Types  Of  ESD Device Damage

ESD damage is not always visible to the naked eye. ESD damage to electronic components can be: catastrophic and latent. 

Catastrophic Failures are immediate and can be least costly.

Catastrophic failure causes a failure in an ESD sensitive item that is permanent. The ESD event may have caused a metal melt, junction breakdown or oxide failure. Normal inspection is able to detect a catastrophic failure. A latent defect can occur when an ESD sensitive item is exposed to an ESD event and is partially degraded. It may continue to perform its intended function, so may not be detected by normal inspection. However, intermittent or permanent failures may occur at a later time.

Latent Defects may continue to perform and can be more costly.


A catastrophic failure of an electronic component can be the least costly type of ESD damage as it may be detected and repaired at an early manufacturing stage.

 Per ESD Handbook ESD TR20.20 section 2.7 Device Damage – Types and Causes “Electrostatic damage to electronic devices can occur at any point, from the manufacture of the device to field service of systems. Damage results from handling the devices in uncontrolled surroundings or when poor ESD control practices are used. Generally damage can manifest itself as a catastrophic failure, parametric change or undetected parametric change (latent defect).”

 2.7.1 Catastrophic Failures “When an electronic device is exposed to an ESD event it may no longer function. The ESD event may have caused a metal melt, junction breakdown, or oxide failure. The device’s circuitry is permanently damaged, resulting in a catastrophic failure.”


Even less than 100 volts might damage a component.

2.7.2 Latent Defects “A device that is exposed to an ESD event may be partially degraded, yet continue to perform its intended function. However, the operating life of the device may be reduced dramatically. A product or system incorporating devices with latent defects may experience a premature failure after the user places them in service. Such failures are usually costly to repair and in some applications may create personnel hazards.” It is easy with the proper equipment to confirm that a device has experienced catastrophic failure or that a part is degraded or fails test parameters. Basic performance tests will substantiate device damage. However, latent defects are virtually impossible to prove or detect using current technology, especially after the device is assembled into a finished product. Some studies claim that the number of devices shipped to users with latent defects exceeds the number that fail catastrophically due to ESD in manufacturing.”

 Latent damage caused by ESD is potentially more costly since damage occurs that cannot be felt, seen, or detected through normal inspection procedures. Latent defects can be very expensive as the product passes all inspection steps, and the product is completed and shipped. Latent defects can severely impact the reputation of a company’s product. Intermittent failures after shipping a product can be frustrating, particularly when the customer returns a product, reporting a problem which the factory again fails to detect. It consequently passes inspection and the product is returned to the customer with the problem unresolved.

The worst event is when the product is installed in a customer’s system, and performs for a while and then performs erratically. It can be very expensive to troubleshoot and provide repairs in this situation.

Catastrophic failures are detected during inspection but components with latent defects pass as good.

 One study 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

 Industry experts have estimated average electronics product losses due to static discharge to range from 8 to 33%. Others estimate the actual cost of ESD damage to the electronics industry as running into the billions of dollars annually.

The best practice is to ensure proper ESD Control measures are in place to reduce the risk of both Catastrophic Failures and Latent Defects.

For more information on ESD Control and ESD Control products, visit Desco.com

This is the second in a series of blogs concerning the Basics of ESD. Be sure to sign up for our blog to follow the series.





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