Random Via-in-Pad Myth #7

Myth #7: In regards to via-in-pad, all PCB finishes are the same


Well, it might seem so, but let’s look a little closer. No. Not that close. Back the camera up a bit.

Here’s a good example: In some cases, it’s okay to seal off the via with soldermask on the opposite side of the board. It’s not the optimal way to do it, but when the geometries aren’t that small, it can work. It needs to be a part where voiding isn’t an issue, because the solder may still go down the via and cause some of those voids. “Void” may be accepted in C code, but it’s usually bad form in a PCB.

Getting back to the subject… Immersion silver gives a nice smooth surface. It’s fairly easy to solder and provided the boards are used promptly or stored properly, it’s a good RoHS choice.

BGA via in pad Silver But, it’s not a good choice for a situation where you cap a via with soldermask on the underside of the PCB. The immersion silver finish will likely out-gas a bit and when contained, as in the sealed off space between the solder on the top and the soldermask on the bottom, that outgassing can be corrosive and lead to reliability issues sometime during the life of the product. So if you do need to have vias that are capped on the bottom side, you should consider a surface finish other than immersion silver.

Duane Benson
No more silver on Walden Pond


Extra-Fine Pitch BGA Pads

One of the annoyances of the world of trade secrets and proprietariness is that we can’t all learn from each others’ experiences. That is important, and even generally necessary, in a competitive world. If you put in some hard work, you should get the first right to profit from it. Otherwise what incentive would you have to put in that hard work?

There are times, however, when it would be helpful for the industry or the economy in general if we can all learn from someone else’s challenges. Times when, for example, the entire auto industry and therefor the safety of the general public would benefit if all companies shared what they have learned about the reliability of electronic throttle systems.

Bb Good SMD pads Here’s another chance for open source hardware to shine. Take the Beagleboard. The TI folks who designed it pushed technology in a number of areas and by presenting what they have created as open source, we can all benefit from it. Even stepping outside of the great work in the schematic, they have done great service in the areas of manufacturing complex devices as well.

A while back, I wrote about soldermask defined (SMD pads) vs non-soldermask defined (NSMD) pads on 0.4 mm pitch BGAs. The basic idea is that while with most Bb Bad NSMD pads BGAs, you want NSMD pads for better mechanical strength, with the really small BGAs, like the 0.4 mm pitch OMAP processor, you want SMD pads to prevent shorts.

The messages that the Beagleboard team learned here are, first, it’s true that you want SMD pads and second, make sure that your PCB fab house follows your instructions in that regard.

Many fab houses have their own rules and will set the soldermask up based on what they feel is best. They may have never used your part though. Make sure the board house does what you need. By insisting on closing up the soldermask, the Beagleboard team went from 90% failure with the NSMD pads to 96% good and no BGA shorts with the SMD pads. (This info and the photos come from the Beagleboard ESC presentation by Gerald Coley.)

Duane Benson
The worms do.