Ask the Experts
February 1, 2019 - Updated
July 4, 2007 - Originally Posted

Lead-free soldering problem

We faced a problem with lead-free soldering of a BGA (0.8mm pitch, 0.5mm ball size, BGA PCB pad = 0.34mm) -- it failed open intermittently (product PASS test at factory BUT failed when reach customer).

We are using a SAC (Ag=3, C=0.5) lead-free formula.

1) We are following the recommended profile from manufacturer (Pre-heat 60-120s @150-190C; reflow 30-60s @220C). What could have gone wrong?

2) Any good way to rework the defective joint? Will reflow of the BGA with a BGA rework equipment help?

WS Khor

Expert Panel Responses

Some thoughts on this: 1) It's hard to come to solid conclusions on profile without seeing it. In other words, the profile may be "in spec" but at an upper or lower limit that is causing the failure. So it is recommended to provide the profile to the paste vendor or to us for further review. 2) Product can have an impact—if the board is a big one, your thermocouple can be measuring a surface temp but not picking up the colder "core temp" of the product. So the profile can look acceptable but not acceptable in real terms. 3) Thermocoupling is key! It is so hard to put t/c's on BGA's. You need to drill up under the BGA to mount the t/c at the joint. We can provide data and instructions on how to do this if desired-just let us know. 4) Coplanarity of the component is important. Sometimes the part can potato chip due to moisture so when it heats, the coplanarity changes. So you can have every aspect of the process set up perfectly and still see the defect. 5) Paste quantity can have an impact for sure. Too little can also be a factor. Suggest gathering up the profile data, sample board with t/c's attached, paste data and component sample with packaging and storage method identified and send it to us or any other trusted oven type or consultant like ITM or STI and this can be sorted out quickly. As for re-work, that's out of my power band so no meaningful comments on that one but I am sure others will weigh in. Of course, we would want to get it sorted out process-wise first so we can make the problem go away and not have to re-work! (But understand that re-work is needed for the time being)

Marc Peo
Heller Industries Inc.
Mr. Peo has been with Heller Industries for over 20 years and has been President for the past 8 years. Marc has authored several industry articles on Soldering, Flux collection, nitrogen use and Lead Free conversion.

Answer to Question 1 The primary root cause for this could be inadequate melting of the bump and the solder particles in the paste, causing intermittent contact and eventual failure in the field. Here are some recommended corrective actions ... 1. The 220 deg C for reflow is a bit lower than normal. I would recommend that the reflow temperature be increased to atleast a 230-240 deg. C range. Maintaining the time above liquidus between 30-60 secs. if possible is adequate. 2. If using a Ramp-Soak-Spike Profile then the preheat temperature should prabably go up to 150 and not 190, at a ramp rate of around 1-2 deg. C per second. After reaching the 150 preheat provide a soak with a slow climb to 190-200 deg C so as not to keep the flux temperature high for extended periods of time. This will burn the flux off depending on the chemistry and result in solder defects during reflow. 3. If it is a Ramp-to-Spike profile then increase the slope to around 1 deg C per second and make sure that the assembly is not soaked for too long a period above the 190 deg. C temperature before reflow. Answer to Question 2 It will, but rememebr to reflux the bottomside of the BGA, as the flux from the paste is no longer available to protect the surfaces.

Bjorn Dahle
inspīre solutions LLC
Bjorn Dahle is the President of inspīre solutions LLC. He has 20 years experience in the electronic manufacturing industry with various manufacturing equipment companies covering pick & place, screen printers and thermal process management.

Answer to Question 1 It looks like your peak reflow temperature is too low, perhaps your thermocouples are out of specification or they are not properly placed to measure the solder ball temperature. Answer to Question 2 A good convective BGA rework system, designed for lead free applications will rework the package but make sure you get applications assistance form the manufacturer to ensure the expected results.

Edward Zamborsky
Regional Sales Manager
OK International Inc.
Ed Zamborsky is a Regional Sales & Technical Support Manager for Thermaltronics, located in New York. His position requires frequent customer visits throughout North America and the Caribbean and his position encompasses not only sales but the role of trainer and master applications engineer for all of Thermaltronics products. His expertise includes such specialties as hand soldering, convection and conduction reflow techniques, array rework, fluid dispensing equipment, and fume extraction. Ed has authored many articles and has presented many papers on topics such as; Low Volume SMT Assembly, Solder Fume Extraction, SMT Rework, BGA Rework, Lead-Free Hand Soldering, High Thermal Demand Hand Soldering, Lead Free Visual Inspection and Lead Free Array Rework.

Answer to Question 1 Could be that there is a solder wetting issue or a coplanarity issue. Those seem to be the main issues. Answer to Question 2 One method to rework BGA is to print solder paste on top of the Balls of a new BGA package and place on the board after removing the defective package.

Bill Coleman
Vice President Technology
Photo Stencil
For over 18 years, Dr. Coleman has been the vice president of technology for Photo Stencil, working closely with customers to understand their printing requirements. His efforts have resulted in several new stencil products.

It sounds like "head in pillow." This is a situation where the solder paste doesn't fully wet the BGA ball. Typically this is an issue with the component supplier and we have seen a lot of this issue with lead free BGA. The best recommendation is to change the chemistry of the paste to get a higher activity level to improve the wetting eliminating the "head in pillow".

Karl Seelig

Deck Street Consultants
In his 32 years of industry experience, Mr. Seelig has authored over 30 published articles on topics including lead-free assembly, no-clean technology, and process optimization. Karl holds numerous patents, including four for lead-free solder alloys, and was a key developer of no-clean technology.

Answer to Question 1 It is possible the root cause of your problem is insufficient paste. Assuming you're running a one-to-one pad to aperture ratio, the "Area Ratio" (AR) for a 0.34mm aperture using a 0.005" thick stencil is 0.67, which is generally accepted as the lowest AR a robust process can handle. This means that all other aspects of the printing process must be in control to ensure a robust process. The addition of a Lead Free paste may further effect the release characteristic shifting your process to an unstable print. I would suggest a post print inspection of the BGA is warranted to qualify the process. If, after optimizing the printing process, paste transfer instability is the issue, one solution may be the stencil type used. Laser cut stainless steel foils have a better release characteristic then those made using the Chemical Etch process. Nickel foils, either laser cut or E-form, have the best release quality. Answert to Question 2 We faced a problem with lead-free soldering of a BGA (0.8mm pitch, 0.5mm ball size, BGA PCB pad = 0.34mm) -- it failed open intermittently (product PASS test at factory BUT failed when reach customer). We are using a SAC (Ag=3, C=0.5) lead-free formula. 1) We are following the recommended profile from manufacturer (Pre-heat 60-120s @150-190C; reflow 30-60s @220C). What could have gone wrong?

Michael O'Hanlon
Applications Supervisor
Mr. O'Hanlon serves as the DEK Applications Supervisor for the Americas region. He has over 20 years of electronics manufacturing experience and has spent the last 13 years at DEK providing equipment utilization and process solutions for SMT manufacturing.
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