The Role of Bismuth (Bi) in Electronics: A Prelude

Bismuth (Bi) is a unique element on multiple fronts. For your eyes, bismuth can be grown into beautiful iridescent rainbow crystals. When it comes to considering applications in electronics and microelectronics industry, over last three decades, the industry has shied away from using Bi, at least not in standard practices in mass production. However, an interest has surfaced recently.

After receiving various questions and comments, this series on "The Role of Bismuth (Bi) in Electronics," is tailored to electronics and microelectronics industry, to provide an overview in its entirety in the areas of importance to industry applications going forward.

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Backdrop

The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) initiated by the European Commission indeed was impactful, similar to the Montreal Protocol—an international treaty agreed in 1987. Both RoHS and the Protocol have had profound impact on the electronics industry. The Protocol phased out the production of substances that are responsible for ozone depletion; and RoHS has driven the worldwide implementation of lead-free electronics.

On lead-free solder materials, our teams through the past two decades have conducted research far before the RoHS becoming effective. Our first patent (Patent Number: 5,520,752) in this area was filed in 1994 and issued in 1996. The patent, jointly owned by the U.S. Army of the Department of Defense and myself, disclosed Bi-containing lead-free alloys to replace SnPb solder including SnAgBi system, SnAgInBi system, and SnAgCuBi system and other non-Bi-containing lead-free systems. The patent embodies the concept and inventiveness of high-performance, lead-free alloys with the objective to serve military electronics.

The broad-based awareness of and the industry’s effort in lead-free alloys started after the RoHS Directive was published by the European Commission and when the lead-free electronics appeared to become a reality (RoHS 1 in 2002/2004, RoHS2 in 2011/2013). Variations of EU RoHS adopted by other countries were later deployed globally in the mid-2000s and thereafter.

It is cheerfully intriguing to observe that some esteemed engineers and scientists have always showed an interest in novel lead-free solder materials including Bi-bearing lead-free alloys. This is vividly demonstrated by the attendance at my lectures covering lead-free and the role of Bi, which were delivered in the Professional Development Courses offered by NEPCON West and NEPCON Japan in 1997–2003, IPC lead-free roadshows in 2003–2013, and at in-house programs at OEMs and NASA facilities over the last two decades, as well as recently (2017) by SMTA webtorial programs.

Fifteen years passed by; how is the lead-free electronics doing—its track record during this fifteen-year run and its outlook? And what is the role of Bi in the lead-free arena marching forward?

SAC system, specifically, SAC305 (Sn3.0Ag0.5Cu), has been widely known and used as a de facto “standard” alloy in the industry for the past 15 years. However, during this period, for a designed performance or other purposes, different alloys outside the SAC system have been successfully used by some OEMs at their discretion, albeit in special low-volume applications.

On the subject of Bi in the lead-free arena, one important point worth noting is to differentiate two separate Bi-containing lead-free alloy systems—Sn-based alloy system vs. Bi-based alloy system. The two systems bear separate metallurgical phenomena, thus physical properties and mechanical behavior, which in turn their respective intended applications and product service environments.

Bismuth can be introduced either through the supply chain (not by design) or by design. With the deliberation of all relevant parameters, theoretical and practical, Bi plays a potent role in electronic solder interconnections. The proper use of Bi can benefit the performance and reliability of electronic package and assembly including solder joint performance, tin whisker mitigation, among others.1,2

By the same token, its improper use could impart deleterious effects to solder joints, thus product reliability. An adequate understanding of the properties and performance parameters of Bi is critical to the product reliability. This series will discuss the relevant areas of Bi to help dispel misconceptions and to demonstrate performance criteria related to Bi. The goal is to help achieve the desired level of performance and product reliability.

Topics to be Covered

This series will highlight the following topics:

  • Bi: Characteristics, resources, safety data
  • Bi effects in 63Sn37Pb solder joint
    • Physical properties
    • Mechanical behavior
  • Effects of Bi from component coating and PCB surface finish
    • Dissolving into solder joint
    • Estimation of concentration of Bi in solder joint
    • Effect of compositional change
  • Bi effects in SAC solder joint (SnAgCuBi)
    • Compositional change
    • Stress vs. strain
    • Fatigue behavior
  • Bi effects in other Pb-free alloys (SnCu, SnAg, SnAgIn)
    • Stress vs. strain
    • Fatigue performance
  • Historically established Bi-containing electronic solder alloys
    • Pb-containing
    • Pb-free
  • Bi-containing Pb-free solder alloys
    • Melting temperature range
    • Compositional control level
    • Physical, mechanical properties
    • BGA thermal fatigue performance
  • PCB through-hole fillet-lifting vs. Bi
    • Causes
    • Solutions
  • Low temperature BiPbSn phase
    • Presence or absence
    • Thermograms
    • Detectable or non-detectable effects
    • General guidelines
  • Design limits in Pb-free solder joints vs. solder joint reliability
  • Sn-based Bi-bearing solder vs. Bi-based solder
    • Differentiation
    • Physical properties
    • Mechanical properties
    • Service environments

References

1. Yves Palmieri, Bismuth Institute Information Center, Belgium.

2. Jennie S. Hwang, “Bismuth in Electronic Solders,” Bulletin of Bismuth Institute Information Center, Belgium, #78, 2001.

