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What are Zinc Whiskers and How Can You Prevent Them?

September 10, 2012

Not to be confused with the five o’clock shadow one might sport after pulling an all-nighter updating servers, “zinc whiskers” actually refer to tiny surface crystals that form on steel surfaces that have been electroplated (galvanized) with zinc to prevent rust.

Microscopic imagery of zinc whiskersWhile the zinc overlay prevents corrosion, the molecular stress created by this electroplating process causes the zinc to sometimes expand outward, and in the process, create filaments commonly referred to as zinc whiskers (as seen above in this microscopic image).

In the data center, these zinc whiskers can form on items such as raised floor tiles and other infrastructural support such as cable runway and tray that have a zinc-electroplated coating.

In the event that zinc whiskers physically detach from their surfaces and enter a data center’s airflow (before ever being detected or impeded by air filters), these electro-charged particles can cause short circuits and other equipment failure.

Faced with this knowledge, here are a few ways you can prevent the threat of equipment failure due to the formation and airflow contamination of zinc whiskers:

  • Consider using raised floor tiles that don’t rely on zinc coating
  • Consider products that offer a hot-dip galvanized zinc coating – the hot-dip includes an extra layer of coating that puts the zinc under much less pressure than that of electroplating
  • Consider products such as cable tray that uses a powder-coating (instead of zinc) to prevent corrosion

OnTrac Shaped TrayAt CPI, we take the issue of zinc whiskers in the data center seriously, and with our most recent product release, the OnTrac® Shaped Tray for cable pathway applications (seen here), we offer both a pre-galvanized and black powder-coated finish to prevent zinc whiskers. Learn more about the OnTrac Shaped Tray at our website and as always, feel free to call Technical Support at 800-834-4969 with any questions regarding zinc whiskers or otherwise. Jeff Cihocki, Global eContent Specialist

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