This is BSE SEM image of a microsection of a flex circuit showing two internal copper conductor layers.

This is an area where the copper conductor is corroded.  The corrosion initially attacks the grain boundaries.

This image shows that the corrosion completely consumed the copper layer at this location(top-right segment).

This is a through-hole solder joint where the internal copper conductors are almost completely gone due to corrosion as well as the nickel surface lands.

This is a higher magnification image that shows the missing material more clearly.

This is an elemental map that also shows the missing copper layers and nickel lands more clearly.

Some tips to avoid this type of corrosion include …

  1.  chose compatible materials (adhesives and other polymers can contain chlorides, sulfur, etc. … add moisture and voltage bias and corrosion  can accelerate dramatically)
  2.  clean thoroughly &  DRY at each appropriate process step (this includes bare flex fabrication and assembly processes)
  3.  thermal damage can create paths for ionic contamination and moisture to migrate into the internal conductors, so minimize thermal exposure

 

This post discusses the differences between optical images and SEM images.

 

 

This is an optical image of a flea.

 

 

 

  

 

 

This is a 20 kV secondary electron (SE) image of the same flea.

 

 

 

 

 

The optical image has good color contrast, which is often complimentary to SEM imaging.  The SEM image has no color (gray scale), but shows far more surface detail and depth of focus compared with the optical image.

 

 

 

 

This is a 20 kV backscattered electron (BSE) image of the flea.

 

 

 

 

The backscattered electron signal is proportional to the average atomic number of the material being imaged, so in this case the carbon tape background and the flea (mostly carbon) are of similar contrast.

 

 

This is a 2 kV SE image of the flea.

 

 

 

 

 

At lower accelerating voltage more of the fines surface details are apparent, but there is less signal and lower contrast.

 

 

 

Higher magnification 2 kV SE image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The advantage of SEM imaging is the high magnification with resolution, which allows for examination of small (often sub-micron) features that would not be possible using optical wavelengths.

FTIR can identify unknown plastic materials by comparison with known materials (i.e. from a spectral library).

 

 

 

Fig. A – Sample A FTIR spectrum compared with Nylon 6/6 and Nylon 6/9. Part of the spectrum
is more similar to Nylon 6/6 and part is more similar to Nylon 6/9.

 

 

 

 

 

  This is the Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrum of an unknown plastic (bottom) compared with library spectra of Nylon 6/6 and Nylon 6/9 respectively.  The spectrum suggests that this is likely a blend of Nylon 6/6 and Nylon 6/9.

A client provided four aluminum electrolytic capacitors to SEM Lab, Inc. for analysis.  These were identified as counterfeit by the manufacturer that also examined some of the counterfeit capacitors.

Fig. A – Rubber seal styles for capacitor samples

There were a variety of construction anomalies associated with these samples. These are listed below by sample. 

Sample A – Poorly constructed roll where lead spacing appeared to be bad and close proximity of swage to end of anode foil extremely unusual, as well as proximity of anode & cathode terminations. 5-swage terminations. 

Sample B – same as A (except 3-swage terminations) 

Sample C – 4-swage terminations, position of lead attachment on roll more typical than A or B where attachment was near start of roll. Corrosion damage in beginning stage on anode lead. Seal appears poor and damaged by stave on lead. 

Sample D – 5-swage terminations, position of lead attachment on roll more typical than A or B where attachment was near start of roll. Corrosion damage in beginning stage on anode lead. Seal appears poor and damaged by stave on lead. D foil appears different than C foil.

Fig. B – Sample A – failed capacitor #1. This is the EDS spectrum of corrosion product on the anode near the corroded termination.

The analysis results suggest that the two failed samples became open-circuited due to internal corrosion at the anode lead. These failures may have been accelerated by poor quality seals and construction features that permitted ingress of external contamination (e.g. Cl) and moisture. The not-yet-failed samples also showed initial stages of corrosion failure at the anode lead/seal. 

A client provided a failed metal thin film resistor (Nichrome) to SEM Lab for failure analysis. 

