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  • Chapter 2 Mechanism of Moisture Diffusion, Hygroscopic Swelling, and Adhesion Degradation in Epoxy Molding Compounds

    M.H. Shirangi and B. Michel

    2.1 Introduction

    In order to design and manufacture robust electronic packages, it is important to understand the response of materials and interfaces to the conditions to which they will be subjected. Moisture diffusion in epoxy molding compounds (EMCs) is one of the major reliability concerns in plastic encapsulated microcircuits (PEMs), because many failure modes observed in these devices are believed to arise from the diffusion of moisture during manufacturing, storage, or operation [1–5].

    Interfacial delamination between EMC and copper-based leadframe in PEMs is a common failure problem in semiconductor packages. Despite extreme demands from industrial sectors for the use of simulation tools instead of expensive and time-consuming qualification tests, most of the attempts for predicting interfa- cial delamination by numerical methods have failed, because the plastic packages undergo complex failure modes arising from the package internal stresses and applied thermo-mechanical loads. It is often believed that failure of the plastic pack- ages during the solder reflow process or accelerated stress testing is due to degrading effects of moisture, such as adhesion loss, hygroscopic swelling, and vapor pressure [6–9].

    Using epoxy-based encapsulating materials for protecting semiconductors against environmental attacks is believed to be a turning point in electronic packag- ing industry. PEMs have many advantages such as lower cost, lighter weight, and better performance over hermetic packages. They are generally applied in all indus- trial areas including automotive industry, consumer electronics, military, and space applications. Despite all of their advantages, one important disadvantage of PEMs is that the EMC absorbs moisture when exposed to a humid environment [1–10]. EMCs are composite materials made up of an epoxy matrix that encompasses silica fillers, stress relief agents, flame retardants, and other additives [4]. The common resin in epoxy molding compounds used in electronic packaging is epoxy cresol

    M.H. Shirangi (B) e-mail:

    29X.J. Fan, E. Suhir (eds.), Moisture Sensitivity of Plastic Packages of IC Devices, Micro- and Opto-Electronic Materials, Structures, and Systems, DOI 10.1007/978-1-4419-5719-1_2, C© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

  • 30 M.H. Shirangi and B. Michel

    novolac (ECN) and the common hardener and filler are phenolic novolac (PN) and fused silica (FS), respectively [5].

    Moisture behavior of EMC is mainly dominated by the diffusion of water through epoxy resin. However, the amount of filler and its shape can influence the mois- ture diffusivity. Diffusion of moisture in epoxy resins is affected by several factors; however, surface topology and resin polarity are the primary aspects that affect the equilibrium moisture uptake. Soles and Yee [10] found that water traverses the epoxy network through a network of nanopores that is inherent in the epoxy struc- ture. They determined the average size of nanopores diameter to vary from 5 to 6.1 Å and account for 3–7% of the total value of the epoxy material. Since the approximate diameter of a kinetic water molecule is just 3.0 Å, moisture can easily traverse into the epoxy via the nanopores. They found that the volume fraction of nanopores does not affect the diffusion coefficient of water in any of the resin studied and argued that polar groups coincident with the nanopores are the rate-limiting factor in the diffusion process, which could explain why the diffusion coefficient is essentially independent of the nanopore content.

    There are many speculations on the state of water molecules in polymers. Adamson [11] proposed that moisture can transfer in epoxy resins in the form of either liquid or vapor. Tencer [12] suggested it is also possible that vapor water molecules undergo a phase transformation and condense to the liquid phase. The condensed moisture was reported to be either in the form of discrete droplets on the surface or in the form of uniform layers. These water layers are often quantified in terms of monolayers of water necessary to initiate and support corrosion of the metallization in PEMs.

    Moisture diffusion in a polymer can be analyzed using the so-called thermal– moisture analogy. The method has been developed by a number of researchers [7, 13] to overcome the discontinuity problem of moisture concentration across the bi-material interfaces using normalized variables. More recently, a direct concen- tration approach (DCA) has been proposed by Xie et al. [14] to study the moisture diffusion with varying temperature and humidity conditions such as in soldering reflow.

