Tin whisker mitigation by means of a post-electroplating electrochemical oxidation treatment

There are very few studies that have investigated directly the effect of an oxide film on tin whisker growth, since the ‘cracked oxide theory’ was proposed by Tu in 19941. The current study has investigated the effect of an electrochemically produced oxide on tin whisker growth, for both Sn-Cu electrodeposits on Cu and pure Sn electrodeposits on brass. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) has been used to investigate the effect of the applied electrochemical oxidation potential on the oxide film thickness. Focused ion beam (FIB) has been used to prepare cross sections from electrodeposited samples to investigate the influence of the electrochemically formed oxide film on deposit microstructure during long-term room temperature storage. The XPS studies show that the thickness of electrochemically formed oxide film is directly influenced by the applied potential and the total charge passed. Whisker growth studies show that the electrochemical oxidation treatment mitigates whisker growth for both Sn-Cu electrodeposits on Cu and pure Sn electrodeposits on brass. For Sn electrodeposits on brass, the electrochemically formed oxide greatly reduces both the formation of zinc oxide at the surface and the formation of intermetallic compounds, which results in the mitigation of tin whisker growth. For Sn-Cu electrodeposits on Cu, the electrochemically formed oxide has no apparent effect on intermetallic compound formation and acts simply as a physical barrier to hinder tin whisker growth.