Fundamental Studies of Tin Whiskering in Microelectronics Finishes
Piñol, Lesly Agnes
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Fundamental Studies of Tin Whiskering in Microelectronics Finishes Abstract Common electronics materials, such as tin, copper, steel, and brass, are ambient reactive under common use conditions, and as such are prone to corrosion. During the early 1940s, reports of failures due to electrical shorting of components caused by `whisker' (i.e., filamentary surface protrusion) growth on many surface types - including the aforementioned metals - began to emerge. Lead alloying of tin (3-10% by weight, typically in the eutectic proportion) eliminated whiskering risk for decades, until the July 2006 adoption of the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive was issued by the European Union. This directive, which has since been adopted by California and parts of China, severely restricted the use of lead (<1000 ppm) in all electrical and electronics equipment being placed on the EU market, imposing the need for developing reliable new "lead-free" alternatives to SnPb. In spite of the abundance of modern-day anecdotes chronicling whisker-related failures in satellites, nuclear power stations, missiles, pacemakers, and spacecraft navigation equipment, pure tin finishes are still increasingly being employed today, and the root cause(s) of tin whiskering remains elusive. This work describes a series of structured experiments exploring the fundamental relationships between the incidence of tin whiskering (as dependent variable) and numerous independent variables. These variables included deposition method (electroplating, electroless plating, template-based electrochemical synthesis, and various physical vapor deposition techniques, including resistive evaporation, electron beam evaporation, and sputtering), the inclusion of microparticles and organic contamination, the effects of sample geometry, and nanostructuring. Key findings pertain to correlations between sample geometry and whisker propensity, and also to the stress evolution across a series of 4"-diameter silicon wafers of varying thicknesses with respect to the degree of post-metallization whiskering. Regarding sample geometry, it was found that smaller, thinner substrates displayed a more rapid onset of whiskering immediately following metallization. Changes in wafer-level stress were not found to correlate with whiskering morphology (number, density, length) after 6 weeks of aging. This result points either to the irrelevance of macrostress in the substrate/film composite, or to a difference in whiskering mechanism for rigid substrates (whose stress gradient over time is significant) when compared with thinner, flexible susbtrates (whose stress is less variable with time). Organic contamination was found to have no appreciable effect when explicitly introduced. Furthermore, electron-beam evaporated films whiskered more readily than films deposited via electroplating from baths containing organic "brighteners." Beyond such findings, novel in themselves, our work is also unique in that we emphasize the "clean" deposition of tin (with chromium adhesion layers and copper underlayers) by vacuum-based physical vapor deposition, to circumvent the question of contamination entirely. By employing silicon substrates exclusively, we have distinguished ourselves from other works (which, for example, use copper coupons fabricated from rolled shim stock) because we have better sample-to-sample consistency in terms of material properties, machinability, and orientation.