IEEE Transactions on Device and Materials Reliability, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 296-304, Jun. 2009.

Early Detection of Interconnect Degradation by Continuous Monitoring of RF Impedance

Daeil Kwon, Member, IEEE
Michael H. Azarian, Member, IEEE
Michael Pecht, Fellow, IEEE

Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE)
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742


Traditional methods used to monitor interconnect reliability are based on measurement of dc resistance. DC resistance is well suited for characterizing electrical continuity, such as identifying an open circuit, but is not useful for detecting a partially degraded interconnect. Degradation of interconnects, such as cracking of solder joints due to fatigue or shock loading, usually initiates at an exterior surface and propagates toward the interior. At frequencies above several hundred megahertz, signal propagation is concentrated at the surface of interconnects, a phenomenon known as the skin effect. Due to the skin effect, RF impedance monitoring offers a more sensitive and reproducible means of sensing interconnect degradation than dc resistance. Since the operation of many types of electronic product requires transmission of signals with significant frequency components in the gigahertz range, this has the further implication that even a small crack at the surface of an interconnect may adversely affect the performance of current and future electronics. This paper demonstrates the value of RF impedance measurements as an early
indicator of physical degradation of solder joints as compared to dc-resistance measurements. Mechanical fatigue tests have been conducted with an impedance-controlled circuit board on which a surface mount component was soldered. Simultaneous measurements were performed of dc resistance and time domain reflection
coefficient as a measure of RF impedance while the solder joints were stressed. The RF impedance was observed to increase in response to the early stages of cracking of the solder joint while the dc resistance remained constant. Failure analysis revealed that the RF impedance increase resulted from a physical crack, which initiated at the surface of the solder joint and propagated only partway across the solder joint. A comparison between RF impedance and event detectors was made to compare their respective sensitivities in detecting interconnect degradation. These test results indicate that RF impedance can serve as a nondestructive early indicator of solder joint degradation and as an improved means for assessing reliability of high-speed electronics.

Index Terms—Impedance, interconnection, reliability, time domain

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