Revolutionizing Soldering With Cutting-Edge Preforms

There's a well-known saying - arguably a cliché - that goes something like, "A weak link can break any chain." Any debates regarding its originality aside, the axiom certainly applies when discussing the sensitivity and intricacy of numerous technological processes. To power any of the communications, defense, energy, medical and automotive systems upon which the stability of the world is so dependent, hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of individual component parts must operate with little to no interference to perform at optimal levels. If even one of these elements fails, the ultimate consequences could be devastating.

Soldering is one of the aspects of manufacturing that isn't often thought of by the layperson but plays a major behind-the-scenes role in ensuring the proper composition and peak performance of many of our world's complex systems. AMETEK ECP, in keeping with our reputation as one of the market's premier producers of electronic packages and components, has developed solder preforms that provide hermetic sealing under even the harshest industrial environments and other dangerous work settings.

Here, we'll take a closer look at how soldering has evolved through the past several decades and examine how AMETEK ECP, through our Coining division, came to make solder preforms an essential aspect of our product offerings.

A brief overview of soldering

The process of fusing two metals together with a filler material between them dates back more than 3,000 years - some estimate as many as five millennia. Soldering as we know it today differentiates itself from welding or brazing through its use of lead or lead-based composite alloys, as noted by TM Technologies. Brazing, on the other hand, employs bronze, silver, aluminum and other materials, while welding involves melting all of the work pieces involved in the process.

As such, soldering is useful for fusing together even the smallest, most delicate pieces in microelectronic packages and components, whereas welding and brazing are more appropriate for metalworking that involves much larger parts, as encountered in automotive manufacturing. Coining, which AMETEK ECP acquired in 2011 after nearly five decades of successful independent operation, takes pride in the development and fabrication of sector-leading solder preforms for a broad spectrum of commercial and industrial applications.



Creating the best possible preform


At many different moments along the paths that electrical impulses, radio waves and microwaves travel - to convey power, information or both - these energies arrive at points where two pieces meet, such as a semiconductor chip and a circuit board. If interference occurs at such points, or the proper bond didn't exist to connect one to the other, an entire process could break down. In situations where time is of the essence, such as defense-related communications or medical operations, it becomes especially imperative that no problems arise. This illustrates the vital nature of a reliably soldered connection, such as a preform. To create the preform, metallurgists work with existing alloys or develop them from scratch based on a client's request. The materials are then casted, rolled, cladded, plated or stamped according to function-appropriate specifications. For example, the composition of a preform used to encase a semiconductor chip within the context of an electronic package will be different from one that connects a chip and a diode.

The foundation of a successful solder preform is raw materials of the highest quality. Lead has served as that material for much of modern soldering's history. It's still used today, but in less substantial quantities, due to what we now know about the toxicity of unadulterated lead in all of its forms. Soldering wire is one of the only AMETEK ECP products where lead constitutes the majority (approximately 85 percent) of its composition. For preforms and other components involved in less expensive soldering processes, alloys that combine lead with nickel, tin, antimony, indium, iron, tungsten, zinc and various other elements are most commonly used. Otherwise, metalworkers create solder preforms by eschewing lead and blending any number of the aforementioned elements (as well as kovar, gold, silver, copper or molybdenum).

Conforming to applicable regulations


In the U.S., the European Union and elsewhere, the use of lead is strictly regulated. Some countries, like Japan, have banned it from being included in metalworking operations and any other commercial capacities. This is the primary reason why Coining metallurgists labor to create unique alloy blends that minimize the presence of lead - or in some cases, eschew it entirely. In the long run, the passage of such regulations has been good for the manufacturers of electronic components and associated metals. It drives metallurgists to become more innovative in their blending of raw metals.

As of 2018, Coining offers more than 100 unique alloys for customers to choose from, and that figure does not include blends devised to meet custom needs. Ultimately, partnering with Coining and AMETEK ECP to order solder preforms constitutes a strong investment in reliability. It makes for a decision to choose components time-tested to perform at the highest levels and for the most sensitive tasks, ranging from medical procedures to the inner workings of defense satellites.

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