New eco-friendly ENIG product improves complex PCB reliability

Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold (ENIG) is now arguably the most used finish in the PCB industry, however it can have reliability problems such as black pad related failures and brittle solder joints. Qualitel is collaborating with LiloTree to test ENIG-Premium, a cost-effective, eco-friendly solution to these problems that has been on the market for six months.

LiloTree, which developed ENIG-Premium, is a product improvement solutions company providing failure analysis-quality compliance services and recommendations to improve materials and design to industries including aviation-aerospace, medical electronics, semiconductor, naval electronics and consumer electronics.

Over the past few years, LiloTree has worked with several customers to identify the root cause of the field failures of their products. They were all associated with ENIG related issues, according to Kunal Shah, chief scientist at LiloTree which is based in the Seattle area.

“Development of ENIG-Premium sprouted from actual customer pain points where there are several issues like black pad related failures and brittle solder joints, etc., related to current offerings of ENIG,” Shah said. “In general, the technology or process of ENIG is complicated because you deal with multi-metallic alloy layers, their individual composition, etc.

“Also, the failure mechanism is at the nanoscale. Our proprietary technology (ENIG-Premium) also involved nano-level engineering to resolve the root causes of all the failures associated with conventional ENIG. However, we feel very excited now that we have been able to successfully develop the commercially ready ENIG-Premium which the entire electronic industry can leverage for better reliability of their assemblies/products.”

Shah said market response to ENIG-Premium has been positive.

“We have consulted with more than 40 PCB manufacturers, OEMs, etc.,” Shah said. “They have all faced ENIG related issues in the past and the frequency seems to be high. There are several PCB manufactures (with several OEMs and even without OEMs) testing/qualifying/adopting ENIG-Premium.

“Recently I was invited by a PCB materials team at a tier-one tech company to talk about ENIG-Premium and its benefits. It was very well received and they have shown very strong interest in qualifying ENIG-Premium for their products.”

It took about a year for LiloTree to develop ENIG-Premium. Development was fueled by a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation.

“We were evaluated and eventually awarded a grant to develop novel ENIG (ENIG-Premium) for better reliability of electronic assemblies,” Shah said. “This award also gave us a boost in development of technology and credibility in the market place.”

Qualitel believes that ENIG-Premium may be a good fit for customers whose complex PCBs have many expensive components on them. We’ll keep you posted as we get results from our testing.

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