What are zinc whiskers?

Zonc whiskersZinc whiskers originate from zinc-electroplated surfaces commonly used in a variety of building applications, including computer rooms. The zinc is used to coat metal fixtures to prevent rusting or oxidation occurring. The whiskers are typically 2 microns in diameter and, over time, can grow to several millimetres in length.

Where are they found?

Any zinc-electroplated surface may experience whisker growth, however it is certain types of floor tiles used in computer room raised floor applications which are of most concern. These tiles tend to have large surface areas and are often disturbed and /or moved during normal activity, causing the whiskers to shed into the environment.

What are the implications?

Zinc is a metal and a good conductor of electricity. Because the subfloor voids in most computer rooms are used as air ducts, the susceptible surface of the tile is within the supply airflow. The whiskers are brittle, can become dislodged easily and, if they come to rest on an exposed circuit card inside your equipment, they can cause short circuits, voltage variances and other signal disturbances, often intermittently. In the majority of cases, the same short circuit caused by the whisker will either “vaporise” the offending contaminant or else the whisker will become dislodged when the board or card is removed, leaving definitive fault analysis difficult.

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