Gold plating is a method of depositing a thin layer of gold onto the surface of another metal, most often copper or silver (to make silver-gilt), by chemical or electrochemical plating. This article covers plating methods used in the modern electronics industry; for more traditional methods, often used for much larger objects, see gilding. [ clarification needed ]
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and atomic number 79, making it one of the higher atomic number elements that occur naturally. In its purest form, it is a bright, slightly reddish yellow, dense, soft, malleable, and ductile metal. Chemically, gold is a transition metal and a group 11 element. It is one of the least reactive chemical elements and is solid under standard conditions. Gold often occurs in free elemental (native) form, as nuggets or grains, in rocks, in veins, and in alluvial deposits. It occurs in a solid solution series with the native element silver and also naturally alloyed with copper and palladium. Less commonly, it occurs in minerals as gold compounds, often with tellurium.
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a soft, malleable, and ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. A freshly exposed surface of pure copper has a pinkish-orange color. Copper is used as a conductor of heat and electricity, as a building material, and as a constituent of various metal alloys, such as sterling silver used in jewelry, cupronickel used to make marine hardware and coins, and constantan used in strain gauges and thermocouples for temperature measurement.
Silver is a chemical element with the symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it exhibits the highest electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, and reflectivity of any metal. The metal is found in the Earth's crust in the pure, free elemental form, as an alloy with gold and other metals, and in minerals such as argentite and chlorargyrite. Most silver is produced as a byproduct of copper, gold, lead, and zinc refining.
There are several types of gold plating used in the electronics industry:
The semiconductor industry is the aggregate collection of companies engaged in the design and fabrication of semiconductors. It formed around 1960, once the fabrication of semiconductor devices became a viable business. The industry's annual revenue has since grown to $412.2 billion in 2017.
Wire bonding is the method of making interconnections (ATJ) between an integrated circuit (IC) or other semiconductor device and its packaging during semiconductor device fabrication. Although less common, wire bonding can be used to connect an IC to other electronics or to connect from one printed circuit board (PCB) to another. Wire bonding is generally considered the most cost-effective and flexible interconnect technology and is used to assemble the vast majority of semiconductor packages. Wire bonding can be used at frequencies above 100 GHz.
The Knoop hardness test is a microhardness test – a test for mechanical hardness used particularly for very brittle materials or thin sheets, where only a small indentation may be made for testing purposes. A pyramidal diamond point is pressed into the polished surface of the test material with a known load, for a specified dwell time, and the resulting indentation is measured using a microscope. The geometry of this indenter is an extended pyramid with the length to width ratio being 7:1 and respective face angles are 172 degrees for the long edge and 130 degrees for the short edge. The depth of the indentation can be approximated as 1/30 of the long dimension. The Knoop hardness HK or KHN is then given by the formula:
There are five recognized classes of gold plating chemistry:
Gold plating of silver is used in the manufacture of jewelry. Silver atoms diffuse into the gold layer, causing slow gradual fading of its color and eventually causing tarnishing of the surface. This process may take months and even years, depending on the thickness of the gold layer. A barrier metal layer is used to counter this effect. Copper, which also migrates into gold, does so more slowly than silver. The copper is usually further plated with nickel. A gold-plated silver article is usually a silver substrate with layers of copper, nickel, and gold deposited on top of it.
Gold, applied by evaporated methods or electroplating, has been specified by NASA to thermally control spacecraft instruments, due to its 99% reflectivity in infrared wavelengths.[ citation needed ]
Gold plating is often used in electronics, to provide a corrosion-resistant electrically conductive layer on copper, typically in electrical connectors and printed circuit boards.
Corrosion is a natural process that converts a refined metal into a more chemically-stable form such as oxide, hydroxide, or sulfide. It is the gradual destruction of materials by chemical and/or electrochemical reaction with their environment. Corrosion engineering is the field dedicated to controlling and stopping corrosion.
An electrical connector is an electromechanical device used to join electrical terminations and create an electrical circuit. Most electrical connectors have a gender – i.e. the male component, called a plug, connects to the female component, or socket. The connection may be removable, require a tool for assembly and removal, or serve as a permanent electrical joint between two points. An adapter can be used to join dissimilar connectors.
A printed circuit board (PCB) mechanically supports and electrically connects electronic components or electrical components using conductive tracks, pads and other features etched from one or more sheet layers of copper laminated onto and/or between sheet layers of a non-conductive substrate. Components are generally soldered onto the PCB to both electrically connect and mechanically fasten them to it.
With direct gold-on-copper plating, the copper atoms tend to diffuse through the gold layer, causing tarnishing of its surface and formation of an oxide and/or sulphide layer.
