Zinc whisker growth from electroplated finishes - a review

2015-07-17T12:56:31Z (GMT) by L. Wu Mark Ashworth Geoffrey Wilcox
Electroplated zinc finishes have been associated with the electronics industry for many years as a result of their excellent corrosion resistance and relatively low cost. They are normally applied onto ferrous products to provide corrosion protection in a range of different environments. However, the formation of spontaneously grown whiskers on zinc-electroplated components, which are capable of resulting in electrical shorting or other damaging effects, can be highly problematic for the reliability of long life electrical and electronic equipment. The growth of zinc whiskers has been identified as the cause of some electrical and electronic failures in telecommunications and aerospace-based applications, with consequences ranging from mild inconvenience to complete system failures. Investigators have been striving to address the problems induced by whisker growth since 1940s. However, most research effort has been focused on tin whiskers, especially following European Union environmental legislation that restricted the use of lead (Pb), which when alloyed with tin (3–10% by weight) provided effective tin whisker mitigation. Compared with tin whisker research, much less attention has been paid to zinc whiskers. A number of mechanisms to explain zinc whisker growth have been proposed, but none of them are widely accepted and some are in conflict with each other. The aim of this paper is to review the available literature in regard to zinc whiskers, to discuss the reported growth mechanisms, to evaluate the effect of deposition parameters and to explore potential mitigation methods. This paper presents a chronologically ordered review of zinc whisker-related studies from 1946 to 2013. Some important early research, which investigated whisker growth in tin and cadmium, as well as zinc, has also been included.