Impact of dust on electronic component


Thread Starter

Rajesh Dwivedi

As I saw in my plant that we cleaned the all DCS cards due to possibility of dust accumulation that may badly impact the functioning of the cards, since this is a nearly 10 year old plant. Can you explain how dust can impact the proper functioning of electronic equipment?

Curt Wuollet

Dust is bad for several reasons:

It can insulate the devices causing them to overheat.
It can attract moisture causing leakage problems.
It can be directly conductive also causing leakage problems.
It can cause poor contact in relays, switches and connectors.
It can cause arcing and carbon tracking in higher voltage apps.
It makes it more difficult to service the equipment.


Dust by itself can be conductive, causing "tracking" and even arcing between components on printed circuit cards as well as causing overheating because heavy accumulations can act as an insulating "blanket".

Dust, when combined with humidity and other vapors in the air, can lead to even worse "tracking" and arcing between components on printed circuit cards. Depending on the voltages involved and the circuitry, this can lead to all manner of intermittent and "unexplained" phenomena. Certain types of dust when combined with humidity can even be slightly corrosive to electrical components.

I have seen power plants where control room doors were continually left open in dusty, dry environments and poor maintenance and lack of housekeeping standards allowed heavy concentrations of oil lubricating vapors to combine with the dust on printed circuit cards. Over a couple of decades, these plants experienced all manner of nuisance and unexplained trips and "weird" occurrences. When replacing a printed circuit card in one particular plant one day, it was observed that the accumulation of oil vapors and dust was causing the solder joints to "dissolve" and components were loose on the card! Shortly after that (within days) there was a fire in the 125 VDC battery charger caused by arcing due to dust and moisture.

To this day, that plant has all manner of problems--and the control system gets blamed for every one of them. Good housekeeping is essential to maintaining a properly functioning plant.

These days, with the proliferation of PCs used as operator interfaces, cleanliness is even more important as it affects drive (hard drive, optical (CD and DVD) drive, floppy drive) life as well as chip life. So many times I've seen PCs just shoved under counters and desks, used as ottomans for feet, and then they fail and the plant can't be operated the blame is placed on the PC.

Eric Ratliff

Some products offer 'conformal coating'. This makes them resistant to electrical conduction problems with dust. It does not help with thermal problems.

You can get very dramatic flame like arcs when the dust contains carbon fibers.