Solder joints in electronic packages are frequently exposed to thermal cycling environment. Such exposures can occur in real life application as well as in accelerated thermal cycling tests used for the fatigue behavior characterization. Because of temperature variations and CTE mismatches of the assembly materials, cyclic temperature leads to damage accumulation and material property evolution in the solder joints. This eventually results in crack initiation, and subsequent crack growth and failure.

In this study, the nanoindentation technique was used to understand the evolution of mechanical properties (modulus, hardness and creep behavior) of SAC305 BGA solder joints and Cu pad subjected to thermal cycling loading for various durations. In addition, microstructural changes in those joints that occur during thermal cycling were observed using both SEM and optical microscopy. BGA solder joint strip specimens were first prepared by cross sectioning BGA assemblies followed by surface polishing to facilitate SEM imaging and nanoindentation testing. The strip specimens were chosen to contain several single grain solder joints. This enabled large regions of solder material with equivalent mechanical behavior, which could then be indented several times after various durations of cycling.

After preparation, the solder joint strip samples were thermally cycled from T = −40 to 125 °C in an environmental chamber. At various points in the cycling (e.g. after 0, 50, 100, and 250 cycles), the package was taken out from the chamber, and nanoindentation was performed on each single grain joint and joint Cu pads to obtain the modulus, hardness, and creep behavior at 25 °C. This allowed the evolution of the mechanical properties with the duration of thermal cycling to be determined. Moreover, microstructural changes were also observed after various durations of cycling using optical microscopy. From the nanoindentation test results, it was found that the modulus and hardness of the SAC305 solder joints dropped significantly with thermal cycling. However, the Cu pad did not show any change in the mechanical behavior during cycling. Moreover, the nanoindentation creep test results showed significant increases in the creep deformation for solder joints whereas Cu pad did now show any significant changes in creep behavior when both of them were subjected to thermal cycling up to 250 cycles.

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