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Microscopic Corrosion are Gremlins Lurking on Circuit Boards

Author: David Zerr, VP of R&D, Pulmac Systems

Event: TAPPICon 2021

Gremlins Lurking on Circuit Boards – What are these Gremlins on Circuit Boards? Corrosion. Microscopic corrosion can take out electrical boards in weeks. This is a silent killer like Corrosion that occurs Underneath Insulation (CUI). But unlike CUI where corrosion can take years to develop, this microscopic corrosion on circuit boards can attack quickly, within weeks, and can shut down equipment. The root cause typically is moisture, but sometimes chemicals in the air prove deadly to circuit boards. Further, the electronics industry created issues by moving to lead-free solder and miniaturization. This will be addressed as well.

Most of the time, these issues will go unchecked for years unless you are sensitized to look for them. Many electrical boards are being replaced after failure without understanding why. Intermittent issues, controls that generally function properly suddenly stop working, are tell-tale signs. Further, most that look at a board for this issue will often miss the corrosion. That’s what makes this so challenging to troubleshoot. Again, this occurs due to microscopic condensation or a chemical attack on the board’s surface and can quickly attack solder joints on the thousands upon thousands of boards present in a typical pulp and paper mill. This paper will delve into how this issue has evolved, solutions research, and means to mitigate and prevent recurrences.

This corrosion issue was more apparent in recent years because the circuit board manufacturers were required by law to remove the lead in the solder back in 2006. This is like lead removal in paints (1978) and gas (1986) for health and safety reasons. It remains a substantial issue throughout the world. Not just in the P&P field but in all industries with corrosive atmospheres.

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