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Military/Aerospace Lead-Free Solder Reliability Still Unproven

Folks,

I’m taking a few moments from Wassail Weekend , held annually in my village, Woodstock VT, “The prettiest small town in America”, to write a post about last week’s workshops at ACI.

Indium colleague Ed Briggs and I gave a 3 hour presentation on “Lead-Free Assembly for High Yields and Reliability.” I think Ed’s analysis of “graping” and the “head-in-pillow” defect is the best around. 

There was quite a bit of discussion on the challenges faced by solder paste flux in the new world of lead-free solder paste and miniaturized components (i.e. very small solder paste deposits.) One of the hottest topics was nitrogen and lead-free SMT assembly. There seemed to be uniform agreement that solder paste users should be able to demand that their lead-free solder paste perform well with any PWB pad finish (e.g. OSP Immersion silver, electroless nickel gold, etc.) without the use of nitrogen. Not only does using nitrogen cost money, but it will usually make tombstoning worse. However, in the opinion of most people, nitrogen is a must for wave soldering and, since it minimizes dross development, it likely pays for itself.

After Ed and I finished, Fred Dimock, of BTU, gave one of the best talks I have ever experienced on reflow soldering. He discussed thermal profiling in detail, including the importance of assuring that thermocouples are not oxidized (when oxidized they lose accuracy). He also discussed a reflow oven design that minimizes temperature overshoot during heating, and undershoot when the heater is off. Understanding these topics is critical with the tight temperature control that many lead-free assemblers face.

Fred Verdi of ACI finished the meeting with an excellent presentation on “Pb-free Electronics for Aerospace and Defense.” Fred’s talk discussed the work that went into the “Manhattan Project.” A free download of the entire project report is available.

There appears to be agreement that acceptable lead-free reliability has been established for consumer products with lifetimes of 5 years or so, but not for military/aerospace electronics where lifetimes can be up to 40 years in harsh service conditions. These vast product lifetime and consequences of failure differences are depicted in the Fred's chart (above). Commercial products are in quadrant A and military/aerospace products in quadrant D.

One of the greatest risks faced by quadrant D products is tin whiskers. Fred spent quite a bit of time discussing this interesting phenomenon. One of the challenges of this risk is that there is no way to accelerate it, so you can’t do an equivalent test to accelerated thermal cycling or drop shock. Fred mentioned that there have now been verified tin whisker fails, the Toyota accelerator mechanism being a confirmed one.

In addition to tin whiskers, lead-free reliability for quadrant D products (with a service life of up to 40 years) in thermal cycle and other areas remains a concern.  I mention that tin pest was not on the list of issues for this quadrant.

Fred and the Manhattan Project Team have identified many "gaps" that need to be addressed to determine and mitigate the risk of lead-free assembly for quadrant D products.  They plan to start this approximately $100M program in 2013.

For those that missed this free workshop, ACI host Mike Prestoy is planning another one in 6 months.

Cheers,

Dr. Ron