A layer of a suitable barrier metal, usually nickel, is often deposited on the copper substrate before the gold plating. The layer of nickel provides mechanical backing for the gold layer, improving its wear resistance. It also reduces the impact of pores present in the gold layer.
Both the nickel and gold layers can be plated by electrolytic or electroless processes. There are many factors to consider in selection of either electrolytic or electroless plating methods. These include what the deposit will be used for, configuration of the part, materials compatibility and cost of processing. In different applications, electrolytic or electroless plating can have cost advantages.
At higher frequencies, the skin effect may cause higher losses due to higher electrical resistance of nickel; a nickel-plated trace can have its useful length shortened three times in the 1 GHz band in comparison with the non-plated one. Selective plating is used, depositing the nickel and gold layers only on areas where it is required and does not cause the detrimental side effects.
Now, a reliable nickel-free surface finish solution is available for high-frequency applications.
Gold plating may lead to formation of gold whiskers.
Wire bonding between gold plated contacts and aluminium wires or between aluminium contacts and gold wires under certain conditions develops a brittle layer of gold-aluminium intermetallics, known as purple plague.
Soldering gold-plated parts can be problematic as gold is soluble in solder. Solder which contains more than 4–5% gold can become brittle. The joint surface is dull-looking.
Gold reacts with both tin and lead in their liquid state, forming brittle intermetallics. When eutectic 63% tin – 37% lead solder is used, no lead-gold compounds are formed, because gold preferentially reacts with tin, forming the AuSn
4 compound. Particles of AuSn
4 disperse in the solder matrix, forming preferential cleavage planes, significantly lowering the mechanical strength and therefore reliability of the resulting solder joints.
If the gold layer does not completely dissolve into the solder, then slow intermetallic reactions can proceed in the solid state as the tin and gold atoms cross-migrate. Intermetallics have poor electrical conductivity and low strength. The ongoing intermetallic reactions also cause Kirkendall effect, leading to mechanical failure of the joint, similar to the degradation of gold-aluminium bonds known as purple plague.
A 2–3 µm layer of gold dissolves completely within one second during typical wave soldering conditions. Layers of gold thinner than 0.5 µm (0.02 thou) also dissolve completely into the solder, exposing the underlying metal (usually nickel) to the solder. Impurities in the nickel layer can prevent the solder from bonding to it. Electroless nickel plating contains phosphorus. Nickel with more than 8% phosphorus is not solderable.[ citation needed ] Electrodeposited nickel may contain nickel hydroxide. An acid bath is required to remove the passivation layer before applying the gold layer; improper cleaning leads to a nickel surface difficult to solder. A stronger flux can help, as it aids dissolving the oxide deposits. Carbon is another nickel contaminant that hinders solderability.
Metallurgy is a domain of materials science and engineering that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic elements, their inter-metallic compounds, and their mixtures, which are called alloys. Metallurgy is used to separate metals from their ore. Metallurgy is also the technology of metals: the way in which science is applied to the production of metals, and the engineering of metal components for usage in products for consumers and manufacturers. The production of metals involves the processing of ores to extract the metal they contain, and the mixture of metals, sometimes with other elements, to produce alloys. Metallurgy is distinguished from the craft of metalworking, although metalworking relies on metallurgy, as medicine relies on medical science, for technical advancement. The science of metallurgy is subdivided into chemical metallurgy and physical metallurgy.
Solder is a fusible metal alloy used to create a permanent bond between metal workpieces. The word solder comes from the Middle English word soudur, via Old French solduree and soulder, from the Latin solidare, meaning "to make solid". In fact, solder must first be melted in order to adhere to and connect the pieces together after cooling, which requires that an alloy suitable for use as solder have a lower melting point than the pieces being joined. The solder should also be resistant to oxidative and corrosive effects that would degrade the joint over time. Solder used in making electrical connections also needs to have favorable electrical characteristics.
Electroplating is a process that uses an electric current to reduce dissolved metal cations so that they form a thin coherent metal coating on an electrode. The term is also used for electrical oxidation of anions on to a solid substrate, as in the formation of silver chloride on silver wire to make silver/silver-chloride electrodes. Electroplating is primarily used to change the surface properties of an object, but may also be used to build up thickness on undersized parts or to form objects by electroforming.
Brazing is a metal-joining process in which two or more metal items are joined together by melting and flowing a filler metal into the joint, the filler metal having a lower melting point than the adjoining metal.
In metallurgy, a flux is a chemical cleaning agent, flowing agent, or purifying agent. Fluxes may have more than one function at a time. They are used in both extractive metallurgy and metal joining.
