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Dr. Alan Brown, CSMA Ltd, Queens Road, Penkhull Stoke-on-Trent ST4 7LQ Modern surface analysis techniques provide the means of rapidly solving age-old problems in the PCB industry leading to reduced defect levels. The complexity of PCB manufacturing has increased dramatically over the last three decades, progressing from straightforward double-sided boards with 100% through-hole technology to highly-complex multi-layer PCB’s with mixtures of through-hole, surface mount and chip-on-board configurations. Board layouts have consequently increased in density with tighter tolerances and decreased distances between electrical contacts. With this increase in complexity the possibility of manufacturing defects has also consequently increased. Typical causes of failure include :• Board delamination • Component misalignment • Broken metal lines • Cold-solder joints and poor die bonding • Surface contamination by metal and ionic residues Industry defect levels are variously reported to be in the range of 100 – 1000 parts per million i.e. for every million solder joints made, up to 1000 may be faulty. Defects may not “show-up” at the time of manufacture and return to haunt manufacturers as “field failures” (see later). They can escape detection by normal in-house test procedures or may not even be included in acceptance specifications. Nevertheless, defects directly affect the form, fit, function and long-term performance of PCB’s and for manufacturers, suppliers and customers they represent BAD NEWS. Many defects are related to PCB or component surfaces i.e. their chemical and/or physical composition determines performance. This article describes case studies and examples of where modern surface analysis techniques (including XPS, Imaging ToFSIMS, Dynamic SIMS and 3DP) have solved problems for PCB manufacturers and helped to improve their processes. N.B. It is important to make a distinction between the surface sensitivity of analytical techniques. XPS and SIMS methods (including ToFSIMS and Dynamic SIMS) take their information from a depth of only 1 – 5nm. The more routinely-used techniques in industry e.g. SEM/EDX and FTIR include contributions from the surface but effectively sample microns in depth. Hence a contaminant which appears only on the surface at a low but sufficient level to cause problems will be easily detected by XPS/SIMS but may not even register in SEM/EDX or FTIR analyses. Case study – Poor solder-wetting of gold contact pads In this case study the PCB manufacturer was experiencing problems with non-wetting of solder on gold bond pads. The problem manifested itself on isolated pad areas where looselyattached solder “balls” formed on part of the pad surface instead of a smooth, continuous solder layer (see image right). The pads had a conventional layer structure i.e. ~50µm copper / ~8µm nickel / ~0.1µm gold top layer, with the nickel and gold
layers being deposited by a sub-contractor using electroless and immersion processes respectively. A combination of XPS and SIMS analyses were selected, to identify the cause of
poor wetting and pin-point the manufacturing step where the problem occurred. XPS analysis of a typical nonwetting pad (fig. 1) identifies the presence of gold, nickel and copper on the pad surface along with silicon, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and chlorine.
Fig.1 XPS spectrum of poor solder-wetting pad area
XPS identified the nickel and copper as oxides. Clearly the detection of nickel and copper is inconsistent with the as-deposited layer structure. There are only two possible ways that nickel and copper can be detected by XPS - either through incomplete nickel and gold layer deposition (unlikely) or by deposition from a contaminated plating bath.
A SIMS depth profile through the gold layer (fig. 2) confirms that nickel, nickel oxide and copper species clearly appear on the top gold surface but decrease markedly beyond a depth of a few nm - reappearing at the gold/nickel interface. Hence a contaminated electroplating bath was isolated as the probable source of the problem. The presence of silicon and carbon suggested possible organic contamination by silicones on the contact pads.
Fig. 2 DSIMS depth profile of PCB pad from surface , through the gold layer and beyond the Au / Ni interface.
ToFSIMS analysis , fig. 3, confirmed the presence of poly-dimethylsiloxane (PDMS) residues and
Fig. 3 Part of the ToFSIMS spectrum of a pad area
additional hydrocarbon material. Imaging ToFSIMS of a PCB pad area (fig. 4) shows the relative distribution of the major components detected. i.e nickel and copper are concentrated within the pad region whereas PDMS is distributed over the entire area. The high levels of organic contamination could also be a cause of poor solder wetting. Although chemical factors were suspected as the main reason for poor solder-wetting, it was nevertheless prudent to investigate possible variations in surface topography of contact pads. For this, 3DP (3D Non-Contact Profiling – an optical metrology tool) was used which measures variations in surface “height” with nm resolution over areas from tens of square microns to hundreds of square centimetres. Data from bond pad arrays and an isolated pad are shown in fig. 5 – no significant pad
Fig. 4 ToFSIMS images of key species detected in the PCB / pad area.
to pad variation in topography was observed therefore eliminating physical structure as a contributing
factor to poor wetting.
