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Ag-plated LED dipping - high level of Cu and Ag

Glen Brian


Ag-plated LED dipping - high level of Cu and Ag | 14 August, 2001

We are using the new auto-dipping machine for LED solder dipping and dragging. The flux is water-soluble flux and the solder is 63/37 at 250 deg. C. Two weeks ago we exchanged the pot with new 63/37 solder. About a week, we found that the high level of Cu (0.15%) and Ag (1%)inside the solder. This high level of Cu make the solder pimple and dewetting at the lead of LED. Any advice to reduce the rate of dissolution of Cu and Ag inside the pot.

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Ag-plated LED dipping - high level of Cu and Ag | 15 August, 2001

First, responding to your question �

Several things on copper dissolution in solder are: * A 50um copper wire will dissolve in 60Sn / 40Pb solder at: - 200�C solder in 55 seconds; - 250�C solder in 20 seconds; - 300�C solder in 5 seconds; - 350�C solder in 1 second. [Okamoto] * Lead rich alloys have lower copper dissolution rates than tin rich alloys [Bader]. * When the concentration of copper in the pot reaches 1.5%, the time of dissolution has increased to 20X. [Allen]. * Take-up of copper is self-limiting at 0.2 to 0.3%. Although cases of higher concentrations have been reported. [Wassink]

Several things on silver dissolution in solder are: * A 150um silver wire will dissolve in 60Sn / 40Pb solder at: - 260�C solder in 25 seconds; - 300�C solder in 13 seconds; - 340�C solder in 5 seconds. [Wassink] * Lead rich alloys have lower silver dissolution rates than tin rich alloys [Wassink]. * Concentration of silver in the pot reaches 5% decreases the time of dissolution [Wassink].

Second, every situation is different, but it�s unclear that excess copper and / or silver concentrations that you describe [or any concentration for that matter] would make the solder pimple and cause dewetting at the lead of LED. Greater than ideal amounts of either of these materials increases the graininess of the solder connection.

�The Effect Of Metallic Impurities On The Wetting Properties Of Solder by: Dennis Bernier Vice President, Research & Development Kester Solder Company


The solder used for this investigation was all from one batch with the following analysis:

Element Weight % Element Weight % Sn (tin) 60.1 Fe (iron) 0.006 Sb (antimony) 0.02 Bi (bismuth) 0.006 Cu (copper) 0.004 As (arsenic) <0.01 Au (gold) <0.002 In (indium) 0.005 Cd (cadmium) 0.0003 Ni (nickel) <0.001 Zn (zinc) 0.0002 P (phosphorous) <0.001 Al (aluminum) <0.001 S (sulfur) <0.001 Ag (silver) 0.001 Pb (lead) balance

Though the purpose of this testing was to determine the effect of impurities dissolved during the soldering process, it is important to note that national specifications for solder are not strict enough to assure obtaining high purity metal. Secondary or refined metal could contain excessive impurities and shorten the usable life of the solder bath. Impurities such as copper, antimony, zinc and aluminum have an effect on soldering quality and should be kept to a minimum.

Assuming that high purity solder is being used, the impurities are introduce into the solder from parts being soldered, from holding fixtures and from the solder pot itself.

Copper - Nearly everything on a printed circuit assembly is made of or plated with copper which dissolves rather rapidly in solder. The circuit board itself, component leads and jumper wires all introduce copper into the solder in a wave soldering machine.

Gold - No longer used as an overall protective plating, gold is used on certain component leads such as nickel-iron alloy used to make transistors, diodes and integrated circuits.

Cadmium - Sheet metal chassis frames and other parts might be cadmium plated to prevent rusting and improve appearance and solderability.

Zinc - Brass is an alloy of zinc and copper; so brass terminals, lugs and bolts are sources of impurities.

Aluminum - Fixturing devices, bolts and fabricated metal parts might be made of aluminum. The tough oxide film on the aluminum will usually prevent solder wetting; but with multiple solder immersions or if abraded, aluminum can dissolve in the solder. It is doubtful that aluminum will remain in the solder under production conditions since it will dross out when combining with copper, gold or antimony.

Silver - Many parts are silver plated to preserve solderability. Like the other coinage metals, gold and copper, silver will dissolve in the solder.

