Ask the Experts
August 30, 2018 - Updated
May 2, 2011 - Originally Posted

Flux Recommendation for BGA Rework

We repair Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 circuit boards. One of the most common repair processes involves rework of BGA components. We use hot air rework systems for BGA rework. Is there a particular type of flux recommended for BGA rework? Are tacky fluxes recommended for BGA rework?

E. V.

Expert Panel Responses

BGA rework can involve tacky flux or solder paste. Solder paste is used to compensate for BGA ball non-coplanarity. Flux / paste can be printed using a mini-stencil or the BGA can be dipped into dipping flux / dipping paste. The bigger concern when soldering / reworking expensive BGAs on high-value products such as the Xbox, is Head-in-Pillow. From a material standpoint, the paste or flux used should have an excellent oxidation barrier (ability of the flux to prevent oxide formation in the first place) to prevent any chances of the BGA ball and paste not coalescing and forming a homogenous joint. This becomes more pertinent with rework given localized concentrated heating.

Karthik Vijay
Technical Manager - Europe
Indium Corp.
Currently with Indium Corporation and responsible for technology programs and technical support for customers in Europe. Over 15 yrs experience in SMT, Power, Thermal & Semiconductor Applications. Masters Degree in Industrial Engg, State University of New York-Binghamton.

The immediate reaction to this question is to suggest the same flux chemistry as is incorporated in the formulation of the production line solder paste used for initial assembly. Most suppliers of solder paste offer a "Rework Flux" which fits this requirement. Bearing in mind the relative difficulty of cleaning under an assembled BGA, this would ideally be a "no-clean" flux that does not need to be cleaned. In the same vein, care should be taken to remove any flux residues remaining on the rework site after removal of the defective BGA, thus avoiding any harmful effects of "twice-cooked" flux. Finally, the thermal cycle chosen for the replacement operation should match, as far as is possible, that used for the first-pass reflow.

Harold Hyman
VJ Electronix
Harold Hyman has been involved in metallurgical aspects of the electronics industry since the 1950's, and in semiconductor development and engineering for STL, Ediswan & RCA. He later joined HTC, a pioneer of vapor phase soldering and continued industry experience Dynapert, GenRad, Teradyne, SRT and VJ Electronics.

Tacky fluxes are generally the most commonly used product for re-working BGA devices. They have the benefit of staying where you want them and being sticky enough to stop the BGA from flowing away during rework. They are also designed for this type of process and so should have all the correct J-Std testing to show that any residues left post rework are safe to leave in-place. There are approved products for re-working Xbox 360 BGAs, after the red ring of death scenario a few years ago, there are also approvals from Sony for the Playstation. You can check with both companies for the products they would recommend or your local solder supplier may have a material designed for this type of repair.

Doug Dixon
Douglass Dixon is the Chief Marketing Officer for 360 BC Group, a marketing agency with offices throughout the US. 360 BC specializes in consulting and implementing successful marketing programs that utilize the latest in marketing, sales and technology strategies. As an electronics veteran, Dixon has worked in the industry for over 30 years for companies like Henkel, Universal Instruments, Camelot Systems, and Raytheon. Dixon's electronics industry experience includes a broad skill set that includes engineering, field service, applications, product management and marketing communications expertise.

Funny you should ask! Yesterday I went with my youngest son to the local game shop to return his Xbox 360. Like many game shops, they have a simple policy of "you bring it in, and we give you a refurbished unit under a new 1-year warranty." Being an engineer, I asked the shop owner just how the Xboxes were "refurbished". When I told him I was a process engineer especially interested in circuit board rework, he wanted me to look at his rework process. It consisted of a single Airvac DRS 25 rework station. No wash process, no X-ray, no nothing else. But it worked! All he had to do was add flux and reflow two BGAs. 95% of the time that fixed the problem. 4% of the time replacing the two BGAs fixed the problem if the reflow alone did not. Just 1% of the time it was some other component. Being a commercial product, the Xbox was most likely originally assembled with a no-clean flux and the original flux residues may still be present. Previous reworks would also most likely have been done with no-clean flux. Because the no-clean flux residues are probably still present under the BGAs, you certainly do not want to use a water-soluble flux, as you may not have a good enough wash process that would subsequently wash both the no-clean flux residues mixed with the organic water-soluble flux residues, and this would lead to short-term reliability issues, especially when you consider the heat and power sources present under those particular BGAs inside the relatively hot Xbox during its operating environment. Therefore, in this situation I recommend that for reflow-only rework, mask off the BGA (build a tape fence around the BGA) and then a liquid no-clean flux should be applied, and then the excess flux be blown out using a grounded air nozzle set at 20 psi or less. Do not allow the excess liquid flux to get on the rest of the circuit board. Sufficient no-clean flux will then remain on the solder balls to facilitate good wetting during a simple reflow, without having liquid blobs under the BGA that can cause the solder balls to short during reflow. For removal and replacement of the BGAs, the best method would be to remove the old BGA, prep the pads by removing the old solder. I prefer the wick method, not the hot air vacuum, as this is much less stressful on the many vias inside the PWB under the BGA. Localized cleaning of just the BGA area can then be performed. Then apply a very thin layer of no-clean tacky flux that is halide-free. You can then reflow the new component in place.

Richard D. Stadem
Advanced Engineer/Scientist
General Dynamics
Richard D. Stadem is an advanced engineer/scientist for General Dynamics and is also a consulting engineer for other companies. He has 38 years of engineering experience having worked for Honeywell, ADC, Pemstar (now Benchmark), Analog Technologies, and General Dynamics.
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