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May 13, 2019

Shelf Life Limit for Soldering Old Components

We are contract EMS provider and we have some customers with restrictions on how old electronic components can be when soldered. Some customers allow up to 3 years, some allow up to 5 years after the date of manufacture.

Is there a guideline by IPC or other sources that we can follow based on the class of the PCB assembly?

S.S.

Expert Panel Responses

I am not aware of an IPC standard that suggests that the age of a component is a reason to NOT use it. The "mother of all standards" that covers electronic assembly, IPC/EIA J-STD-001 "Requirements for Soldered Electrical and Electronic Assemblies" does not appear to cover this subject, that I was able to find.

The real question is, why do your customers have such a requirement? A "standard" saying otherwise may not be an effective way to convince your customers that older components are OK to use. Typically, component age can affect solderability. If this is their reason, proper storage (low RH atmosphere cabinets) can help preserve the solderability of components for many years. However, your customer may have other reasons such as the mean-time to failure recommendations specified by the manufacture of the component.

Have the conversation with your customer to understand their requirements.

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Paul Austen
Senior Project Engineer
Electronic Controls Design Inc
Paul been with Electronic Controls Design Inc. (ECD) in Milwaukie, Oregon for over 39 years as a Senior Project Engineer. He has seen and worked with the electronic manufacturing industry from many points of view, including: technician, engineer, manufacture, and customer. His focus has been the design and application of measurement tools used to improve manufacturing thermal processes and well as moisture sensitive component storage solutions.

Component shelf life is really an OEM specification and I would expect the OEM to determine shelf life based on a couple items -

One - a specific characteristic of the component that derogates over time. E.g. internal plated contacts becoming tarnished or lubricant for moving parts drying out.

Two - solderability - finish/plating of the component maintaining required solderability to support manufacturing. In this case regardless of the age of the component a simple solderability test can be performed to prove out the finish/plating is still acceptable.

These types of boiler plate contractual requirements really put the customer in bad position as components become obsolete and fall into the legacy category, causing the customer/supply chain to either break the contractual rules or incur overhead in processing deviations. Not to say there is not a place for component shelf life, but it should be up to the OEM.

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Tod Cummins
Director of Corporate Quality Assurance
Delta Group Electronics Inc.
Tod has been working in the Aerospace Electronics Industry for 20+ years, beginning with 4 years working for PCB fabricator ending as the Quality Manager and 16 years with Delta Group Electronics Inc. an AS9100 registered electronics contract manufacture. Currently position is Director of Corporate Quality Assurance.

The IPC standard J-STD-002C, Solderability Tests for Components Leads, Terminations, Lugs, Terminals and Wires, addresses solderability testing that should be used to assess the solderability of components prior to assembly. IPC standard J-STD-003C, Solderability Tests for Printed Boards, addresses the solderability of PCBs.

Based on your question it appears as if you might be assembling an end-of-life product which often requires the use of legacy components that are typically no longer a currently manufactured part. If this is the case you need to assess your component supply chain to ensure the manufacture date, storage conditions, and shipping packaging, etc. as in some cases legacy components are sourced from the ‘grey market’ either due to small lot size or simply limited availability from the component OEM.

As a general recommendation a sampling of legacy components should be subjected to a solderability test, the most common of which is a zero force wetting balance test. If the samples pass this test they should be suitable for board level assembly, but if they fail the component leads should be re-tinned before board assembly avoiding costly post-soldering rework and repair.

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Carlos Bouras
General Manager
Nordson SELECT
Carlos Bouras is the General Manager of Nordson SELECT and has over 30 years of experience in the electronics manufacturing industry. Carlos's expertise is in process engineering, product development and manufacturing operations. For the past 15 years Carlos has focused specifically on automated assembly issues and is the holder of several US patents for non-contact dispensing and precision dispensing of adhesives for the packaging of microprocessor devices.

Active components, including semiconductors, oscillators, and diodes, etc., can be accepted, if less than 2 years old. They must pass Solderability Test (J-STD-002A and J-STD-003b), if between 2 to 5 years old. They cannot be used unless it is for LTB or approved via e-SDR, if more than 5 years old.

Passive components, including resistors, capacitors (except for Aluminium Electrolytic Capacitors Described in 3.4), can be used up to 5 years provided there are no evidence of the corrosion.

Aluminium electrolytic capacitors (wet type): less than 1 year old from component manufacture date. If older than 1 year, suppliers must seek component manufacturer recommendations, treatment/reforming procedure based on the component manufacturers.

Mechanical hardware, including sheet metal, fastener hardware can be used up to 5 years provided there is no evidence of the corrosion.

Miscellaneous, including connectors, transformers can be used up to 5 years provided there is no evidence of the corrosion.

Finish PCBA can be used up to 5 years provided there is no evidence of the corrosion.

Moisture sensitive components floor life shall follow J-STD-033b for floor life classification and reflow/bake procedures.

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Amit Bahl
Director of Sales and Marketing
Sierra Circuits
Amit Bahl started to work at Sierra Circuits in 2006 where he formed strong relationships with his customers working with them on flex PCBs, HDI, controlled impedance, etc. In 2009, he was promoted Director of Sales and Marketing.

One way is to contact the component's manufacturer. In some cases they might recertify or extend the shelf life. However, this option is not cost effective since the customer will have to pay lab costs. Another alternative is to conduct a solderability test at your site. This entails a little more than just adding flux and solder to the terminations. I always try to solder the component to the PCB under normal conditions in order to get a better picture of the soldering characteristics.

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Edithel Marietti
Senior Manufacturing Engineer
Northrop Grumman
Edithel is a chemical engineer with 20 year experience in manufacturing & process development for electronic contract manufacturers in US as well as some major OEM's. Involved in SMT, Reflow, Wave and other assembly operations entailing conformal coating and robotics.