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November 3, 2017

Micro Solder Balls Problem

We're using a lead-free HASL circuit board with a SAC alloy and a RoHS reflow process using nitrogen. We are generating a lot of micro solder balls.

Do you have any suggestions how to resolve this issue?



I.H.

Experts Comments

Micro-balling can be attributed to the print process, placement process, reflow process, the environment or the solder paste itself.

Verify solder paste is properly stored, and allowed to sufficiently warm to ambient temperature prior to being used. Verify proper stencil design guidelines have been followed, especially stencil thickness and aperture size, and verify deposition registration is accurate and repeatable. Verify that the reflow process parameters; (especially the first two minutes) are correct for the solder paste being used.

Too low of a rate-of-rise will contribute to micro-balling by allowing the solder paste to hot-slump. High-humidity, and high-temperature environments can contribute to the cold slump characteristics of solder paste. If boards are being printed and allowed to sit for an extended period of time prior to placement and reflow, cold-slump could be a contributing factor.

Consider evaluating a solder paste with a slightly higher viscosity and/or metal load. This will help combat the affects of both cold and hot slump. Check placement pressures to verify components are not being driven too far into the paste deposit.

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Mike Scimeca
President
FCT Assembly
Mike Scimeca created FCT Assembly after the purchase of Fine Line Stencil, Inc., and consists of two major operations: stencil manufacturing and the manufacturing of electronic assembly products such as solder paste, flux and solder bar.

Consider repeating the test following a baking cycle in a batch oven at 125C for 8 hours to determine whether moisture is a factor.

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Al Cabral
Regional Sales Manager
Finetech
Al Cabral is Regional Sales Manager for Finetech and Martin rework products. His expertise includes through-hole, surface mount and semiconductor packaging with an emphasis on soldering and heat transfer. Al has been a significant contributor to the development and optimization of reflow and rework processes and systems, particularly lead-free transitions and microelectronic applications.

It sounds like your reflow process is too aggressive. Try reducing the ramp rate so the fluxes don't burn off as fast.

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Edward Zamborsky
Regional Sales Manager
OK International Inc.
Mr. Zamborsky serves as one of OK's technology advisers to the Product Development group. Ed has authored articles and papers on topics such as; Low Volume SMT Assembly, Solder Fume Extraction, SMT Rework, BGA Rework, Lead Free Hand Soldering, Lead Free Visual Inspection and Lead Free Array Rework.

You indicated that you are experiencing micro-balls on a printed circuit board that has NO solder paste on it. My concern is that the circuit board may have some residual solder alloy on it that was left behind during the HASL process.

With nitrogen, these residues of alloy may coalesce and form micro balls. I would suggest that you look at the board under magnification to observe this residue. Or have your board manufacturer try to clean the boards prior to shipping to you.

I hope this will assist you in processes issues.

Gregory Arslanian
Global Segment Manager
Air Products & Chemicals, Inc.
Mr. Arslanian has been involved in electronics packaging processing and equipment since 1981 including flipchip, TAB, wirebonding and die attach. Current responsiblities include R&D, applications, marketing and customer interaction.
All good points from the other experts. One suggestion that I would have - look at the recommendations and try to solve the problem by adjusting one parameter at a time. A common mistake is change overload - changing multiple parameters and never finding the true root cause.
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Georgian Simion
Engineering and Operations Management
Independent Consultant
Georgian Simion is an independent consultant with 20+ years in electronics manufacturing engineering and operations.
Contact me at georgiansimion@yahoo.com.
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