Journal of Electronic Materials

Investigation of Sn whisker growth in electroplated Sn and Sn-Ag as a function of plating variables and storage conditions

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Sn whiskers are becoming a serious reliability issue in Pb-free electronic packaging applications. Among the numerous Sn whisker mitigation strategies, minor alloying additions to Sn have been proven effective. In this study, several commercial Sn and Sn-Ag baths of low-whisker formulations are evaluated to develop optimum mitigation strategies for electroplated Sn and Sn-Ag. The effects of plating variables and storage conditions, including plating thickness and current density, on Sn whisker growth are investigated for matte Sn, matte Sn-Ag, and bright Sn-Ag electroplated on a Si substrate. Two different storage conditions are applied: an ambient condition (30 C, dry air) and a high-temperature/high-humidity condition (55 C, 85% relative humidity). Scanning electron microscopy is employed to record the Sn whisker growth history of each sample up to 4000 h. Transmission electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction, and focused ion beam techniques are used to understand the microstructure, the formation of intermetallic compounds (IMCs), oxidation, the Sn whisker growth mechanism, and other features. In this study, it is found that whiskers are observed only under ambient conditions for both thin and thick samples regardless of the current density variations for matte Sn. However, whiskers are not observed on Sn-Ag-plated surfaces due to the equiaxed grains and fine Ag3Sn IMCs located at grain boundaries. In addition, Sn whiskers can be suppressed under the high-temperature/high-humidity conditions due to the random growth of IMCs and the formation of thick oxide layers. © 2013 TMS.


08 Oct 2013


Journal of Electronic Materials