Initial studies into the use of ultrasound to reduce process temperatures and chemical usage in the PCB desmear process

Andrew J. Cobley, Lindsay Edgar, Martin Goosey, Rod Kellner, Timothy J. Mason

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose - Previous studies have proven that, under optimised ultrasonic conditions, a range of materials used in electronic manufacturing can be sonochemically surface modified using benign solutions at low temperature. The purpose of this paper is to focus on a specific process, namely, the desmearing of through holes in printed circuit boards (PCB). The objective was to determine whether the introduction of low frequency ultrasound (20 kHz) to the "etch" stage of a standard "swell and etch" desmear system could enable reduced temperature processing and the use of less chemistry in the permanganate solution. Design/methodology/approach - The study was divided into three main stages. In the first "screening" phase, the effect of ultrasound in the etch solution was studied by measuring the weight loss after desmear on a PCB laminate material (Isola 370HR). Factors such as etch temperature and concentration of permanganate (including permanganate-free) were varied. In stage 2, confirmatory runs were carried out on the most promising conditions from the screening work and through holes in a four-layer multi-layer board (MLB) were assessed for smear removal using a scanning electron microscope (SEM). Finally, a four-layer MLB was desmeared through the most promising ultrasonic process and then metallized at a PCB manufacturer. Thermal shock testing was subsequently carried out and sections from the board assessed for inter-connection defects (ICDs). Findings - The initial screening study indicated that, whenever ultrasound was used in the etch stage of the desmear process, significantly higher weight loss was achieved compared to a standard "silent" process. This effect was most pronounced when permanganate was removed from the etch solution and, in this situation, weight loss could be an order of magnitude higher than the silent equivalent. Further testing on through holes suggested that smear-free inner-layers could only be guaranteed if permanganate was present in the etch solution but that ultrasound again improved smear removal. Final testing under semi-production conditions confirmed that, if ultrasound was employed in the etch part of the desmear process, then a reduction in processing temperature from 858C to 608C could be achieved and the permanganate concentration halved (65 to 33 g/L) whilst still achieving ICD-free boards. Originality/value - The paper indicates the feasibility of using ultrasound to reduce temperatures and chemical concentrations used in the permanganate etch solution, whilst still producing through holes with no ICDs.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)15-23
    Number of pages9
    JournalCircuit World
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • Acoustics
    • Printed circuits
    • Surface properties of materials
    • Ultrasonics

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
    • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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