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Case Study: Bright Tin Whisker Risk in Pb-free Connector Applications
Keywords: bright tin, tin whiskers, connectors
Bright tin plating finishes have been widely used in the electronics industry on various hardware applications, including connectors. In recent years, suppliers have gradually transitioned from the use of bright tin-lead plating to bright tin plating in order to comply with EU RoHS regulations. However, electroplated bright tin is known to grow long whiskers (greater than 2mm) in real life applications. This spontaneous growth of whiskers poses a significant reliability risk to todays electronics. As such, it is imperative to evaluate tin whisker risks and determine Pb-free (Lead-free) readiness in the connector component space. This study is intended to provide a realistic snapshot of tin whisker growth propensity on commercially available connectors under JEDS-201 testing conditions. The parts were chosen to include a sampling of connector types, suppliers, and whisker mitigation methodologies (e.g., inclusion of a diffusion barrier layer, increased plating thickness, advanced plating chemistries). A summary of test results, as well as detailed failure analysis on selected components will be presented. Based on the observed trend and the effectiveness of the mitigation strategies utilized, the authors will attempt to provide an assessment on the general industry readiness.
James Henzi, Manufacturing Engineer
Cisco Systems, Inc.
San Jose, CA


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