Currently, lead-free solders are being widely used as an alternative to traditional Sn-Pb solders in micro-electronic packaging industry due to the environmental concern of lead. Fatigue failure of solder joints is one of the common failure modes in electronic packaging which might be attributed to the experiences of thermo-mechanical fatigue (e.g. Power switching) or mechanical fatigue (e.g. vibration) loading. To design these lead-free solders more strategically for specific applications, it is important to understand the failure mechanism of lead-free solders under fatigue loading. Moreover, the microstructure and constitutive properties of conventional lead free solder joints in electronic assemblies such as SAC305 changes when exposed to isothermal aging. These changes consequently reduce the reliability of lead free electronic assemblies significantly due to aging.

In this study, we have examined the effects of prior aging on damage accumulation occurring in SAC305 and SAC_Q (SAC+Bi) solder materials subjected to mechanical cycling (fatigue testing). Uniaxial samples have been prepared and polished so that the microstructural changes could be tracked after the initial aging, and then subsequently with mechanical cycling. In particular, we have examined the microstructural changes that occurred in small fixed regions in the solder samples, rather than using several different regions. Regions of interest near the center of the sample were marked using small indents formed with a nanoindentation system. Samples were then subjected to aging at 125 °C for various durations to produce several different initial microstructures. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) were used to investigate the aging induced microstructural changes in the regions of interest in the solder sample. After aging, the samples were then subjected to mechanical cycling. After various durations of cycling (e.g. 0, 10, 25, 50, 75, 100, 200, 300 cycles) that were below the fatigue life of the materials, the regions of interest were again examined using SEM. Using the recorded images, the microstructural evolutions in the fixed regions were observed, and the effects of the initial aging on the results were determined. In case of SAC305, It was found that the number of IMC particles decreased while the average diameter of the particles increases significantly due to the initial aging. The distribution and size of the intermetallic particles in the inter-dendritic regions were observed to remain essentially unchanged with the application of the mechanical cyclic load. Relative to the non-aged samples, there were significant differences observed in the rate and intensity of the micro crack growth occurring in the heavily aged samples that began with much coarser microstructures. Later, the cycling induced microstructure evolutions observed in the SAC_Q lead free alloy has been compared with the observed changes in the microstructure of SAC305 that occurred during the cyclic loading. Due to the presence of bismuth, significant difference in the microstructural evolution of the SAC_Q alloy during cycling were observed. Thus, the doped alloys have shown a high potential for use in thermal cycling conditions because of their improved resistance to aging-induced evolution.

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