Software Tool Aims to Zap ESD Problems

Charles Murray

March 25, 2015

2 Min Read
Software Tool Aims to Zap ESD Problems

A new software tool enables circuit designers to do a "dry run" on a device's electrostatic discharge (ESD) performance without building a test board first.

Known as the ESD Suppression Selection Tool, it captures the environment the part resides in, and then runs a software simulation of the protection device within that environment. "This tool doesn't evaluate our part as a standalone device, because the part never operates as a standalone device," said Chad Marak, director of semiconductor business development for Littelfuse Inc., maker of the new tool. "It always operates with something else -- an ASIC or an IC. You have to consider the whole system."

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Targeted at overvoltage situations involving ESD, the new tool distills the process of selecting TVS (transient voltage suppressor) diode arrays down to about five minutes. Users enter the specifics of the environment via software and add device settings, including maximum capacitance, maximum leakage current, application details, and the number of lines that need to be protected. From that information, the software simulates the operation of protection devices, then creates a list of devices that offer the most robust performance for the application.

"Ordinarily, it's an extremely lengthy process to figure out which device will work in your design," Marak told us. "The biggest part of that is searching through data sheets from manufacturers -- tens of data sheets, sometimes hundreds of data sheets. What we're trying to do with this tool is bring that lengthy process down from hours or days to about five minutes."

ESD is a growing problem for design engineers, especially because end products are increasingly operating at lower voltages, making them more susceptible to stray voltages. Even such everyday products as running shoes, hosiery, and nylon shirts can generate enough electrostatic discharge to zap handheld devices, laptop computers, and cell phones, experts say.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Web Tool Simplifies Design of Circuit Protection

The ESD Supression Selection Tool isn't the first such tool from Littelfuse. Last year, the circuit protection company rolled out iDesign online simulation, which started with a tool targeted at board-mounted fuses in over-current situations. The new tool, which is part of iDesign, differs from the earlier one because it is aimed at over-voltage situations.

Littelfuse believes such tools will help engineers think about circuit protection earlier in the design process. Even today, many engineers leave the selection of circuit protection to the waning days of the development process, often causing problems because board space is scarce by that time. "Having a tool like this not only brings awareness," Marak said. "It gives you a very streamlined path, so you can build these devices into your system right away, and be confident your product will meet the required ESD levels."

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 31 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

About the Author(s)

Charles Murray

Charles Murray is a former Design News editor and author of the book, Long Hard Road: The Lithium-Ion Battery and the Electric Car, published by Purdue University Press. He previously served as a DN editor from 1987 to 2000, then returned to the magazine as a senior editor in 2005. A former editor with Semiconductor International and later with EE Times, he has followed the auto industry’s adoption of electric vehicle technology since 1988 and has written extensively about embedded processing and medical electronics. He was a winner of the Jesse H. Neal Award for his story, “The Making of a Medical Miracle,” about implantable defibrillators. He is also the author of the book, The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer, published by John Wiley & Sons in 1997. Murray’s electronics coverage has frequently appeared in the Chicago Tribune and in Popular Science. He holds a BS in engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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