Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) simulators, commonly referred to as “ESD Guns,” are pivotal tools in the realm of product development. Their primary function is to test the resilience of products against electrostatic discharges, which can be detrimental to electronic devices. This article delves into the intricacies of ESD simulators, their significance in electrostatic discharge testing, and the various standards associated with them.

Key Takeaways:

  • ESD Simulators’ Role: They are essential for product development, especially in testing products against potential electrostatic discharges.
  • Types of Simulators: There are different models like the charged device model (CDM), human body model (HBM), and machine model (MM).
  • Standards: ESD simulators adhere to standards such as IEC 61000-4-2 and ISO 10605.
  • Design Deficiencies: ESD testing can reveal design flaws in products, such as significant circuit loops, deficient power decoupling, and inferior grounding.
  • Operator Skill: The expertise of the ESD test engineer/technician is crucial for effective ESD testing.

Understanding ESD Simulators

What are ESD Simulators?

ESD simulators are devices designed to mimic the electrostatic discharges that can occur in real-world scenarios. These discharges can be harmful to electronic devices, causing malfunctions, data corruption, or even permanent damage. ESD simulators help in understanding how a product would react to such discharges and if it can withstand them.

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Why are they Important?

ESD simulators are not just tools for compliance testing. They offer invaluable insights into the robustness of the equipment under test (EUT) against transient electromagnetic phenomena. When the ESD pulse, which is high voltage, high current, and high frequency, is applied to the EUT, any design deficiencies become evident. This could manifest as automatic resets, program crashes, or other anomalies in product operations.

Standards and Testing Models

IEC 61000-4-2

This is one of the most widely recognized standards for ESD testing. It provides a framework for testing the immunity of electronic equipment to electrostatic discharges from operators directly and to adjacent objects.

ESD Test Levels
Contact dischargeAir discharge
LevelTest voltageTest voltage
1±2 kV±2 kV
2±4 kV±4 kV
3±6 kV±8 kV
4±8 kV±15 kV
X can be any level specified in product specific standards.
It can be above, below or between the others.

ISO 10605

This standard is used for testing road vehicles against electrostatic discharges. It is especially relevant for modern cars, which have a plethora of electronic systems.

Output voltage (contact discharge)2 kV to 15 kV (or as defined by test plan)
Output voltage (air gap discharge)2 kV to 25 kV (or as defined by test plan)
Output voltage accuracy5%
Output polarityPositive and negative
Rise time of short circuit current in contact discharge mode (10% to 90%)0.7 ns to 1.0 ns
Interval timeMinimum 1 s
Holding time5 s
Capacitances150 pF or 330 pF
Discharge resistances330 ohms or 2000 ohms
ISO 10605 Generator Parameters
StandardsISO 10605IEC 61000-4-2
ParameterContact / Air GapContact / Air Gap
Output voltage2-15 kV / 2-25 kV2-8 kV / 2-15 kV
Interval timeMinimum 1 sMinimum 1 s
Network capacitance150 pF, 330 pF150 pF
Network resistance330 ohms, 2000 ohms330 ohms
Number of discharge pulsesMinimum 3Minimum 10
ESD generator ground referenceBattery GroundEarth
Test conditionsUnpowererd, Powered with BatteryPowered
Test Parameters of ISO 10605 vs IEC 61000-4-2

Testing Models

There are several models used for ESD testing:

  • Charged Device Model (CDM): Simulates scenarios in manufacturing environments.
  • Human Body Model (HBM): Mimics the discharge of static electricity from a human body.
  • Machine Model (MM): Examines how equipment responds to discharges from nearby machines.

Charged Device Model (CDM)

The Charged Device Model (CDM) represents one of the most common types of electrostatic discharges that can occur, especially in manufacturing environments. In a CDM event, the device itself becomes charged, often due to processes like handling, sliding, or separation from other materials. When this charged device makes contact with a grounded surface or object, a rapid discharge occurs. This type of discharge can be particularly damaging because of its fast rise time and high peak current. The CDM is especially relevant for components that are handled during manufacturing or assembly processes, as they are more susceptible to this type of discharge during these stages.

Human Body Model (HBM)

The Human Body Model (HBM) simulates the electrostatic discharge that can occur when a human being touches an electronic device or component. This model is based on the concept that the human body can accumulate static charge, for instance, by walking on a carpet or through friction with clothing. When a charged human touches an electronic component or circuit, the static electricity can discharge into the device, potentially causing damage. The HBM is characterized by a slower rise time compared to CDM but can still lead to significant damage, especially in sensitive electronic components. It’s one of the oldest and most widely recognized models for ESD testing, reflecting the common real-world scenario of human-induced ESD events.

Machine Model (MM)

The Machine Model (MM) is designed to simulate ESD events that occur between two metal objects, such as when an electronic device comes into contact with a metal tool or machine part. In a MM event, both the device and the machine can be sources of the discharge. This model is particularly relevant for scenarios where electronic components or assemblies come into direct contact with machinery or tools during manufacturing or assembly processes. The MM typically has a faster rise time than the HBM but slower than the CDM. It’s essential for understanding how electronic devices might respond to discharges in automated or machine-heavy environments.

Selecting the Right ESD Simulator

When choosing an ESD simulator, several factors come into play:

  • Purpose: The simulator should reproduce practical conditions realistically and reproducibly.
  • Ergonomics: If there’s a lot of testing to be done, the design of the simulator should be ergonomic.
  • Battery Life: Modern ESD simulators should operate for days on one charge.
  • Testing Levels: Ensure the simulator can generate the required test levels. For instance, the highest severity level set by product-specific standards is 8kV contact discharge and 15kV air discharge modes.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the primary function of an ESD simulator?
    • The main role of an ESD simulator is to test products against potential electrostatic discharges.
  2. Why is ESD testing crucial?
    • ESD testing is vital as it reveals design flaws in products that can lead to malfunctions or permanent damage.
  3. Are there different types of ESD simulators?
    • Yes, there are different models like the charged device model (CDM), human body model (HBM), and machine model (MM).


ESD simulators play a pivotal role in ensuring that products are resilient against electrostatic discharges. By adhering to standards and using the right testing models, manufacturers can ensure the safety and longevity of their products.

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