Zaps Spell Revenues For Static Crusaders

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico -- If you drag your feet through a shag rug in the Caribbean and then touch your computer, you may not do any harm. But if you shuffle around the same way in Albuquerque, you're likely to wipe out your motherboard.

Static, that invisible and insidious jolt of electricity, thrives in dry climates. These days, so does the anti-static industry.

"Here in the desert Southwest, there's an awesome market for the static control industry," said Debbie Miley of Mesa, Arizona.

"As we're standing and talking right here little ohms are jumping out of our bodies, just little critters going everywhere," said salesman James Bennett of Golden, Colorado, his fingers flinging invisible zaps into the air before him.

Technological advances have shrunk the wiring in computers and other electronic devices to tiny, intricate webs. Now, even the slightest burst of static electricity can destroy equipment.

Combating this invisible -- but real -- problem is the booming anti-static industry, also known as Electrostatic Discharge Control, or ESD.

"Personally, I think we're in the infancy stage, and business is already awesome," said Miley, of ESD Resources.

Products sold by Miley's company include a $55 patented laboratory coat woven with carbon filament fiber and grounding plugs sewn on the sleeves.

She showed her products at the Ideas in Science and Electronics Inc. exhibition in Albuquerque this month.

Across the room, Art Varga was demonstrating his "innovative packaging solutions" -- static-resistant boxes for shipping chips, circuit cards, motherboards, modems and more.

And then there was Bennett, who works for Hy-Test Boots and Shoes but is no ordinary salesman. The Hy-Test Boots and Shoes he sells for about $60 a pair have carbon in the soles.

"These are phenomenal," he said, balancing on the edge of one foot while squeezing a wire between two fingers.

"Do you see that? I'm grounded even when I stand like this," he said.

Jeffrey Hurd of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, was pitching Texwipes -- chemically-treated nylon cloths, $83 for a bag of 20. There were also anti-static sprays, masks, desktops and cabinets, floor tiles, gloves and swabs, all essential protection in the electronics industry.

"One zap and all sorts of little devices can be wiped out," said Bob Jamison with Cascade Microtech Inc. of Beaverton, Oregon, sadly shaking his head.

"In our office we spray our carpets with fabric softener," said Bill Mitchell, an electronics engineer with Odyssey in Phoenix.

The dangers of static are well documented.

The National Transportation Safety Board is examining whether a static electric spark ignited the center fuel tank on TWA Flight 800's Boeing 747, causing a midair disaster that killed 230 people July 17 of last year.