This paper aims to present the results of a 32-year-old laboratory study of whisker growth from tin electrodeposits that was originally undertaken to gain an increased understanding of the phenomenon of tin whisker growth.
Whisker growth was evaluated using electroplated C-rings (both stressed and un-stressed) that were stored throughout in a desiccator at room temperature. Analysis has recently been undertaken to evaluate whisker growth and intermetallic growth after 32 years of storage. Scanning electron microscopy analysis has been performed to investigate whisker length and, using polished cross-sections, the morphology, thickness and type of intermetallic formation.
Normal tin-plated deposits on brass and steel with a copper barrier layer nucleated whiskers within five months, and in each case, these grew to lengths between 1 and 4.5 mm. For normal tin electroplated onto brass, a one- or two-month nucleation period was needed before whiskers developed. They reached a maximum length of about 1.5 mm after six months, and little or no further growth occurred during the subsequent 32 years. Very few whiskers grew on the tin-plated steel samples and no intermetallic formation was observed. None of the fused tin plating samples nucleated whiskers during the 32-year period.
Knowledge about vintage whiskers is important to take steps to increase the resiliency of space missions. Similarly, such knowledge is important to engineers engaged in products reaching their nominal end-of-life, but where, for reasons of economy, these products cannot be replaced.
This study represents a unique insight into whisker growth and intermetallic formation over an extremely long time period.
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