Proper PCB Storage — The Top 3 Hazards

It’s late. Do you know where your printed circuit boards are? Let me rephrase that: Can unused PCBs be stored for future use?

Yes, they can – if stored properly. Keep them wrapped up, or sealed in a bag. Anti-static isn’t necessary in this case, but it won’t hurt. Keep them in a cool, dark place. Keep them clean. Do your best to avoid dropping them on the floor and stepping on them.

The board in this photo was left out on a desk for a while, and then shoved into a desk drawer. The environment took its toll on the immersion sliver finish, making it very much unusable.

What can go wrong:

1. Fingerprints. The oils on your finger can etch fingerprints into ENIG or immersion silver board surfaces. If you plan on committing a crime go ahead and do this so we can catch you. If you aren’t going to start a life of crime be careful to not get your fingerprints on the board surface. Handle on the edges, or at least, don’t touch any exposed metal.

2. Moisture. Moisture is good for your skin but not for your PCBs. Over time, PCBs can absorb moisture, especially in a humid location, or the ocean. If thrown into a reflow oven they then might laminate. Store boards in a dry environment. If stored for a long time, you may want to pre-bake them prior to use.

3. Atmosphere. Sometimes dirty air can contribute to tarnish or corrosion on the exposed land pads. Dust can settle onto the boards as well. Tarnish and dust can usually be cleaned off, but corrosion can’t. Wrap up your boards for long-term storage.

Treat your boards well and you can likely use them at a later date. Don’t treat them well and you may need to replace them, wasting a bunch of money. Often, the damage isn’t as clear as in the above photo, but could still lead to poor solderability.

Duane Benson
Don’t surf on your silver

No Silver Lining

Many people have been infatuated by the price of gold in recent months, but the price of silver has also skyrocketed. In 2000 silver was about $3 per troy oz. In the eight years that followed, its price grew to $15/oz. Today it is trading at over $41/oz! This price is almost an all time high, except for the time when the Hunt brothers tried to corner the silver market in 1980. The aberration of their efforts jolted the silver price to just short of $50/oz., but it settled down to $11 or so after the Hunts came under margin call and other pressures.

Unfortunately, the dramatic price increase today, does not appear to be an aberration. Although we may hope that it will soon drop to more historic levels, we may not have reason to expect that it will.

Although not as dramatic, tin and copper have experienced significant prices increases as well. The price of tin has doubled in the last year to $15/pound and copper has increased from about $3/lb to $4.50.  These metals are obviously key ingredients in critical electronic materials such as solder pastes, solder bar, and solder preforms.

In addition, oil, which is used for most organic electronic materials such as PWB resins, flip chip underfill, and epoxy fluxes, has increased to $110/bbl – approaching its all time high of $145/bbl.

All of these price increases have a significant impact on the electronics materials supply chain. Although we are used to price decreases in the cost of our mobile phones and PCs, at this point in time, the price of the materials that go into these devices will be increasing.

As one materials supply chain executive commented at Apex: “It’s not like we can be clever and somehow work around the price increase of silver and these other materials, we have to pass it on to our customer, or go out of business.