The Theory Behind Tin Whisker Phenomena, Part 5

In this installment of the series, we will complete the discussion of key processes likely engaged in tin whisker growth. These key processes include:

  1. Grain boundary movement and grain growth
  2. Energy dynamic of free surface
  3. Role of recrystallization
  4. Solubility and grain growth in response to external temperature
  5. Lattice vs. grain boundary diffusion
  6. Reaction and dynamic of intermetallic compounds
  7. Crystal structure and defects

In Parts 2, 3, and 4, we discussed the first six; now we will outline the last processes for crystal structure and defects.

Crystal Structure and Defects

Crystal structure is the bedrock of properties and behavior of materials.

Crystal structure defects and the dynamics of defects including dislocation structure and its movements account for the characteristics and performance of materials. Because the stress needed to move dislocations increases with the spacing between the planes, dislocations are expected to move along the densest planes of atoms in a material. Let’s take two primary parameters of crystal lattice into consideration: type of unit cell and atomic packing factor (APF).

Face-centered cubic (FCC) and body-centered cubic (BCC) metals have more dense planes than other crystal structures, so dislocations move relatively easy and the materials possessing these crystal structures impart high ductility. Lattice structures with closely packed planes allow more plastic deformation than those that are not closely packed. It is easier for planes of atoms to slide by each other if those planes are closely packed. For example, lead (Pb) with FCC lattice structure exhibits higher ductility than tin (Sn) with tetrahedral lattice. However, when obstacles are introduced into the lattice structure, such as interstitial atoms or grain boundaries, dislocations can be pinned and their movements hindered. In addition, if more dislocations are produced they will get into each other’s way and impede their own movements.

Within cubic lattice, a FCC crystal structure will exhibit more ductility (deform more readily under load before breaking) than a BCC structure. The BCC lattice, although cubic, is not closely packed and forms strong metals (e.g., alpha-iron and tungsten). The FCC lattice is both cubic and closely packed and forms more ductile materials (e.g., silver, gold, and lead).

Comparing between cubic-lattice (FCC, BCC) and non-cubic lattice (HCP, tetragonal, orthorhombic, monoclinic) structures, cubic-lattice structures allow slippage to occur more easily than non-cubic lattices because their symmetry provides closely packed planes in several directions.

In comparison, hexagonal close packed (HCP) lattices are closely packed, but not cubic. HCP metals (e.g., cadmium, cobalt and zinc) are not as ductile as the FCC metals. The FCC and HCP structures both have an APF of 0.74 and a coordination number of 12, consisting of closely packed planes of atoms (vs. APF of BCC = 0.68). The difference between the FCC and HCP is the stacking sequence. The HCP layers cycle among the two equivalent shifted positions whereas the FCC layers cycle between three positions.

So how does crystal structure affect tin whisker?

Tin possesses a non-cubic crystal structure (tetragonal), thus it does not allow agile slippage to readily occur and cannot proceed deformation easily. Indium also has a tetragonal crystal structure. This “inconvenient slippage” contributes to the driving forces in forming whiskers. Zn has a HCP structure. Comparing Sn with Zn, Sn’s lower APF (0.54) further facilitates whisker process as the result of more free diffusion distance, thus it is expected that Sn is even more prone to whisker than Zn.

From crystal structural perspective, among the common metals used in electronics, what is the relative whisker propensity?

If the role of crystal structure is a pure play in whisker process, tin and indium are more prone to whisker than zinc. In turn, Zn is more prone to whisker than Pb, Ag, Au and Cu.

Part 6 will conclude the series by summarizing the theory behind tin whisker phenomena.

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2016

The Theory Behind Tin Whisker Phenomena, Part 5

11-23-2016

In this installment of the series on the theory behind tin whisker phenomena, Dr. Jennie Hwang completes the discussion of key processes likely engaged in tin whisker growth—crystal structure and defects.

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New Year Outlook: China’s Five Year Plan

01-25-2016

In this article, Dr. Jennie Hwang writes about the latest developments in the current global economic landscape, as well as mega-technological trends, which include: the highlights of macro-economy outlook, China factor, oil dynamics, cyber security, and grand challenges in technology and the path forward.