    Prediction of the problems associated with moisture in PEMs requires a full understanding of the mechanism of moisture diffusion in these materials. In this chapter a detailed analysis of the role of moisture in EMC performance is presented. Moisture diffusion in epoxy molding compounds will be first investigated quantita- tively by weight gain measurements of plastic packages as well as standard bulk EMC samples. Then the characteristics of moisture absorption will be studied by performing moisture desorption and re-sorption tests at various baking conditions.

    Another objective of this chapter is to understand the mechanism of moisture- induced volumetric expansion of molding compounds. This phenomenon is known as hygroscopic swelling and is responsible for an additional mismatch between epoxy molding compound and other package materials.

    The influence of moisture on the adhesion, one of the most crucial reliability concerns of the epoxy molding compounds, will also be investigated. When the adhesion between a polymer and a substrate like a leadframe is considered in terms

  • 2 Mechanism of Moisture Diffusion in Epoxy Molding Compounds 31

    of interfacial fracture toughness, the interface is initially under residual stresses. Depending on the amount of cure shrinkage of the EMC during polymerization and the coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) of the EMC and leadframe, the interface may be under tension or pressure. The situation becomes more complex, when the epoxy molding compound expands due to the moisture absorption, while other components are not affected by moisture. Neglecting any of the mentioned mechanisms may lead to a completely wrong understanding of the effect of mois- ture on interfacial adhesion. A fracture test setup will be presented and the effect of moisture diffusion on the interfacial fracture toughness will be discussed. The moisture absorption and desorption curves of the bulk EMC samples will be used to explain the fracture results. Moreover, the mechanism of the adhesion loss and its recoverability upon subsequent baking will be discussed in detail.

    2.2 Moisture Diffusion in Plastic Encapsulated Microcircuits

    The objective of this section is to study the diffusion of moisture in plastic encapsu- lated devices. Four types of plastic packages were selected to investigate how their moisture content changes with time at 85◦C/85% RH (relative humidity). Table 2.1 lists the type and initial dry weight of these packages. All of the packages were stored more than 1 year in unprotected conditions after their molding process. Since these packages absorb moisture during storage, they should be baked first to reach the dry state. The bake-out condition is believed to depend on the geometry and storage time of the packages. However, a typical and standard baking condition in electronic packaging is 24 h baking at 125◦C. This baking condition may not neces- sarily lead to a fully dry state as will be discussed in the next sections. Despite this fact, the bake-out condition for all packages was assumed to be as standard (24 h at 125◦C) in order to facilitate a consistent comparison between the moisture contents of these devices.

    Table 2.1 Four types of plastic IC packages for the investigation of moisture diffusion

    Sample name Package type Package dry weight (mg)

    EMC used in package

    Package dimensions (mm3)

    P1 MO-188 2,209.01 MC-1 14 × 14 × 2.75 P2 SOIC-24 672.13 MC-2 15.4 × 7.5 × 2.45 P3 SOIC-16 451.18 MC-2 10.3 × 7.5 × 2.45 P4 PLCC-44 2,540.47 MC-3 16.5 × 16.5 × 3.8

    Package P1 is an MO-188 type which uses solder for the die bonding, while other packages use an epoxy die-attach for bonding the die on leadframe. The packages P1 and P2 use molding compounds MC-1 and MC-2, respectively. Packages P2 and P3 are both SOIC packages that use the same type of molding compound (MC-2). The only difference between P2 and P3 is that P2 is larger and has more pins compared to P3. Package P4 is a PLCC package and is the largest among the four packages. In

  • 32 M.H. Shirangi and B. Michel











    5 M

    oi st

    ur e

    m as

    s, m


    (time)1/2, (hour)1/2

    P1 P2 P3 P4


    0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40

    P1 P2 P3 P4









    (time)1/2, (hour)1/2 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40

    M as

    s up

    ta ke

    , %


    Fig. 2.1 Moisture absorption of four plastic IC packages at 85◦C/85% RH: (a) mass of moisture (mg) in package with square root of time and (b) mass uptake (%) with square root of time

    order to measure the dry weight of the plastic parts, all plastic packages were first baked at 1


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