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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R018863/1
Title: High Reliability Interconnects: New Methodologies for Lead-free Solders
Principal Investigator: Gourlay, Dr CM
Other Investigators:
Dunne, Professor FP Britton, Dr T B Giuliani, Dr F
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Ford Motor Co Nihon Superior Rolls-Royce Plc
Department: Materials
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 April 2018 Ends: 31 March 2021 Value (£): 1,299,714
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Continuum Mechanics Materials Characterisation
Materials Processing Materials testing & eng.
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Energy Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Transport Systems and Vehicles
Related Grants:
EP/R019207/1
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
06 Dec 2017 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 6 December 2017 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The reliability of electronics depends to a large degree on the reliability of the solder joints that interconnect the circuitry. Most solder joints contain tin as the majority phase to enable soldering at a temperature tolerable to the electronic components, but the tin must then operate at up to ~80% of its melting point due to resistance heating in service. As a percentage of melting point, this is as demanding as a turbine blade in an aeroengine and there is a similar ongoing desire to increase the operation temperature.

In service, the joints regularly cycle between ~50 and 80% of melting point due to cycles of resistance heating and natural cooling, which causes thermal expansion and contraction of all phases and, therefore, thermal fatigue due to the mismatch in the coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) at interfaces. Joints can also experience shock impacts, vibration and surges in current density, all of which must be withstood to ensure successful operation.

Solder joints contain only up to a few tin grains and are highly heterogeneous with anisotropic properties. Therefore, to understand and predict the performance of solder joints it is necessary (i) to link mechanical measurements to the microstructure and crystallographic orientations in the joint and (ii) to develop crystal-level deformation and damage models that explicitly account for the evolving microstructure and link through to component and PCB-level models of thermal cycling, shock impact etc. Furthermore, to capitalise on the understanding generated by such an approach, it is necessary to develop the capability to reproducibly create the microstructures and orientations during the soldering process that are predicted to give optimum performance in service.

To deliver this vision, we bring together expertise in controlling solidification kinetics in solder alloys, in-situ micromechanical measurement of crystal slip and slip transfer across interfaces, defect nucleation and growth, and micromechanical modelling at the crystal and microstructure level and at the component and board-level. With this team, we seek a step change improvement in the understanding, prediction and manufacturing of solder joints that are optimised for high reliability in high value UK industry and in the consumer electronics industry.

The work addresses using solidification processing to generate single crystal and structurally representative units (e.g. intermetallic crystals (IMCs) with the desired facets, beta-Sn micro-pillars, or BGA joints with a single known beta-Sn orientation etc.). These are to be studied in carefully instrumented micromechanical tests to extract key material properties, and mechanistic understanding of defect nucleation at the crystal level. The properties and defect nucleation mechanisms are to be implemented in crystal plasticity models and, where necessary, discrete dislocation plasticity models to provide validated quantitative prediction of solder performance under thermo-mechanical and impact loading. The models are then to be exploited to design solder microstructures for optimal performance. The work will then develop methods to manufacture these optimum microstructures within the soldering process, building on recent advances in microstructure control made by the team. These optimised joints will then be tested and modelled such that optimally designed, high reliability joints may ultimately be achieved.

Key Findings
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