Testing our solution: Setting up a lab for Tin Whiskers CRADA

Posted: December 17, 2015 - 4:39pm

In August, Y‑12 signed a cooperative research and development agreement with Foresite, Inc. of Kokomo, Indiana to work on solving the electronics dilemma known as tin whiskers. The issue spans worldwide because the removal of lead from current products causes the tin-based solder to create filamentous "whiskers" from the stresses and consequently shorting out circuit boards causing potentially catastrophic failures.

Dennis Miller of Program Integration recently gave an update on the project. He said Foresite is setting up a laboratory in Indiana with Y‑12's Rusty Hallman serving as the technical consultant. Testing of Y‑12's approach to solving the tin whiskers problem will be done, along with investigation of several other negative aspects resulting from the removal of lead from soldering materials.

"As a result of the Reduction of Hazardous Substances legislation in Europe, we are not only seeing the tin whisker problem in the new lead-free solder but also poor ductility, poor shock and vibe tolerance, poor wetting of leads in manufacturing and other issues," he said. "We believe our approach to the remedy is scientifically sound, but we must test it to gather support data."

With a wealth of expertise in metallurgy, Y‑12's approach centers on grain structure and orientation properties of the solder and its performance in all situations including temperature, vibration and magnetic changes.

"If we can prove our solution is valid and can produce a product that can be reproduced on a production scale, not just in a laboratory environment, then the way circuit boards are manufactured will change dramatically," said Miller. "Just as the addition of lead to solder in the 1950s revolutionized the industry by allowing a reliable and predictable means of manufacturing complex electronic systems like we use today, this will bring the next chapter for future electronics production."

Miller says the laboratory will be set up this fall, and testing will be done some time next year.