Surface Finishes

PCB Surface Finishes vary in price, availability, shelf life, reliability and assembly processing. While each finish has its own benefits, in most cases, the process, product or environment will dictate the surface finish that is best suited for the application. It is recommended that the end-user, designer or assembler work closely with their PCB supplier to select the best finish for the specific product design. Multicircuits' extensive experience in lead-free manufacturing of printed circuit boards has been instrumental in successfully converting countless projects from solder to a lead- free alternative.

Immersion Silver

With the pending lead-free legislation impacting PCB manufacturing on a global scale, the immersion silver process is rapidly gaining popularity as the lead-free surface finish of choice. While ENIG presently has a larger market share, over the past 12 months more immersion silver process lines have been installed in PCB facilities than any other finish. Immersion silver has a controlled thickness of 5-12 micro inches and a shelf life of at least 12 months. Silver is compatible with most assembly processes, is cost advantageous, and with its increased popularity, is becoming more commonly available.

ENIG ( Electroless Nickel / Immersion Gold )

The ENIG finish has historically been the best fine pitch (flat) surface and lead-free option world-wide. Benefits to this surface finish are; long-term experience / knowledge of the product and excellent shelf life. The typical Nickel thickness is 75 micro inches and 3-5 micro inches of gold. Disadvantages include; limited availability, higher cost and this being the only surface finish that requires a two-part process. Also, if the process is not controlled, quality issues such as "Black Pad" may occur.

Immersion Tin

The immersion tin process has also been historically popular. It provides a consistently flat surface approximately 20-40 micro inches in thickness. This finish solders well, and is cost advantageous. However, finished PCBs have a limited shelf life and should be used within 3-6 months. Many PCB manufacturers around the world have this process in place.

OSP ( Organic Solderability Preservatives )

OSP's have been around since the 1970's. It is widely believed that IBM was the first major corporation to give this finish credibility. The thickness of the OSP finish is almost unmeasurable (angstoms). The original formulas had a short shelf life of 3-6 months and could only withstand one or two heat cycles. By today's standards, this would be considered applicable only for lower technologies. The latest OSP formulas are far more robust and are designed for lead-free assembly. They can handle multiple heat cycles and have a one year shelf life.

HASL ( Hot Air Solder Leveling )

The 63/37 tin lead solder has been the industry-standard since the inception of the original circuit board. If lead-free is not a concern, HASL is a very cost effective, reliable surface finish utilized in the manufacturing of lower technology PCBs. The HASL process can add stress to high layer circuit boards which can cause long-term reliability issues. This added stress, along with uneven solder height on dense SMT or BGA pads, are good reasons to replace HASL. Inevitably, tighter design criteria, advancing technologies, and/or environmental legislation will force the replacement of HASL. There are lead free alloys which can replace the conventional 63Sn / 37Pb solder in this process, but there are still capability limitations that exist within this process.