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Status of Lead-Free Solder Joint Reliability in Thermal Cycle Testing


Back in October, I posted comments on lead-free reliability.   In this post, I mentioned that I chaired a session at SMTAI on “Alternate Alloys”. At this session, Greg Henshall presented a paper on the  Low Silver BGA Sphere Metallurgy Project. This paper was a collaborative effort of six companies.  In addition, Richard Coyle presented an overview of the work of three companies titled “The Effect of Silver Content on the Solder Joint Reliability of a Pb-free PBGA Package.” Both projects evaluated lead-free thermal cycle reliability as a function of silver content and compared the results to SnPb reliability.

Both papers concluded that, as far as 0oC to 100 oC thermal cycle reliability is concerned in their experiments, SnPb < SAC105 < SAC305 < SAC405

Coyle’s presentation summed it up best:

“Each of the SAC alloys outperformed the SnPb eutectic alloy in every test, including the long, 60 min. dwell time test. This tends to diminish the argument that SAC is less reliable than SnPb.”

To be clear, it was two papers by two different groups coming to the same conclusion. It would probably be a stretch to say that the conclusions of either group were “almost unique".

Denny Fritz responded to this blog post with this point:

“No one I know will dispute your ranking of SAC better than SnPb solder using the commercial temperature cycle Henshall uses – 0C to 100C. But, harsh environment electronics have to perform to either -40C or -55C, and most use a top end cycling temperature of 125C. IT IS IN THAT WIDE THERMAL CYCLE TESTING THAT SnPb outperforms SAC solders.”

Denny’s point is well taken. I believe it can be said that SAC alloys have demonstrated acceptable reliability in commercial, non harsh environments (i.e. mobile phones, PCs, consumer electronics, etc.) However, it cannot be said that acceptable reliability for SAC has been established for military (RoHS exempt) and harsh (i.e. automobile engine compartment) environments.

A short time ago, Werner Engelmaier wrote an article on this topic (Global SMT Vol 11, No. 1, Jan 2011, pp 38-40.), which among other things he said:


“Of course, ‘Dr. Ron’ selectively picks data agreeing with the point of view he held from the inception of the Pb-ban under RoHS on a plot with an expanded x-axis overemphasizing the differences and supporting a solder joint reliability ranking of SnPb < SAC105 < SAC305 < SAC405.”


Ouch! My motives were not quite so nefarious, I chaired a session and wanted to share the conclusions.


However, Werner makes good points in his article, data exist disagreeing with this reliability ranking and he suggests some good points on how to conduct reliability tests so that comparisons can be made between data sets.


In reading some of his other articles, I was delighted to find that we actually agree on the state of lead-free reliability in thermal cycle testing. Here is a statement of his circa 2008 (Global SMT, Vol 8., No. 8, Aug 2008 pp 46-48.):fting, and n


“It has been 2 years since the infamous ban of Pb-solders under RoHS. What have we learned? For solder joints, no dramatic differences in reliability are apparent. The data bases for LF-solders have grown, the favored LF-solders might be shifting, and no reliability model exists as of yet. Nevertheless, progress has been made.”






Dr. Ron