Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate if copper nanoparticles could be utilized for two types of through hole plating in printed circuit boards, namely: as a catalytic material to initiate the electroless copper deposition process; and as a “conductive” layer which is coherent and conductive enough to allow “direct” electroplating of the through hole. The employment of nanoparticles means that an effective method of dispersion is required and this paper studies the use of mechanical agitation and ultrasound for this purpose. Design/methodology/approach – The paper utilized drilled, copper clad FR4 laminate. The through holes were functionalized using a commercially available “conditioner” before being immersed in a solution of copper nanoparticles which were dispersed using either a magnetic stirrer or ultrasound (40 kHz). When the copper nanoparticles were utilized as a catalytic material for electroless copper plating, the efficacy of the technique was assessed using a standard “backlight” test which allowed the plating coverage of the through holes to be determined. As a control, a standard palladium catalysed electroless copper process was employed. The morphology of the electroless copper deposits was also analysed using scanning electron microscopy. In the “direct plate” approach, after immersion in the copper nanoparticle dispersion, the through holes were electroplated at 3 Adm−2 for 15 min, sectioned and examined using an optical microscope. The distance that the copper electroplate had penetrated down the through hole was then determined. Findings – The paper has shown that copper nanoparticles can be used as a catalytic material for electroless copper plating. The coverage of the electroless copper in the through hole improves as the copper nanoparticle concentration increases and, at the highest copper nanoparticle concentrations employed, good, but not complete, electroless copper coverage is obtained. Dispersion of the copper nanoparticles using ultrasound is critical to the process. Ultrasonically dispersed copper nanoparticles achieve some limited success as a conductive layer for “direct” electroplating with some penetration of the electroplated deposit into the through hole. However, if mechanical agitation is employed to mix the nanoparticles, no through hole plating obtaines. Originality/value – The paper has demonstrated the “proof of concept” that copper nanoparticles can be utilized to catalyse the electroless copper process, as well as their potential to replace costly palladium‐based activators. The paper also illustrates the potential for copper nanoparticles to be used as a “direct plate process” and the necessity for using ultrasound for their dispersion in either process.
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- Printed circuits