Iron - Temperatures over 430 degrees C will cause the solder to dissolve iron from the solder pot itself. An improperly alloyed solder using too much heat could contain excessive iron. A new solder pot -- whether cast iron, cold-rolled steel or stainless steel -- will have exposed iron available for dissolution into the solder. Excessive cleaning of the pot walls with a wire brush can also introduce iron into the solder. The problem associated with iron contamination is excessive drossing which usually clears up as the iron compounds are removed with the dross.

Sulfur - It is very unlikely that sulfur would contaminate the solder bath during normal production. Sulfur might be present in secondary metals since it is used to remove copper during the refining process. Sulfur should be limited by national solder specifications to avoid its presence in solder.

Phosphorous - The main source of phosphorous is copper that has been deoxidized with phosphorous.


Phase 1 of the investigations involved a compilation of analyses performed over the last ten years for the specific purpose of solving soldering problems. The amount of impurities in the solder was related to observed defects or solder conditions. These defects, specifically cause by contaminated solder, are noted below with some discussion about the impurities which caused the problem. The table following this discussion shows the percentage range of impurities which seemingly caused the observed soldering defects.

Icicles, Shorts, Bridges Cadmium, zinc and aluminum in trace amounts increase the surface tension of the solder to cause this defect. Copper and gold increase the solder viscosity to cause the same problem.

Large Solder Fillets Copper, gold and antimony increase the melting point of the solder and the intermetallic compounds with tin or lead make the solder more sluggish. The result is larger fillets and more solder consumed to create the solder joint.

Unfilled Holes The speed of wetting is reduced by the presence of copper, gold, antimony and cadmium. Though no instance occurred with zinc and aluminum, these metals are likely to also affect wetting speed because of their ability to increase the surface tension of the solder.

Dull Solder, Gritty Solder Cadmium and zinc in trace amounts make the solder surface dull. Gold also dulls the surface but is quite often indicated by a sparkling, crystalline surface condition. Bismuth or antimony in large amounts above 2.5% also dull the surface. Copper and aluminum contamination result in a gritty-looking solder surface. Both phosphorous and sulfur have caused gritty solder though rarely are these two impurities found in solder samples.

Dross Inclusions Dross inclusions in the solder show up as visible particulate grit or hidden inside a bump or pimple in the otherwise shiny solder surface. Quite often the source of this problem is an unusual amount of iron in the solder.

Cracked Joints Inclusions in the solder such as intermetallics of tin or lead with copper, gold and antimony can provide the nucleus for crack propagation.

Dewetting Zinc, antimony and phosphorous can cause solder to dewet on copper.

By looking at the real world of wave soldering and the ten years of analytical records, we can summarize the impurity levels which traditionally caused problems.

Impurity % When Problems Occur Cu (copper) 0.250 - 0.500 Au (gold) 0.005 - 0.200 Cd (cadmium) 0.005 - 0.150 Zn (zinc) 0.001 - 0.010 Al (aluminum) 0.001 - 0.006 Fe (iron) 0.010 - 0.100 Sb (antimony) 0.100 - 1.000 Ag (silver) 0.200 - 2.000 Bi (bismuth) 0.250 - 1.000 As (arsenic) 0.030 - 0.100 In (indium) no data Ni (nickel) 0.010 - 0.030 P (phosphorous) 0.010 - 0.100 S (sulfur) 0.002 - 0.030

Immediately obvious by an examination of this list is the fact that the percentages established by experience are not precise numbers. The explanation for this is that the defects cause by the impurities may be acceptable at one company and cause for rejection at another company. Rigid inspection requirements for aerospace or military products might reject solder joints which are acceptable for consumer products. Difference between fluxes, soldering machines, circuit board density, component layout, hole sizes, solderability and amount of heat all contribute to the quality of soldering.


1.Soldering Manual, 1959, New York, American Welding Society 2.C. L. Barber: Solder, 1965, Chicago, Kester Solder Company 3.H. Manko: Solders and Soldering, 1964, New York, McGraw-Hill 4.M. L. Ackroyd et al.: Tin Research Institute Publication No. 493, 1975, The Metals Society. 5.D. Mackay: Proceedings of Institute of Printed Circuits, Meeting, September, 1972, San Francisco�

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