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Conductive anodic filament (CAF) formation: an historic perspective

Laura J. Turbini (University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)

Circuit World

ISSN: 0305-6120

Article publication date: 1 September 2006




Conductive anodic filament (CAF) is a failure mode in printed wiring boards (PWBS), which occurs under high humility and high voltage gradient conditions. This paper aims to review the history of CAF from its identification in the 1970s to the statistical analysis of its failure mode and the factors that enhance its formation.


Charts the chronology and details the developments of CAF over the last 30 years.


CAF is a conductive copper‐containing salt created electrochemically that grows from the anode toward the cathode sub‐surface along the epoxy/glass interface. It can also grow from the anode on one layer to a cathode on another. CAF was first discovered in 1976 and was identified as a catastrophic failure mode. It is enhanced by high humidity during storage or use, by high voltage gradient between anode and cathode, by certain soldering flux ingredients, by hole drilling, multiple thermal cycles during processing, and by higher processing temperatures associated with lead‐free solders. CAF is a copper hydroxy chloride salt and is a semiconducting material.


Our analytical tools today are far superior to those of these early researchers. Early data were obtained from chart recorders and manual plotting. Today we have computers for automated data collection and analysis and the sensitivity of the scanning electron microscope has improved significantly. The researchers of the 1970s and early 1980s characterized the basic factors associated with CAF and in many ways we are just repeating what they have done.



Turbini, L.J. (2006), "Conductive anodic filament (CAF) formation: an historic perspective", Circuit World, Vol. 32 No. 3, pp. 19-24.



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