If a component has a poor electrical connection to the PCB, it will not work.

Poor solderability is at the root of many component failures.

Standard Solderability Testing Process

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Solderability Testing Standards

There are several standards that cover the topic: EIA/IPC/JEDEC J-STD-001, J-STD-002 and J-STD-003, MIL-STD-202 and MIL-STD-883. There are probably a few others floating around that never changed from an older version or felt the need to have their own.

The most widely accepted is the IPC standard, with one standard for PCB, another for components, and the last for the assembly (PCBA).

  • EIA/IPC/JEDEC J-STD-001
  • J-STD-002
  • J-STD-003
  • MIL-STD-202
  • MIL-STD-883

Solderability Testing Methods

The standards tell us that there is an industry-accepted test process, or processes. The methods within the standards detail how to conduct the tests. In EIA/IPC/JEDEC J-STD-002, which is for electronic components, there are three acceptable test methods:

Dip and Look is the most widely used and is applicable for all non-BGA surface mount device (SMD) packages and pin-thru-hole (PTH) packages. BGA packages cannot be tested this way.

Reflow Simulation is applicable for SMD only, including BGA. It simulates the soldering method in production environment, and is the preferred method for many process engineers.

Wetting Balance is a newer, and impressive, technology but it is slow and expensive so is the least used of the three acceptable methods.

  • Dip and Look
  • Reflow Simulation
  • Wetting Balance

Selection and Control of Samples

When we have inspected samples prior to solderability testing, we will select the samples for testing from those that were inspected, selecting one with the worst observations.

Why the worst? The objective of the test is to give the end-user product that is fit for use, and if there are ugly ones, they need to be tested just the same as the good ones. We recommend three pieces for solderability testing – the good, the average, and the ugly – so the result explains the expected performance in application.

Example: Main Causes for Solderability Failures in PCB Assembly

Poor solderability means that the component and the PCB do not make a good solder connection, and without a good connection it doesn’t work. It’s better to find potential problems prior to assembly as the cost of downtime, failure analysis, rework and administration generally greatly exceeds the cost of preventative testing. The six main causes of solderability failures in the PCB assembly are:

  • Poor component leads: plating, contamination, oxidation, coplanar.
  • PCB pad defects: plating, pollution, oxidation, warping.
  • Solder quality defects: composition, impurities exceeding the standard, oxidation.
  • Flux quality defects: low solderability, high corrosion, low SIR.
  • Process parameter control defects: design, control, equipment.
  • Other auxiliary materials defects: adhesives, cleaning agents.

The main source of errors is with the components, and the causes for the component problems can usually be observed during a thorough External Visual Inspection (EVI). When we find observations such as contamination and oxidation, we do recommend to add solderability testing to verify if the observation will be problematic. Minor contamination is loose material that can be easily blown or wiped off (and yes, there’s a standard for that, too) and rarely results in a solderability problem. Major contamination results in poor solder coverage. The example here had only 79% solder coverage. The standard is >95%. That’s why we inspect and test. It’s not counterfeit, but it’s not usable, either.

Failure Analysis: Dye and Pry

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