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Fowler Associates Labs



Static Fire Stories Articles & Technical Papers Current News

Airport Security May be Harmful to Your Computer

By Steve Fowler

ESD Damage Lurks in Airport Security


The increase in security at airports after September 11th has also increased the possibility of ESD damage to electronic components. All laptop computers and most electronic devices such as cell phones are required to be placed in a plastic tray to be X-rayed. These trays are insulative and pose a real ESD threat to these devices.

During security checks, these trays are run on the X-ray conveyor belt, nested together for return to the front of the security check point, un-nested by the next person in line, the electronic devices are loaded into the tray for another run. The triboelectric charging and accumulation is extreme. Fields as high a 50 kV/meter have been measured.

When the person reaches to pick up the devices out of the tray, the ESD discharge can be very energetic. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I had an extreme ESD episode twice while going through security.

This article is intended to raise the awareness so damage is minimized. Also it would be nice for the security people to use dissipative plastic trays or other means to reduce the charge accumulation on the trays. A passive ionization system would be nice, but let's not hold our breaths.

After the 2nd ESD event, I used one of the static elimination brushes covered in a previous article on static in cars(click here for article). I passed the brush over the insulative tray and computer to reduce the static charges by corona ionization. These passive ionizers worked wonderfully to keep my computer and cell phone from being subjected over and over to significant ESD injections. Since I am typing this article on the plane after these events, let's assume it survived.

Good luck on your next trip. You have been warned!








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