As the legislatures demand the use of lead (Pb) free plating finishes in lead frame manufacturing, different plating finishes are being offered by the lead frame makers. Lead frames are most often designed with two different Pb free plating finishes, primarily tin and nickel/palladium (Ni/Pd) based. The tin post mold plated lead frames use silver selective plating on the lead fingers for secondary wire bonding whereas the pre-plated Ni/Pd based lead frames use the same Ni/Pd based finish throughout. Enhanced versions of Ni/Pd based plating finishes such as nickel/palladium/gold (Ni/Pd/Au), nickel/palladium/gold-palladium (Ni/Pd/Au-Pd) and nickel/palladium/gold-silver (Ni/Pd/Au – Ag) are now available to further improve the wirebondability, solderability and reliability of the package. The development of a new lead frame finish involves a wide variety of concerns which must be addressed and thus mandates further evaluation of these new structures. Using the common Pb free lead frame plating finish of selectively plated silver (Ag) as the basis, a comparative approach was used to evaluate the secondary wire bond integrity of a 25 micron (1 mil) thick gold wire on Ni/Pd based lead frame plating finishes. The integrity of the secondary wire bonds for different plating finishes was investigated at various assembly thermal exposure stages using the wire pull strength test as the arbiter. Reliability tests, such as High Temperature Storage (HTS) and Unbiased Highly Accelerated Stress Test (UBHAST), were also conducted. Finally, failure analysis was conducted with the help of metallographic cross sectioning, SEM/EDX (Scanning Electron Microscope/Energy Dispersive X-ray) analysis and statistical analysis of the wire pull strength test results. Before wire bonding the lead frames, the plating surface was investigated for its surface integrity with the help of plating quality tests, such as: (i) adhesive tape test, (ii) bend test, (iii) heating test and the (iv) scribing test. Also, since wire pull is a destructive test, a statistical method called a nested gauge R&R study was used to estimate the repeatability and reproducibility of the measurement system. Failure analysis showed that there were silver and copper migrations over the Ag plated lead frame when exposed to a high temperature storage test at 175°C for 1000 hrs, but this did not affect the bond integrity. However, the Ni/Pd based lead frames did not show any metal migration since nickel acts as a barrier against the base metal diffusion.

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