Indium Blog

A Simple Explanation of Why the Commonly Used Equation for Alloy Density is Wrong

  • Solder

  • Folks,

    It still surprises me that my most popular blog topic in the 15 years (yikes!) that I have been blogging is how to calculate solder alloy density having the mass fractions and densities of the alloy metals. Some years ago, I received the following comment on a blog post on this topic. The names and companies have been changed to protect the innocent (guilty?):

    Dr. Lasky,

    My name is John Smith, a PhD metallurgist.  I read with interest your article on calculating densities of alloys.  Surely your formula: 1/rhoTotal = x/rhox + y/rhocan’t be correct.  I have been at ACME metals for over 30 years and have always used: rhoTotal = xrhox + yrhoy.

    Please tell me it is not wrong!

    John Smith

    Sorry, Dr. Smith; it is wrong. The correct derivation for 1/rhoTotal = x/rhox + y/rhoy  is given here. For years, I have thought of ways to explain why rhoTotal = xrhox + yrhoy ­is not correct. One obvious point is that density has the units of mass/volume, so it is not obvious that rhoTotal = xrhox + yrhoy should work since x and y are mass fractions. But, in spite of this point, this wrong equation is even in textbooks.

    So, I decided to calculate terms that when multiplied by the metal densities do give the total density. I call these terms “density fractions.” I put them in quotes because if you look at the derivation, you will see that they are not quite in the form of a mass fraction.

    Also, these density fractions are not useful in that you have to know the density of the alloy to calculate them. Note that the incorrect equation rhoTotal = xrhox + yrhoy­ would give a density for tin-lead eutectic solder of 8.79 g/cc, an error of 4.625%.

    The derivation of the “density fraction” follows.


    Dr. Ron