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Silver-free and Low-Silver Solder Alloys for SMT Discussion, Part 1: Reliability

There seems to be a growing trend to use a low-Ag or Ag-free solder alloy for Surface Mount Technology (SMT) electronics assembly, similar to what is commonly offered for bar solder, used in wave and selective soldering.

For through-hole performance, the strength and stability come from the entire barrel of solder, whereas it is usually the foot and heel fillets that give SMT solder joints their strength.

Lets talk about the other issue with using a eutectic solder alloy in SMT: tombstoning.  One of the benefits of using the SAC (tin-silver-copper) alloy for SMT and solder paste, is that it has a built-in plastic range, similar to that of Sn62 (62Sn 36Pb 2Ag).  It is this plastic range that prevents tombstoning, and takes into account the inconsistent heating of the solder across the part (which is the sole cause of tombstoning).  Switching to a eutectic alloy eliminates the plastic range and opens the door for tombstoning.

Any powder manufacturing issues, such as the inconsistent distribution of dopants throughout the alloy and powder matrix, takes a back seat to the surface mount reliability concerns. 

There are other alternatives, such as SAC0307 (99Sn 0.3Ag 0.7Cu)… But, with the price of Ag finally coming down, and a long history of SAC usage, we don’t think it’s going to be a major player.

Next time, we'll talk about the manufacturing and costs associated with low-Ag and Ag-free alloys. 

I hope this helps. Contact me with any questions.