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2017

The Role of Bismuth (Bi) in Electronics: A Prelude

08-24-2017

When it comes to considering applications in electronics and microelectronics industry, over last three decades, the industry has shied away from using bismuth (Bi), at least not in standard practices in mass production. However, an interest has surfaced recently. This article series is tailored to electronics and microelectronics industry, to provide an overview in its entirety in the areas of importance to industry applications going forward.

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Do Acquisitions Bear Fruit? A Pragmatic Perspective

05-02-2017

Acquisition is an effective tool for a company’s growth as a part of corporate growth strategy; and it is one of the top fiduciary duties of a company board’s governance oversight. However, statistically, the acquisition failure rate is quite high. In her column this month, Dr. Jennie Hwang reflects on her hands-on experience as well as observations on mergers and acquisitions in the corporate world.

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2016

The Theory Behind Tin Whisker Phenomena, Part 5

11-23-2016

In this installment of the series on the theory behind tin whisker phenomena, Dr. Jennie Hwang completes the discussion of key processes likely engaged in tin whisker growth—crystal structure and defects.

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New Year Outlook: China’s Five Year Plan

01-25-2016

In this article, Dr. Jennie Hwang writes about the latest developments in the current global economic landscape, as well as mega-technological trends, which include: the highlights of macro-economy outlook, China factor, oil dynamics, cyber security, and grand challenges in technology and the path forward.

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2015

A Look at the Theory Behind Tin Whisker Phenomena, Part 3

11-05-2015

The third installation in Jennie Hwang's five-part series on tin whisker phenomena continues the discussion on key processes engaged in tin whisker growth. She discusses the energy of free surface, recrystallization, and the impact of solubility and external temperature on grain growth.

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The Theory Behind Tin Whisker Phenomena, Part 2

08-06-2015

In the second part of this article series, Dr. Jennie Hwang writes that a plausible theory of tin whisker growth can be postulated through deliberating the combination and confluence of several key metallurgical processes.

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The Theory Behind Tin Whisker Phenomena, Part 1

05-27-2015

In this first article of a five-part series, Dr. Jennie Hwang goes back to basics as she discusses the theory behind the tin whisker phenomena--the reasons and mechanisms behind its occurrence--as well as how tin whiskers can be mitigated in the plating process.

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New Year Outlook: What Can We Expect in 2015?

03-04-2015

Dr. Jennie Hwang takes a long view on market thrusts in the anticipated global economic landscape, as well as mega-technological trends in selected areas deemed timely and relevant to the industry: macro-economy, oil dynamics, China factor, cybersecurity, and grand challenges in technology and the path forward.

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2014

2014: Year-end Review

12-31-2014

In her latest column, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang reviews how predictions in her January 2014 column actually panned out. She goes through the key sub-topics that directly or indirectly impact the industry in terms of macroeconomics, business environment, technology, and the global marketplace. By and large her 2014 outlook was on or close to target.

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Tin Whiskers, Part 6, Preventive and Mitigating Measures: Strategy and Tactics

09-24-2014

In this installment of the tin whisker series, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang takes a look at the preventive and mitigating measures--the strategy and tactics. She says an effective strategy for prevention and mitigation starts with a good understanding of the causations of tin whiskers. A smorgasbord of material and technique options are offered as a guide to prevent or retard tin whiskers.

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Capsulization

08-06-2014

Since lead-free implementation, concerns about tin whiskers have intensified. For the past 12 years, studies and research by various laboratories and organizations have delivered burgeoning reports and papers, and Dr. Hwang has devoted an entire series to this subject. This article aims to capsulize the important areas of the subject.

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Tin Whiskers, Part 5: Impact of Testing Conditions

05-21-2014

Dr. Jennie S. Hwang says, "Real-life stresses may lead a different tin whisker behavior as in accelerated tests (temperature cycling, elevated temperature storage). The alloy-making process to achieve homogeneity needs to be taken into consideration. For an 'impurity' system, how the process that adds elements into tin could also affect the whisker propensity."

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Tin Whiskers, Part 4: Causes and Contributing Factors

03-26-2014

According to Columnist Dr. Jennie S. Hwang, nucleation and growth can be encouraged by stresses introduced during and after the plating process. The sources of these stresses includes residual stresses caused by electroplatin, additional stresses imposed after plating, the induced stresses by foreign elements, and thermally-induced stresses.

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New Year Outlook: What Can We Expect in 2014?

01-29-2014

In her latest column, Dr. Jennie Hwang takes a long view on market thrusts in the anticipated 2014 global economic landscape, as well as technological trends in selected areas important to the SMT industry. Readers, pay attention--her predictions for 2013 were extremely accurate.