Alpha = 89° Beta = 14° µm
0 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 2 2.2 2.4 2.6 2.8 3 mm
0 0 0.05 0.1 0.15 0.2 0.25 0.3 0.35 0.4 0.45 0.5 mm
75 70 65 60 55 50 45 40 35 3 mm 30 25 84 µm 20 15 10 3 mm 5 0
µm 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
80 75 70 65 60 55 50 45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0
3DP views of contact pad array and an isolated pad area showing topography
Based on the surface chemical and physical evidence obtained by XPS, ToFSIMS, DSIMS and 3DP, a contaminated electroplating bath was isolated as the probable source of the poor solderwetting problem. Case study - Field failure due to on-board corrosion PCB’s are often required to operate in extreme cycles of temperature and humidity, for example in rail and roadside traffic signalling equipment and telecommunications systems. Although packaging and encapsulation procedures are designed to stabilise PCB environments, the legacy of inadequate cleaning procedures during manufacture and board population can store up a range
of on-board defects which will lead to field failures with important consequences. In this case study a telecommunications system PCB failed several years after continuous operation in a Far East installation. Testing revealed a clear picture of on-board corrosion with areas between narrow-pitch SMT IC’s most affected. Other areas of white staining were apparent along with “dendritic” features on non-populated board areas. XPS and SIMS analysis of these areas revealed consistent levels of tin and lead from the wave solder process, halides from flux residues and additional ionic contamination at levels below the detection limit of conventional SEM/EDX analysis. This prompted a detailed investigation of PCB cleaning procedure effectivity by the manufacturer at all production stages including sub-contractor supplies. An extract of part of the XPS investigation is shown in the table below :Sample Description PCB as received – No clean Aqueous clean Solvent-based clean Field failure –corrosion area C 75.3 72.1 73.8 51.1 O 16.1 21.5 22.0 20.7 F 4.6 0.4 21.2 Sn 0.9 2.2 2.6 0.3 Pb 0.3 0.1 1.0 N 1.1 2.3 1.1 Si 1.9 1.2 Ca 0.9 Br 0.1 0.4 Mg trace Cu 3.7 Cl 1.0
The significant finding from the cleaning study was the ubiquitous nature of tin and lead residues. They were found on all areas of boards, irrespective of manufacturing origin, and persisted after cleaning with both aqueous and solvent-based treatments. For the field failure PCB, corrosion areas between IC contacts were found to contain a complex mixture of tin, lead and copper oxides, oxyhalides and halides. This is illustrated in the DSIMS image in fig. 6 where copper chloride residue (in red) has formed in the gap between the IC contacts. Tin from the solder process (in blue) has also accumulated on contacts and on all areas of the PCB. The presence of significant levels of solder residues, tin and lead, along with ionic material on all PCB areas after production is a latent defect. These residues are the essential feedstock for corrosion processes which require heat, humidity and applied EMF in order to proceed by several possible routes Fig. 6 DSIMS image overlay from a corroded area between IC legs of the field failure PCB, including redox reactions, galvanic processes, showing copper chloride (red) and tin (blue). electrolysis, atmospheric oxidation, ion transport and ionic salt formation. The long term consequences of these processes are well known including metal filament and dendrite growth, potentially leading to contact resistance changes, arcing and complete circuit failure. On the basis of this analysis, the manufacturer implemented additional inspection tests, a revised acceptance specification for suppliers and a series of revised in-house cleaning procedures with consequent product improvements.
In conclusion, modern surface analysis techniques, applied by an experienced team of scientists, provide a cost-effective way of solving key problems for PCB manufacturers. The consequent benefits in early detection of defects and optimisation of cleaning treatments can significantly reduce in-house rejection and long-term field failures. CSMA Ltd has over 25 years of experience and expertise in trouble shooting and product development consultancy over the whole manufacturing spectrum including paper, plastics, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, microelectronics and, of course, PCB technology. For more information on the company and surface analysis techniques go to www.csma.ltd.uk.
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