When the industry was preparing to transition to lead-free solders almost ten years ago (can it have been that long), tin-bismuth solders were serious candidates. Their low melting point, of about 138C, made these solders interesting candidates to replace tin-lead solder. However, if contaminated with lead, tin-bismuth solders can produce a eutectic phase that melts at 96C. In such situations the resulting solder joint exhibits poor performance in thermal cycle testing. Since early in the transition to lead-free solders it was expected that there would be numerous components and PWBs with lead-based surface finishes, this property made tin-bismuth solders unacceptable.
Another aspect of tin-bismuth solders is that they expand on cooling. This phenomenon can result in fillet lift in through-hole solder joints.
However, as we are now well into 2011, almost no components or PWBs have lead-containing finishes and many portable electronic devices have no through-hole components, so it may be time to reconsider tin-bismuth for some applications.
Some years ago, Hewlett Packard (HP) had performed work to show that adding 1% silver to tin-bismuth solder enabled this alloy to outperform eutectic tin-lead solder in 0 to 100C thermal cycle testing. Even at these low reflow temperatures, HP demonstrated solder joint strength with SAC BGA solder balls that was 65% that of tin-lead solder. Expanding on this work, Indium’s Ed Briggs and Brook Sandy performed stencil printing and reflow experiments consistent with the requirements of current miniaturized components using this 57Bi-42Sn-1Ag solder. All their results were promising. Ed presented a paper at SMTA Toronto that summarized the Hewlett Packard work and reviewed the results of this new work.
Bismuth solders tend to be brittle, so applications experiencing drop shock should be avoided.
So for applications consistent with 0-100C thermal cycling, 57Bi-42Sn-1Ag solder may be something to consider if the high temperature of SAC solder paste is an issue to components or PWBs in a product.