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2015

A Look at the Theory Behind Tin Whisker Phenomena, Part 3

11-05-2015

The third installation in Jennie Hwang's five-part series on tin whisker phenomena continues the discussion on key processes engaged in tin whisker growth. She discusses the energy of free surface, recrystallization, and the impact of solubility and external temperature on grain growth.

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The Theory Behind Tin Whisker Phenomena, Part 2

08-06-2015

In the second part of this article series, Dr. Jennie Hwang writes that a plausible theory of tin whisker growth can be postulated through deliberating the combination and confluence of several key metallurgical processes.

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The Theory Behind Tin Whisker Phenomena, Part 1

05-27-2015

In this first article of a five-part series, Dr. Jennie Hwang goes back to basics as she discusses the theory behind the tin whisker phenomena--the reasons and mechanisms behind its occurrence--as well as how tin whiskers can be mitigated in the plating process.

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New Year Outlook: What Can We Expect in 2015?

03-04-2015

Dr. Jennie Hwang takes a long view on market thrusts in the anticipated global economic landscape, as well as mega-technological trends in selected areas deemed timely and relevant to the industry: macro-economy, oil dynamics, China factor, cybersecurity, and grand challenges in technology and the path forward.

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2014

2014: Year-end Review

12-31-2014

In her latest column, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang reviews how predictions in her January 2014 column actually panned out. She goes through the key sub-topics that directly or indirectly impact the industry in terms of macroeconomics, business environment, technology, and the global marketplace. By and large her 2014 outlook was on or close to target.

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Tin Whiskers, Part 6, Preventive and Mitigating Measures: Strategy and Tactics

09-24-2014

In this installment of the tin whisker series, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang takes a look at the preventive and mitigating measures--the strategy and tactics. She says an effective strategy for prevention and mitigation starts with a good understanding of the causations of tin whiskers. A smorgasbord of material and technique options are offered as a guide to prevent or retard tin whiskers.

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Capsulization

08-06-2014

Since lead-free implementation, concerns about tin whiskers have intensified. For the past 12 years, studies and research by various laboratories and organizations have delivered burgeoning reports and papers, and Dr. Hwang has devoted an entire series to this subject. This article aims to capsulize the important areas of the subject.

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Tin Whiskers, Part 5: Impact of Testing Conditions

05-21-2014

Dr. Jennie S. Hwang says, "Real-life stresses may lead a different tin whisker behavior as in accelerated tests (temperature cycling, elevated temperature storage). The alloy-making process to achieve homogeneity needs to be taken into consideration. For an 'impurity' system, how the process that adds elements into tin could also affect the whisker propensity."

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Tin Whiskers, Part 4: Causes and Contributing Factors

03-26-2014

According to Columnist Dr. Jennie S. Hwang, nucleation and growth can be encouraged by stresses introduced during and after the plating process. The sources of these stresses includes residual stresses caused by electroplatin, additional stresses imposed after plating, the induced stresses by foreign elements, and thermally-induced stresses.

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New Year Outlook: What Can We Expect in 2014?

01-29-2014

In her latest column, Dr. Jennie Hwang takes a long view on market thrusts in the anticipated 2014 global economic landscape, as well as technological trends in selected areas important to the SMT industry. Readers, pay attention--her predictions for 2013 were extremely accurate.

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2013, A Year-End Review

01-09-2014

For this year-in-review column, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang checks on whether her January 2013 column, "Outlook for the New Year," is on or off target. She addresses the key sub-topics that directly or indirectly impact the industry in terms of business environment, technology, and global marketplace to see how her predictions actually panned out.

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2013

Tin Whiskers: Concerns & Potential Impact

11-26-2013

What is the biggest concern about the growth of tin whiskers? A simple answer is "uncertainty." If or when tin whiskering occurs, what are likely sources of uncertainty or potential adverse impact? Dr. Jennie Hwang explains that concerns and impact concerning tin whiskers primarily fall into one of four categories.

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Tin Whiskers: Phenomena and Observations

10-09-2013

Tin whisker reflects its coined name. It has long been recognized to be associated with electroplated tin coating and most likely occurs with pure tin. Its appearance resembles whiskers. However, whiskers can also form in a wide range of shapes and sizes, such as fibrous filament-like spiral, nodule, column, and mound.

