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Dust is a ubiquitous component of the environments in which we live and work. It can deposit on printed circuit assembly to act as a source of ionic contamination. Two common consequences of dust contaminations in the printed circuit boards are loss of impedance (i.e., loss of surface insulation resistance) and electrochemical migration between traces and component leads. Both failure mechanisms involve the contamination forming a current leakage path on a printed circuit board. Based on studies on ionic contaminations, researchers have argued that the impact of dust in these two failure mechanisms is dependent on its pH, its hygroscopic compositions, and the critical relative humidity of the salts in it. However, due to the lack of experimental results and the complexity of dust compositions, the argument is not substantiated. Very few papers concerning the impact of different natural dusts on these two failure mechanisms can be found in the literature. In practice, mixtures of Arizona dust and salts are used as a substitute for dust in experiments. In this research, natural dusts were collected from four locations: natural outdoor and indoor dust samples from Massachusetts, U.S., natural outdoor dust from Tianjin, China, and the ISO standard test dust (Arizona test dust). Loss of impedance in dust contaminated printed circuit boards was investigated under controlled temperature (20ºC to 60ºC) and relative humidity (50% to 95%) ranges. The impact of dust on electrochemical migration and corrosion was evaluated under temperature-humidity-bias tests (50ºC, 90% RH, and 10 VDC). In addition to the conventional DC measurement where only resistive data can be obtained, electrochemical impedance spectroscopy were adopted to obtain nonlinear equivalent circuit models of the electrochemical process, which helps to understand the underlying physics-of-failure.

The variation of impedance with relative humidity exhibited a transition range. Below the range, the impedance was constant, and above it, the impedance degraded by orders of magnitude. The value of the transition range decreased with an increase of dust deposition density. The equivalent circuit modeling showed that the dominant resistive path gradually shifted from the bulk to the interfacial with the increase of temperature from 20 ºC to 60 ºC. There were big variations among different dusts, which were quantified using the degradation factor introduced in the research, the critical transition range, and time-to-failure. This result demonstrated that a single salt or a mixture of compounds can not be representative of all dusts. It also indicated that using the ISO standard test dust in place of natural dust samples for reliability evaluation could lead to inaccurate results. Dust should be collected from the field in order to evaluate its impact. It is showed in this thesis that some critical characteristics of dust can be used to classify different dusts for the failure mechanisms of interest. Moisture sorption capability of dust can be used to classify different dusts regarding the loss of impedance failure. The dust with the highest moisture sorption capability had the highest degradation factor. Ion species/concentration or conductivity of dust aqueous solution can be used to classify dust regarding the electrochemical migration related failures. Dust with the highest ion concentration and conductivity had the lowest time-to-failure. The underlying principals behind those critical characteristics were described and discussed based on the physics-of-failure.