 

This is a failed resistor, IRC P/N W1206R033323B, 332K, 1%, 1/4W.
This is a failed resistor, IRC P/N W1206R033323B, 332K, 1%, 1/4W.
This is an optical image of the microsection at a location just outside of the NiCr thin film resistor pattern.  There is evidence of corrosion at the edge of the resistor pattern (arrows).
This is an optical image of the microsection at a location just outside of the NiCr thin film resistor pattern.  There is evidence of corrosion at the edge of the resistor pattern (arrows).
This is a higher magnification image of the corrosion damage to the resistor pattern.
This is a higher magnification image of the corrosion damage to the resistor pattern.
This region appears to be corroded (i.e. NiCr pattern missing).
This region appears to be corroded (i.e. NiCr pattern missing).
5.    The cover glass and interfacial structure appear to contain micro-pores that might explain moisture ingression from the edge of the resistor.
5.    The cover glass and interfacial structure appear to contain micro-pores that might explain moisture ingression from the edge of the resistor.
This is another image of a region that appears to have been corroded (i.e. missing NiCr).
This is another image of a region that appears to have been corroded (i.e. missing NiCr).

 

The analysis results suggest that the resistor failed due to corrosion of the edge of the NiCr resistor pattern.  The removal of material by the corrosion process created an open (likely multiple opens) in the resistor pattern.

A client provided several resistors to SEM Lab, Inc. for SEM/EDS analysis. The client reported seeing “yellowing” of the metallization after solder reflow on some components, most notably 0603 resistors. We examined both discolored (post reflow) and stock parts (control).
 

This is a BSE SEM image of the discolored resistors.

 

This is the elemental spectrum from a discolored termination.

 

Comparison of EDS spectra for discolored and stock parts. The problem appears to be related to silver.

 Sungil Cho et al [1] studied oxidation kinetics for lead-free alloys and reported that silver modifies the oxidation rate of tin (i.e. promote the formation of tin oxides). It seems likely that the yellowing is related to thick oxide formation due to combination of factors including (1) excessive time-temperature exposure (2) silver availability from the silver-thick-film in the resistor and/or the silver in the SAC alloy.
 

Resistor manufacturers offer designs that are improved with respect to exposure of the silver-thick-film in the resistor to corrosion (usually by sulfur), e.g. Thick Film Chip Resistors, Military/Established Reliability MIL-PRF-55342 Qualified, Type RM. It was suggested that the client obtain some of the Type RM resistors and determine if they are also more immune to yellowing during reflow on this assembly.
 

[1] Sungil Cho et al, “The Oxidation of Lead-Free Sn Alloys by Electrochemical Reduction Analysis”, Journal of Metals, June 2005, pp. 50 – 52.
 

Check out SEM Lab, Inc.  to learn more.

A client provided some sample PCBs (1 bare, 1 assembled) that were exhibiting discoloration on the ENIG plated surface. The client asked us to characterize this defect and determine root cause.

This image shows what appears to be a "water spot" on an ENIG pad.
This image shows what appears to be a “water spot” on an ENIG pad.

 

This is a microsection of the same pad through the approximate center of the water spot.
This is a microsection of the same pad through the approximate center of the water spot.

 

This is a high magnification image of the ENIG plating.
This is a high magnification image of the ENIG plating.

The nickel (EN) deposit appears normal except at the interface with the gold (IG layer).  The defects (shown by the yellow arrows) are referred to as “IG spiking”, where the gold plating solution etches the Ni-P grain boundaries.  This creates small voids or pits under the IG plating that trap process chemistry and cause corrosion resulting in the stain on the surface.  Root cause = IG spiking.  A secondary cause is water droplets left on the board surface after cleaning.

Check out SEM Lab, Inc.  to learn more.

This is a fairly typical example of wear out failure of an aluminum electrolytic capacitor.

AE-Cap-1

This is an optical image of the capacitor that captures the part date code.

AE-Cap-2

This is an image of the top of the device showing the vent, which ruptured and leaked a small amount of electrolyte.

AE-Cap-3

This is an image of the capacitor after dissecting the can. The capacitor roll was charred indicating that the core reached excessive temperature.

AE-Cap-4

This is a plot of capacitance versus age for “passing” capacitors from the same population of capacitors. The trend line is an inverse exponential function indicative of the wear out process.

The analysis results suggest that the capacitor failure was caused by the normal wear out processes that are characteristic of aluminum electrolytic capacitors, i.e. capacitance decreases and electrolyte volume decreases (i.e. capacitor dries out) as the capacitors age and approach end-of-life.

Check out SEM Lab, Inc.  to learn more.