The effects of suppressed beta tin nucleation on the microstructural evolution of lead-free solder joints

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Most lead-free solders comprise tin (Sn) as the majority component, and nominally pure β-Sn is the majority phase in the microstructure of these solders. It is well established that nucleation of β-Sn from Sn-base liquid alloys is generally difficult. Delays in the onset of β-Sn formation have a profound effect upon the microstructural development of solidified Sn-base alloys. Utilizing stable and metastable phase diagrams, along with solidification principles, the effects of inhibited β-Sn nucleation on microstructural development are discussed, employing the widely studied Sn-Ag-Cu (SAC) alloy as a model system. This analysis shows that the main effect of suppressed β-Sn nucleation on near-eutectic SAC solders is to increase the number and/or volume fraction of primary or primary-like microconstituents, while simultaneously decreasing the volume fraction of eutectic microconstituent. General strategies are outlined for avoiding unwanted microconstituent development in these materials, including the use of metastable phase diagrams for selecting alloy compositions, employment of inoculants to promote β-Sn nucleation, and utilization of high cooling rates to limit solid phase growth. Finally, areas for future research on the development of inoculated Sn-base solder alloys are outlined. © 2007 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.

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Lead-Free Electronic Solders: A Special Issue of the Journal of Materials Science: Materials in Electronics