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2013, A Year-End Review

01-09-2014

For this year-in-review column, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang checks on whether her January 2013 column, "Outlook for the New Year," is on or off target. She addresses the key sub-topics that directly or indirectly impact the industry in terms of business environment, technology, and global marketplace to see how her predictions actually panned out.

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2013

Tin Whiskers: Concerns & Potential Impact

11-26-2013

What is the biggest concern about the growth of tin whiskers? A simple answer is "uncertainty." If or when tin whiskering occurs, what are likely sources of uncertainty or potential adverse impact? Dr. Jennie Hwang explains that concerns and impact concerning tin whiskers primarily fall into one of four categories.

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Tin Whiskers: Phenomena and Observations

10-09-2013

Tin whisker reflects its coined name. It has long been recognized to be associated with electroplated tin coating and most likely occurs with pure tin. Its appearance resembles whiskers. However, whiskers can also form in a wide range of shapes and sizes, such as fibrous filament-like spiral, nodule, column, and mound.

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Cyber Security: From Boardroom to Factory Floor

08-21-2013

Cyber attacks are and will continue to be a huge concern to U.S. corporations in the foreseeable future. It's a matter of when, not if. It is not industry-specific and every company will have to deal with this challenge. The earlier preparation is made, the better a company is positioned to fend off the attack.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: Cyber Security - From Boardroom to Factory Floor

08-21-2013

Cyber attacks are and will continue to be a huge concern to U.S. corporations in the foreseeable future. It's a matter of when, not if. It is not industry-specific and every company will have to deal with this challenge. The earlier preparation is made, the better a company is positioned to fend off the attack.

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Tin Whiskers: Clarity First

06-11-2013

Lead-free solder comprises a wide array of alloy systems and each system can be modified in numerous ways. A test scheme to represent lead-free is a daunting task with an astounding price tag. Dr. Jennie Hwang advises that any tin whisker propensity study be conducted with a specific alloy composition, as clarity is the name of the game.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: Conflict Minerals: A Snapshot

04-03-2013

As the supply chain becomes increasingly complex and global, with an ever-increasing number of suppliers, full traceability of conflict minerals throughout the global supply chain is a daunting task. To comply with the SEC’s reporting and disclosure requirement, a company must formulate a comprehensive program to achieving traceability and transparency.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: SAC System, A Revisit

03-13-2013

In compliance with the RoHS Directive initiated by the EU and later deployed globally, SAC305 of SnAgCu (SAC) system has been used as a lead-free solder interconnection alloy for both second- and third-level interconnection since the implementation of lead-free electronics. After a 10-year run, Dr. Jennie Hwang takes a look at SAC305 for IC packages and PCB assembly.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: Outlook for the New Year

02-06-2013

After protracted high unemployment and lack of a speedy recovery in the U.S., and in the absence of clear solutions to the Eurozone's financial crisis and China's lower manufacturing activities in 2012, will the grim global economic outlook extend to 2013?

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: 2012 Year-End Review

01-16-2013

Dr. Jennie S. Hwang compares the past year to predictions made in her January 2012 column, "What Can We Expect in 2012?" including business, technology, and global marketplace issues. She feels that, overall, 2012 was another intriguing year filled with both wanted and unwanted events.

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2012

SMT Perspectives and Prospects: Can Microstructure Indicate a Good Solder Joint? Part IV

11-27-2012

How does one examine solder joint microstructure? Is the microstructure important? This month, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang continues a series that addresses the practical aspects of solder joint microstructure and what it can tell us about solder joint reliability. The focus of this offering is the role of the phase diagram in microstructure.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: Can Microstructure Indicate a Good Solder Joint? Part III

11-06-2012

How does one examine solder joint microstructure? Is the microstructure important? This month, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang continues a series that addresses the practical aspects of solder joint microstructure and what it can tell us about solder joint reliability.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: Can Microstructure Indicate a Good Solder Joint? Part I

09-11-2012

How does one examine solder joint microstructure? Is the microstructure important? This month, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang begins a series that addresses the practical aspects of solder joint microstructure and what it can tell us about solder joint reliability.

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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: 100 Points on Lead-Free Performance and Reliability, Part 2

08-21-2012

In the final of a two-part series, Dr. Jennie S. Hwang takes a wide, sweeping look at the history, timeline, highlights, and future projections for lead-free manufacturing.

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2011

Reliability of Lead-Free System: Part II, The Role of Creep

10-26-2011

The degradation of a solder joint is inevitable. The solder joint intrinsic degradation process engages two scientific phenomena--fatigue and creep. In this article, industry expert Dr. Jennie S. Hwang continues her look at the reliability of the lead-free system with a closer examination of the latter.

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09-14-2011

Industry expert Dr. Jennie S. Hwang continues her look at the reliability of the lead-free system this month with a closer examination of solder joint fatigue. Fatigue is one of the most likely culprits for material failure--regardless of metals, polymers or ceramics.

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