Proc. of IPC Apex Conf. Las Vegas, April 2010

A Study of the Effect of Solder Mask on Electrochemical Migration of Printed Circuit Board

Xiaofei He, Michael H. Azarian and Michael G. Pecht
Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering University of Maryland College Park, MD 20742 USA
Prognostics and Health Management Center, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong


Electrochemical migration (ECM) is the growth of conductive metal filaments on a printed circuit board (PCB) through an electrolyte solution under a DC voltage bias. ECM can cause a reduction in surface insulation resistance (SIR) between adjacent conductors, generate a path of leakage current and lead to intermittent or catastrophic circuit failures.

Solder mask has been widely used on printed circuit boards to define wettable surfaces, reduce moisture access, control outer layer impedance, and improve corrosion resistance. The mechanical and thermal properties of solder mask have been widely reported, but systematic studies of their influence on ECM have been few. This paper presents the results of temperature-humidity (THB) testing of no more than 1000 hours duration at 40V, 65C and 88% relative humidity for comparative evaluation of ECM on circuit boards with and without a solder mask. The boards were HASL finished and wave soldered using a no-clean, low solids flux. Besides primarily assessing the effects of using a solder mask on ECM, the effects of solder alloy composition (eutectic SnPb versus Sn-3.0 Ag-0.5Cu) were also investigated. In situ monitoring of SIR was performed throughout these tests. Optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy were employed to examine the correlation between the physical attributes of dendrites and the measured SIR, as well as to evaluate the effects of solder mask and solder alloy on ECM. Ion chromatography (IC) was conducted to measure contaminant levels on the surface of the PCBs. Elemental mapping by energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy was employed to identify the migrating species and their distributions and morphologies within the dendrites. A expected, the use of a solder mask resulted in higher SIR, but a dramatic difference was observed in its effect on dendritic growth and characteristic life.

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