SBIR Phase I: Redesigning a scientific electric field instrument for use in electronic component manufacturing

Period of Performance: 01/01/2012 - 12/31/2012


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Electric Field Solutions
1600 Huron Parkway, 2nd Floor
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Principal Investigator, Firm POC


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.