Binghamton University researchers work vital to electronics industry
A $360,000 award from the National Science Foundation will team Binghamton University researchers Eric Cotts and Daryl Santos with researchers at Universal Instruments on a project that could prove critical to the survival and growth of the U.S. electronics industry.
According to Peter Borgesen, project manager at Universal, Japan and Europe are poised to move to lead-free electronics assembly within the decade, which means that electronics manufacturers in the United States will be forced to follow suit to maintain marketplace viability.
In microelectronics, lead-tin solder is the material traditionally used to join the chip or integrated circuit to the board. The Environmental Protection Agency calls lead “a highly toxic metal.” It has been linked to a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death.
However, the move to lead-free microelectronics assembly opens a can of worms for electronics manufacturers and this is where Binghamton University steps in. Cotts and Santos will collaborate on providing academic research and an in-depth understanding of the issues relating to microelectronics technologies and materials. According to Borgesen, Universal needs to be able to make predictions about issues relating to the move to lead-free microelectronics assembly – predictions that need to be accurate and reliable. These predictions begin with fundamental research, which will be done on the University campus.
The challenges facing Cotts and Santos include finding a viable replacement for lead-tin, the reactions of which researchers have found easier to predict. The proposed replacements such as tin-silver-copper, silver and copper react differently. Such uncharted variables mean high anxiety for electronics manufacturers for whom the ability to make reliable predictions about assembly processes might be more important than to their counterparts in any other industry.
Universal Instruments is a sponsoring member of the University’s Integrated Electronics Engineering Center (IEEC). IEEC pursues research in electronics packaging and assembly, and transfers results to the New York State and U.S. packaging industries.
Cotts, who studies atomic transport and mass transfer in thin film metal systems, is looking forward to working with Santos, an associate professor of systems science and industrial engineering, and Borgesen. Both Cotts and Santos have worked on a number of IEEC related projects.
After exploring the evolution of the microstructure of lead-free solders through different melting and annealing heat treatments, Cotts expects to collaborate with a related Semiconductor Research Corporation grant on campus. That second phase collaboration would allow researchers to look at how the microstructure of alloys affects their mechanical properties.