If you manufacture printed circuit boards, then you know ionic contamination is one of the most major risks you’re in charge of preventing.
Periodic testing for ionic contamination on PCBs, therefore, is absolutely crucial for product quality assurance. But did you know that it’s helpful for all sorts of other functions, such as process validation or storage cleanliness guideline updates, as well?
Here are the four big reasons you should periodically test your PCBs for ionic contamination, and how these tests can help improve your entire business operation:
1 .To Identify Potential Causes of Product Breakdown
This is the #1 reason why all PCB producers must and do conduct periodic Ionic Contamination testing. 25% of all PCB failures are caused by internal failures prompted by ionic contamination.
Ionic contamination speeds up PCB component corrosion, deterioration, and malfunction. If a PCB is affected by Ionic Contamination for long enough, the contaminants can even facilitate electrochemical migration and the formation of dendrites.
Both of these phenomena can either amplify the charge within the PCB more than it should be or redirect that charge to parts of the PCB device where it wasn’t meant to flow. In both cases, this causes short circuit, equipment malfunction, and, eventually total and irreversible performance breakdown.
Ionic Contamination testing can help prevent PCB malfunction by identifying the location and type of ionic contamination present on a PCB before that contamination has a chance to ruin the system.
When to do it: If you have received complaints about your PCBs failing faster than they should or have produced early failures in internal testing, ionic contamination is the likely culprit and you should test your products for it immediately.
2. To Identify Risk of Product Degradation or Malfunction
Of course, total performance breakdown is the most dramatic and significant risk posed by ionic contamination, but it is not the only risk.
All PCBs fail eventually. Ionic contamination is such a major issue because it expediates the reasons why PCBs will always eventually fail —such as metal corrosion, electrochemical migration, and wear-and-tear.
Unfortunately, this means ionic contamination is always a potential problem, even if it does not seem to be triggering total performance breakdown of your PCBs immediately or even particularly quickly. The problems ionic contamination exacerbates will always happen, but ionic contamination will make them happen faster and faster — which means your products won’t last as long as they could or should.
Early Ionic Contamination testing can reveal your PCB’s current contamination and risk of contamination. This information can help you both clean your current PCB’s to prevent further damage exacerbation and, as we will explain below, identify where ionic contamination is coming from early, so you can prevent it entirely in the future.
When to do it: As with product breakdowns, any time your PCBs are degrading faster than they should or malfunctioning more frequently than they should within their normal lifespan, ionic contamination is the single most probable cause.
The earlier you test for ionic contamination, the sooner you can address it and ensure it doesn’t contaminate your future products.
3. To Locate the Source of Ionic Contamination in Your Process
Ionic contamination is caused by a wide variety of different sources. Substances such as salt, acids, sulfates, solder, rinse solutions, cleaners, perspiration, flux activators, plating chemistries, ionic surfactants, and ethanolamines can all leave behind ionic residue when they come into contact with the PCB.
Many of these materials are used as part of the fabrication or assembly processes when producing PCBs, and so most ionic contamination actually begins as the PCB is created, assembled, or stored.
Advanced forms of Ionic Contamination Testing, such as those offered by the experts at Innovatech, can actually identify the type of ionic residue left behind on a PCB that is causing the contamination being tested.
We can use this identification to determine where the ionic residue came from, which you may, in turn, use to identify the most likely part of the fabrication or assembly process where the contaminants are coming into contact with the vulnerable PCB. Once you know where the problem is, you’ll know how to fix it in the future.
When to do it: If you’ve been experiencing a pattern of product breakdowns or malfunctions, or you have any concerns about your production and storage processes, then testing a current-run PCB for ionic contaminants is prudent.
4. To Design New Cleanliness Compliance Procedures
Obviously, PCBs are extremely sensitive pieces of machinery. Their fabrication and production processes are also highly complex and multi-staged.
The reason why ionic contamination can be such a pernicious problem is that, no matter how frequently you clean and maintain your fabrication and assembly equipment or review your compliance procedures, ionic contaminants can quickly find their way into your process between examinations.
By submitting a current-run PCB to advanced Ionic Contamination Testing, you can identify the amount of ionic residue on it, where that ionic residue came from, and where it got onto your PCB during your production process.
You can use this information not only to correct the immediate problem, but also to update, standardize, and improve your cleanliness and compliance guidelines. This will help you prevent ionic contamination from happening for the same reason in the future, and is a critical component of quality assurance.
When to do it: While you should certainly conduct ionic contamination testing if you notice any of the aforementioned issues with your PCB, we also recommend conducting advanced ionic contamination testing on your products on a semi-regular basis, likely coinciding with compliance reviews.
Regular ionic contamination testing will validate your current cleaning and compliance processes or teach you how to improve those processes moving forward.
If you’d like to test your PCBs for ionic contamination, get in touch with the experts at Innovatech today.
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