WhiskermitTackling the problem of tin whisker growth

The challenge

Image showing a satellite, orbiting the earth

“I have witnessed tin whisker growth on space hardware. This type of growth probably caused the failure of four multi-million dollar communications satellites.”

Dr Barrie Dunn FIMMM
Former Head of the Materials and Processes Division – European Space Agency

Tin whiskers present a significant threat to the reliability of electronic components, spanning mobile devices, medical equipment, defense and security hardware, and satellites.

The microscopic filaments – many times finer than a human hair and up to 10mm long – grow spontaneously, causing components to short circuit and, in many cases, fail completely.

With the use of lead-based solders and solder finishes largely outlawed for environmental reasons and the increasing demand for miniaturised devices, tin whisker growth presents a global problem across many sectors.

A versatile material, tin is relatively cheap and scalable. Therefore, it has long been used within circuitry. However, without the tempering properties of lead, it is prone to whisker formation.

In partnership with a cross-cutting industry consortium and leading electronics coating manufacturer, HumiSeal, a team of Loughborough materials engineers has developed a novel way to impede tin whisker growth.