Printed circuit boards provide insulation for circuits, allowing them to rest safely inside your computer and other electronic gadgets. However, these boards are very susceptible to damage from electrostatic discharge. Protecting them is not that hard, but you do have to have some supplies on hand and take action to control the environment in which the boards are stored.
Why Static Electricity Is So Bad
Every time a bolt of electrostatic discharge hits a circuit board, the heat from the discharge can melt some or all of the components. Electrostatic discharge is what causes that shock you feel when you touch a metal doorknob after shuffling along carpet on a dry day; on a grander scale, it's also what causes lightning. While you might not see any sparks from the static you carry with you to that circuit board, the same type of electrical discharge is there. As components melt, the board can fail immediately, or it can slowly degrade due to what is known as latent defects, which are caused by the static. The device the board controls can slow down or show other signs of malfunction.
Anti-Static Shipping Options
Circuit boards are particularly vulnerable to electrostatic discharge during shipping because the boards have to pass through so many places and between so many different hands. If you're shipping these boards, place anti-static mylar packaging around the boards before continuing to package them up for mailing. If you can, wear anti-static wrist wraps while handling the boards before they're packed. Also, contact the shipper you're using to see what other steps they want you to take to protect the board from static en route.
Storage Area Humidity Levels
One other thing you can control is the humidity level in the area where the boards are stored and packed. In very arid conditions, static electricity can build up very easily. This is why when it's a very dry winter's day with low humidity, you experience more static shocks. Moderate the humidity levels in the storage and handling areas so the printed circuit boards stay in better condition. You don't need to overdo it, but do try to get the humidity levels to at least 30 percent, and try not to let them get over 50 percent.
If you're planning to mail a lot of circuit boards, contact the shipper you want to use to verify their procedures for protecting circuit boards from static electricity. Also, contact the boards' manufacturer for item-specific instructions. Reach out to a PCB shipping service, such as Advanced Circuits, to learn more.