Solder joints in electronic assemblies are typically subjected to thermal cycling, either in actual application or in accelerated life testing used for qualification. Mismatches in the thermal expansion coefficients of the assembly materials cause the solder joints to be subjected to cyclic (positive and negative) mechanical strains and stresses. This cyclic loading leads to thermomechanical fatigue damage that involves damage accumulation, crack initiation, crack propagation, and failure. In addition, the microstructure, mechanical response, and failure behavior of lead free solder joints in electronic assemblies are constantly evolving when exposed to isothermal aging and/or thermal cycling environments. While the effects of aging on solder constitutive behavior (stress-strain and creep) have been examined in some detail, there have been no prior studies on the effects of aging on solder failure and fatigue behavior. Aging leads to both grain and phase coarsening, and can cause recrystallization at Sn grain boundaries. Such changes are closely tied to the damage that occurs during cyclic mechanical loading.

In this investigation, we have examined the effects of aging on the cyclic stress-strain behavior and fatigue life of lead free solders. Uniaxial solder test specimens (SAC105 and SAC305) have been prepared and subjected to cyclic stress/strain loading at different aging conditions. A four-parameter hyperbolic tangent empirical model has been used to fit the entire cyclic stress-strain curve and the hysteresis loop size (area) was calculated using definite integration for a given strain limit. This area represents the energy dissipated per cycle, which is correlated to the damage accumulation in the joint. Using the recorded cyclic stress-strain curves, the evolution of the solder hysteresis loops with aging have been characterized and empirically modeled. Similar to solder stress-strain and creep behavior, there is a strong effect of aging on the hysteresis loop size (and thus the rate of damage accumulation) in the solder specimens.

Fatigue experiments were also performed, where the uniaxial specimens were subjected to cyclic loading over a particular strain range until failure. Fatigue failure in the experiments was defined to occur when there was a 50% peak load drop during mechanical cycling. Prior to testing, the specimens were aged (preconditioned) at 125 °C for various aging times, and then the samples were subjected to cyclic loading at room temperature (25 °C). It was found that aging decreased the mechanical fatigue life, and the effects of aging on the peak load drop have been studied. It has also been observed that degradations in the fatigue/failure behavior of the lead free solders with aging are highly accelerated for lower silver content alloys (e.g., SAC105). Various empirical failure criteria such as the Coffin-Manson model and the Morrow model have been used to fit the measured data, and the parameters in the models have been determined as a function of the aging conditions.

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