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Cyber Security: From Boardroom to Factory Floor

08-21-2013

Cyber attacks are and will continue to be a huge concern to U.S. corporations in the foreseeable future. It's a matter of when, not if. It is not industry-specific and every company will have to deal with this challenge. The earlier preparation is made, the better a company is positioned to fend off the attack.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: Cyber Security - From Boardroom to Factory Floor

08-21-2013

Cyber attacks are and will continue to be a huge concern to U.S. corporations in the foreseeable future. It's a matter of when, not if. It is not industry-specific and every company will have to deal with this challenge. The earlier preparation is made, the better a company is positioned to fend off the attack.

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Tin Whiskers: Clarity First

06-11-2013

Lead-free solder comprises a wide array of alloy systems and each system can be modified in numerous ways. A test scheme to represent lead-free is a daunting task with an astounding price tag. Dr. Jennie Hwang advises that any tin whisker propensity study be conducted with a specific alloy composition, as clarity is the name of the game.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: Conflict Minerals: A Snapshot

04-03-2013

As the supply chain becomes increasingly complex and global, with an ever-increasing number of suppliers, full traceability of conflict minerals throughout the global supply chain is a daunting task. To comply with the SEC’s reporting and disclosure requirement, a company must formulate a comprehensive program to achieving traceability and transparency.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: SAC System, A Revisit

03-13-2013

In compliance with the RoHS Directive initiated by the EU and later deployed globally, SAC305 of SnAgCu (SAC) system has been used as a lead-free solder interconnection alloy for both second- and third-level interconnection since the implementation of lead-free electronics. After a 10-year run, Dr. Jennie Hwang takes a look at SAC305 for IC packages and PCB assembly.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: Outlook for the New Year

02-06-2013

After protracted high unemployment and lack of a speedy recovery in the U.S., and in the absence of clear solutions to the Eurozone's financial crisis and China's lower manufacturing activities in 2012, will the grim global economic outlook extend to 2013?

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: 2012 Year-End Review

01-16-2013

Dr. Jennie S. Hwang compares the past year to predictions made in her January 2012 column, "What Can We Expect in 2012?" including business, technology, and global marketplace issues. She feels that, overall, 2012 was another intriguing year filled with both wanted and unwanted events.

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2012

SMT Perspectives and Prospects: Can Microstructure Indicate a Good Solder Joint? Part IV

11-27-2012

How does one examine solder joint microstructure? Is the microstructure important? This month, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang continues a series that addresses the practical aspects of solder joint microstructure and what it can tell us about solder joint reliability. The focus of this offering is the role of the phase diagram in microstructure.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: Can Microstructure Indicate a Good Solder Joint? Part III

11-06-2012

How does one examine solder joint microstructure? Is the microstructure important? This month, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang continues a series that addresses the practical aspects of solder joint microstructure and what it can tell us about solder joint reliability.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: Can Microstructure Indicate a Good Solder Joint? Part I

09-11-2012

How does one examine solder joint microstructure? Is the microstructure important? This month, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang begins a series that addresses the practical aspects of solder joint microstructure and what it can tell us about solder joint reliability.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: 100 Points on Lead-Free Performance and Reliability, Part 2

08-21-2012

In the final of a two-part series, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang takes a wide, sweeping look at the history, timeline, highlights, and future projections for lead-free manufacturing.

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2011

Reliability of Lead-Free System: Part II, The Role of Creep

10-26-2011

The degradation of a solder joint is inevitable. The solder joint intrinsic degradation process engages two scientific phenomena--fatigue and creep. In this article, industry expert Dr. Jennie S. Hwang continues her look at the reliability of the lead-free system with a closer examination of the latter.

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Reliability of Lead-Free System: Part I, Solder Joint Fatigue

09-14-2011

Industry expert Dr. Jennie S. Hwang continues her look at the reliability of the lead-free system this month with a closer examination of solder joint fatigue. Fatigue is one of the most likely culprits for material failure--regardless of metals, polymers or ceramics.

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