The mechanical properties of a lead free solder are strongly influenced by its microstructure, which is controlled by its thermal history including solidification rate and thermal aging after solidification. Due to aging phenomena, the microstructure, mechanical response, and failure behavior of lead free solder joints in electronic assemblies are constantly evolving when exposed to isothermal and/or thermal cycling environments. Through uniaxial testing of miniature bulk solder tensile specimens, we have previously demonstrated that large changes occur in the stress-strain and creep behaviors of lead free solder alloys with aging. Complementary studies by other research groups have verified aging induced degradations of SAC mechanical properties. In those investigations, mechanical testing was performed on a variety of sample geometries including lap shear specimens, Iosipescu shear specimens, and custom solder ball array shear specimens. While there are clearly aging effects in SAC solder materials, there have been limited prior mechanical loading studies on aging effects in actual solder joints extracted from area array assemblies (e.g. PBGA or flip chip). This is due to the extremely small size of the individual joints, and the difficulty in gripping them and applying controlled loadings (tension, compression, or shear).

In the current work, we have explored aging phenomena in actual solder joints by nano-mechanical testing of single SAC305 lead free solder joints extracted from PBGA assemblies. Using nanoindentation techniques, the stress-strain and creep behavior of the SAC solder materials have been explored at the joint scale for various aging conditions. Mechanical properties characterized as a function of aging include the elastic modulus, hardness, and yield stress. Using a constant force at max indentation, the creep response of the aged and non-aged solder joint materials has also been measured as a function of the applied stress level. With these approaches, aging effects in solder joints were quantified and correlated to the magnitudes of those observed in testing of miniature bulk specimens. Our results show that the aging induced degradations of the mechanical properties (modulus, hardness) of single grain SAC305 joints were similar to those seen previously by testing of larger “bulk” solder specimens. However, due to the single grain nature of the joints considered in this study, the degradations of the creep responses were significantly less in the solder joints relative to those in larger uniaxial tensile specimens. The magnitude of aging effects in multi-grain lead free solder joints remains to be quantified.

Due to the variety of crystal orientations realized during solidification, it was important to identify the grain structure and crystal orientations in the tested joints. Polarized light microscopy and Electron Back Scattered Diffraction (EBSD) techniques have been utilized for this purpose. The test results show that the elastic, plastic, and creep properties of the solder joints and their sensitivities to aging are highly dependent on the crystal orientation. In addition, an approach has been developed to predict tensile creep strain rates for low stress levels using nanoindentation creep data measured at very high compressive stress levels.

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