Sheffield plate is a layered combination of silver and copper that was used for many years to produce a wide range of household articles. Almost every article made in sterling silver was also crafted by Sheffield makers, who used this manufacturing process to produce nearly identical wares at far less cost. The process and material are sometimes compared to the Japanese mokume-gane.
Plating is a surface covering in which a metal is deposited on a conductive surface. Plating has been done for hundreds of years; it is also critical for modern technology. Plating is used to decorate objects, for corrosion inhibition, to improve solderability, to harden, to improve wearability, to reduce friction, to improve paint adhesion, to alter conductivity, to improve IR reflectivity, for radiation shielding, and for other purposes. Jewelry typically uses plating to give a silver or gold finish.
Copper plating is the process of plating a layer of copper electrolytically on the surface of an item. It takes place in an electrolytic cell where electrolysis which uses direct electric current to dissolve a copper rod and transport the copper ions to the item. Into a container of water are placed a copper rod, and the item. The water contains an ionic solution which allows a direct electric current to flow from the copper rod to the item. The copper rod is the anode and the item is the cathode. This current flow causes the copper to ionize, become oxidized which means each atom becomes positively charged by losing an electron. As the copper ions dissolve into the water, they form a coordination complex with salts already present. The copper then physically flows to the item, where it is reduced to the metallic state by gaining electrons. This forms a thin, solid, metallic copper film on the surface of the item.
Metal whiskering is a phenomenon which occurs in electrical devices when metals form long whisker-like projections over time. Tin whiskers were noticed and documented in the vacuum tube era of electronics early in the 20th century in equipment that used pure, or almost pure, tin solder in their production. It was noticed that small metal hairs or tendrils grew between metal solder pads causing short circuits. Metal whiskers form in the presence of compressive stress. Zinc, cadmium, and even lead whiskers have been documented. Many techniques are used to mitigate the problem including changes to the annealing process, addition of elements like copper and nickel, and the inclusion of conformal coatings. Traditionally, lead was added to slow down whisker growth in tin-based solders.
Electroless nickel (EN) plating is an auto-catalytic reaction that deposits an even layer of nickel-phosphorus or nickel-boron alloy on the surface of a solid material, or substrate, like metal or plastic. The process involves dipping the substrate in a bath of plating solution, where a reducing agent, like hydrated sodium hypophosphite (NaPO2H2 · H2O), reacts with the material's ions to deposit the nickel alloy. The metallurgical properties of the alloy depend on the percentage of phosphorus, which can range from 2–5% (low phosphorus) to 11–14% (high phosphorus). Unlike electroplating, it is not necessary to pass an electric current through the plating solution to form a deposit. Electroless plating prevents corrosion and wear, and can be used to manufacture composite coatings by suspending powder in the bath. EN plating creates an even layer regardless of the geometry of the surface – in contrast to electroplating which suffers from flux-density issues as an electromagnetic field will vary due to the surface profile and result in uneven depositions. Depending on the catalyst, EN plating can be applied to non-conductive surfaces.
Glass-to-metal seals are a very important element of the construction of vacuum tubes, electric discharge tubes, incandescent light bulbs, glass encapsulated semiconductor diodes, reed switches, pressure tight glass windows in metal cases, and metal or ceramic packages of electronic components.
Electroless nickel immersion gold (ENIG) is a type of surface plating used for printed circuit boards. It consists of an electroless nickel plating covered with a thin layer of immersion gold, which protects the nickel from oxidation.
Pure gold is slightly reddish yellow in color, but colored gold in various other colors can be produced.
Anti-corrosion refers to the protection of metal surfaces from corroding in high-risk (corrosive) environments.
Nickel electroplating is a technique of electroplating a thin layer of nickel onto a metal object. The nickel layer can be decorative, provide corrosion resistance, wear resistance, or used to build up worn or undersized parts for salvage purposes.
Electroless nickel coatings range from nickel boron and ternary alloys to highly functional composites. Nickel phosphorus deposits find the most use in the markets the plating industry serves.
Materials for use in vacuum are materials showing very low rate of outgassing in vacuum, and, where applicable, tolerant to the bake-out temperatures. The requirements grow increasingly stringent with the desired degree of vacuum achievable in the vacuum chamber. The materials can produce gas by several mechanisms. Molecules of gases and water can be adsorbed on the material surface. Materials may sublimate in vacuum. Or the gases can be released from porous materials or from cracks and crevices. Traces of lubricants, residues from machining, can be present on the surfaces. A specific risk is outgassing of solvents absorbed in plastics after cleaning.
Galvanic corrosion is an electrochemical process in which one metal corrodes preferentially when it is in electrical contact with another, in the presence of an electrolyte. A similar galvanic reaction is exploited in primary cells to generate a useful electrical voltage to power portable devices.