This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project will modify an electric field sensor, developed to study dust electrification for it be used in industrial applications. The buildup of electric charges on the surface of materials is frequently large enough to cause electrostatic discharge (ESD). This is a serious problem in the semiconductor and the electronic industry because ESD causes product damage ranging from immediate failure to performance degradation and shortened lifetimes. At present, sensors are not capable of monitoring work areas for the buildup of the charge that leads to ESD. Therefore, industry focuses on ESD prevention without monitoring charge buildup. This project will develop and demonstrate a user-friendly sensor that is sensitive enough to monitor the buildup of charges that lead to ESD. In contrast to other sensors on the market, this device measures not only the magnitude but also the direction of the electric fields. This enables users to monitor work areas and take corrective actions long before electric fields large enough to cause ESD are produced. Through this effort, we will study the feasibility of this sensor, and analyze the data collected by it to improve manufacturing quality and performance.

The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is that it will enable electronics manufacturers to easily identify ESD hazards and to address potential problems at their sources, reducing expenses and improving product quality. The resulting product will also be useful in the electrostatic painting industry because the quality of applied paint depends on the electric fields generated by painting robots. Another industrial application is the prevention of ESD during the handling of flammables and explosives. Besides these industrial applications, there are many scientific applications for this product. For example, there is evidence that electric forces play an important role on the lifting of dust particles from surfaces. This is an important process because dust aerosols play an important role in our climate. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognizes that the interaction of aerosols with clouds is one of the most uncertain processes in our current understanding of our climate. The large uncertainties in climate predictions constrain their use by decision makers. Measurements made with our electric field sensor could improve our understanding of the physics of dust lifting, reducing the uncertainties involved in climate prediction.

Project Report

Electric Field Solutions (EFS) will design, assemble, and sell an innovative electric field sensor called the Charge Tracker. The Charge Tracker will initially be sold to the electronic manufacturing sector to warn against the potential for electrostatic discharges to occur. The Charge Tracker was originally invented by Dr. Nilton Renno and his research team at the University of Michigan. The Charge Tracker is a transformative technology capable of detecting electric charge buildup (static electricity) on objects located tens of feet away from it. High levels of charge buildup lead to electrostatic discharge (ESD), popularly known as a spark. ESD damages sensitive electronic products during manufacturing and assembly. Existing sensors are not sensitive enough to allow this type of monitoring from distances as large as 10 feet. In 2010, the electronic manufacturing industry spent approximately $950 MM in electrostatic discharge (ESD) prevention products, and this value is expected to grow 15% per year. The Charge Tracker will enable electronic manufacturers to easily identify ESD hazards and to address potential problems at their sources, reducing expenses and improving product quality. The following is a summary of the results and conclusions of the NSF Phase I SBIR efforts: The Charge Tracker designed and built during Phase I is nearly as accurate as the original more costly research version The electronic manufacturing segment has a need for the Charge Tracker Customer feedback brought to light what features and form factor are most valued by potential customers The market size is larger than expected. Customers indicated willingness to purchase several more units than originally expected EFS proposes to redesign the Charge Tracker during Phase II to meet the features mostly valued by customers

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Electric Field Solutions
Ann Arbor
United States
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