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Soldering Verification Processes 1/17/20, 9:25 PM

Soldering Verification Processes

High reliability assembled PCB prototypes as well as novel surface mounted

devices (SMD) and mixed systems must be assessed according to well
defined qualification test plans. Such high reliability verification
programmes are not limited to just evaluate the robustness, reliability
and performance of the product but they also address the verification of
tools, fabrication procedures and involved materials, as well as the
confirmation of product integrity. For instance, “European Cooperation for
Space Standardization” (ECSS) standards used in space programs

ECSS-Q-ST 70-38C “High-reliability soldering for surface mount

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and mixed technology”

ECSS-Q-ST 70-08C “Manual soldering of high-reliability electrical

state the requirements and procedures for the soldering verification of

surface mounted and mixed technology, including the process validation
for manual soldering. Similarly, the industrial standards IPC-9701 and IPC-
A-610 indicate how to conduct the quality verification of soldering systems.
These standards assess different facets of the solder joint such as the used
materials, manufacturing processes the mutual compatibility and the
durability under stress. Thus, the verification programme of surface
mounted assemblies defined in the ECSS standards, required by European
Space Agencies (ESA) projects, involves both mechanical and
environmental tests (thermal cycling, vibration and shock test) and visual
inspections (external and microsection analyses). This soldering verification
process ensures that SMDs, substrates, solder alloys, soldering
processes, associated staking compounds and conformal coatings are
suitable for the operational lifetime of the spacecraft.

The following figure illustrates the tests involved in the ECSS soldering
verification plan described in the current post. In this and other SMD
verification programmes, solder joints evaluation is typically conducted on
PCB test vehicles specifically devised to explore the design, fabrication and
process limits of a given technology and of commercial prototypes.

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External visual inspection

Visual examination by optical microscopy is routinely used to study surface

features, finishes and the soldering quality and integrity of solder joints.
However, only qualified inspectors are able of a proper failure detection and
interpretation according to the applicable regulation. Major points of
interest during the visual inspection of solder joints are as follows:

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Comprehensive external visual inspection allows us to detect gross defects

in solder joints. Within the ECSS-Q-ST 70-38C soldering evaluation
programme such optical inspection is repeated after each stress test (see
examples below) in order to detect any induced anomaly.

Additionally, nondestructive inspection tools, X ray and Scanning Acoustic

Microscopy, are optionally used after each stress test for the detection of
hidden internal defects such as: voids and solder balls under components
and adhesion and delamination issues in surface mounted systems.


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Vibration tests are performed to ascertain the ability of package and solder
joints to withstand the dynamic loads related to the intended applications
and environment. Vibration environment will cause stress on the PCB
substrate, component packages, component leads and solder joints
due to a combination of the bending moments in the PCB and the inertia of
the component mass. With this concerns, the standard ECSS-Q-ST-70-
08C, clause 13.2, sets out the requirements for PCB and SMD vibration
testing. The severity for both random, sinusoidal and shock tests are
defined depending on the application of the assembly. Thus, vibration levels
for launcher hardware are more severe than those for another flight

Temperature cycling

Temperature cycling is perhaps the most commonly used accelerated test.

It simulates temperature-enhanced and thermomechanical stress
conditions on SMD solder assemblies. Thus, the conditions of testing vary
depending on the environment for which the product is designed to

The standard ECSS-Q-ST-70-08C defines in clause 13.3 the requirements

for this accelerated thermomechanical fatigue test that does not only
involves solder-joints but also any materials interface such as PCB
internal vias.

This standard impose a large number of thermal cycles in the range of −55
°C to +100 °C, including a preliminary bake out between 60 °C and 80 °C to
remove the internal humidity, which can cause unintended damages related
to internal-water freezing expansion.

Continuous electrical monitoring of the daisy chain resistance (bottom

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figure) provides updated information about the integrity of the solder

joins during this lengthy test (> 10 days) thanks to our Virtual lab
platform. The assemblies are considered qualified when no degradation of
the electrical continuity along the solder joint is observed during the test.

The failure criterion is based in the visual detection of physical damage in

the assembly or its constituent parts. Depending on the application
requirements solder-joint integrity can be continuously electrically
monitored throughout this stress test.

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Microsectioning Analysis

Once the PCB assembly has been submitted to environmental tests,

microsectioning inspection is performed in order to evaluate carefully the
PCB raw innerlayers, internal solder joint integrity and devices internal
structure. Microsection analyses are mandatory for the qualification of
soldering procedures in agreement to the ECSS-Q-ST-70-38C soldering
verification programme. This is so as it is the most reliable tool to reveal the
morphology of the solder joints with respect to intermetallic formation,
wetting, cracking and voiding.

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Certification and compromise to quality

To fulfill the requirements of standard ECSS-Q-ST-70-38C Rev.1, this set of

tests can only be carried out in a satisfactory audited ESA laboratory.
Currently, Materials & Processes Laboratory of Alter Technology has been
recognized as a recommended facility for such activity by the ESA

Materials & Processes Laboratory team comprises high qualified personnel

(Ph.D. and Engineers) and ESA certified inspectors.

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1. Failure Modes and Mechanisms in Electronic Packages, P.

Viswanadham, P. Singh, ISBN 978-1-4613-7763-4, 1998.
2. Printed Circuits Handbook Sixth Edition, C.F. Coombs, ISBN 978-0-07-
146734-6, 2008.
3. Soldering Handbook for Printed Circuit and Surface Mounting Second
Edition, H.H. Manko, ISBN 0-442-0106-3, 1995.

MC Lopez

Responsible for Materials & Processes Laboratory

Mari Carmen has a degree in Degree in Chemistry and a PhD. in Materials


She is responsible for the Materials & Process Laboratory of Alter

Technology. Her work is focused on investigating the effects of the
environment on electrical components, materials, and processes. As the
head of the laboratory, she also manages the studies conducted to evaluate

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the quality of a bare or assembled printed circuit board in relation to ECSS

standards or according to the customer’s specifications.


Contact us for more information

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