 It’s also why you’ll often find strictly enforced ESD footwear mandates in facilities with highly conductive flooring systems — the resistors in the toe straps or shoes help protect employees from shocks.
Static-dissipative – 1.0×106 to 1.0×109 ohms
Static-dissipative flooring is more resistant to grounding static charges than conductive flooring. But this doesn’t mean static-dissipative flooring is inherently worse than conductive flooring — in fact, industry standards for telecom facilities or flight-control towers require flooring to be in the dissipative range. End-user environments can’t control the footwear of visitors, and street shoes lack protection from electric shock.
Neither is better than the other. Whether dissipative or conductive flooring is best for your application depends on your facility’s level of risk, as well as industry standards.
Selecting static control flooring: Align your tolerances with the right product
Generally speaking, high-risk applications would be well-served by an ESD rubber, carpet or vinyl system. And end-user applications have the added options of ESD epoxy systems, which wouldn’t generally meet the strict tolerances of mission-critical facilities.
But while there are a variety of ESD flooring materials to choose from —epoxy, rubber, vinyl, carpet tiles— you shouldn’t start with a brand or material in mind. Instead, ESD product selection should happen on a case by case basis, working with a skilled flooring contractor to align the needs of your application (static tolerances, environment, industry standards) with a perfect-fit flooring system.
The importance of skilled installation when there’s no room for error
The value of static control flooring is in risk mitigation — and a flooring system is only effective at reducing risk if it’s installed properly. Static control flooring installations are often more complex than other applications, requiring deep product knowledge and good relationships with a variety of ESD flooring manufacturers. Not to mention many ESD projects happen in existing facilities, where the project must happen quickly and with utmost respect for the facility.
You have no room for error, so invest time to solicit the experts. With 400,000 successful installations under our belt, Spectra knows a thing or two about delivering quality, time after time — and we can help you make an educated product decision and eliminate error during installation.
Read more on reducing costs, realizing value and identifying quality contractors by reading our buyer’s guide to flooring contractors. You’ll learn about the benefits you should demand from your contractor, the key traits of a flooring contractor and how life cycle costing can save money in the long term. Download the guide today.
A buyer’s guide to commercial flooring
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