Via-In-Pad Myth #5.A

I received a couple of good questions on my prior post about vias in QFN or QFP pads:

"I have a few questions about the second photo. The thermal vias in the center are masked over, doesn't this make it difficult to get uniform solder reflow on this pad? Also, what about the height differences due to the solder mask? Finally, what would the paste mask look like for this part?"

The part I used for the illustration is a QFP, but the same would go for QFNs also. All of the issues in question are somewhat more critical with QFN parts.

First, having the thermal vias masked over does make solder uniformity more difficult. The best option is to have the vias filled and plated over at the PCB fab house. That can be more expensive than is practical Padinvia_alt w stencil in many case though, so mask is still frequently used. A smaller mask size, 100 - 125 microns bigger than the via, is preferred to the larger mask are here, but this technique is used when registration is a concern. Again, it can be a cost issue. With a properly segmented mask, as illustrated on the right, reasonable solder deposition can be achieved.

Height isn't much of an issue with QFP parts, but can be with QFNs. Again, when the mask is properly segmented, height issues will be effectively mitigated.

Duane Benson
Stanley Yelnats doesn't like vias.

Hand To Machine

It's getting very difficult to hand solder many parts these days. Some people give it a try, but in general, if you're dealing with the really tiny parts or leadless parts, it's just not possible, or at least not  practical.

QFN worng part library Sometimes a designer will start out with the idea of hand soldering the board up and then either decide against it when first looking at the raw PCB, or will build one and then decide that it's too much work. That's not a bad thing. You can get more reliable assembly and it keeps me employed. But there are times when a layout designed with hand assembly in mind does not work for machine assembly.

Case in point, this image. Now there are two things wrong here. The first is that the land pattern is for  a smaller part than the actual component. Let's pretend that problem doesn't exist. The other problem is that big via hole in the middle of the pad. When hand soldering parts with a solder pad underneath, like QFNs or QFPs, folks will often put a large hole there. They'll solder the outside connections first. Then, turn the PCB over and stick a soldering iron and some solder in that big via to solder up the pad.

That works more or less for hand soldering, but it's a really bad thing to have a big open via like that when machine assembling parts. The solder will flow down and out the other side. You'll get a mess on the bottom of the PCB and you may get little or no solder on the pad.

So, the moral of this story is that if you've designed your PCB for hand soldering and later send it out for automated assembly, go through the layout and make sure you remove things put in there for hand soldering that aren't conducive to reliable machine assembly.

Duane Benson
Don't fall in...

Narcissistic Parts

Maybe not completely narcissistic, but at least self-centered. Or, self-centering. Okay, are you lost now? Am I making any sense at all? Well, I'm going to say that it doesn't matter, because the world-revolves around me.

But what I am talking about is parts that will more or less center themselves during the reflow process. Some parts like BGAs and QFNs tend to follow the surface tension of the melted solder and tweak themselves into a more centered position on the land. That's a good thing.

Ground pad pulling part It's not always a good thing though. Sometimes that same surface tension action can work against you. Take this TO-263 part on the left. When it was placed on the land, before reflow, the leads were centered right in their pads like they should be. The big land for the thermal pad is set up a little too high though and once melted, the surface tension from the big thermal pad sucked the part up, nearly dragging it off of the lands for the leads. Bummer days. (Here's another example)

You probably shouldn't leave the part like this, so here's a few suggestions:

You could make the thermal pad smaller so that when the metal tab of the part is centered, the leads will be too. Cooling needs might dictate that you don't reduce the size of the pad though. If that's the case, you could make the bad bigger by extending it down toward the leads, again so the leads will be centered when the body of the part is. You could also mask off the top part of the pad, or put a thin strip of mask as a solder dam. What you're doing is making sure that if and when surface tension moves the part, the leads will end up where they are supposed to.

Duane Benson
It is all about me, you know

Land Patterns - Equal and Not Equal

I was recently asked a question about QFN package varieties. The questioner wanted to know if different package variants of 16 contact QFN packages, such as HUQFN, DHVQFN, SQFN and such, all shared the same footprint.

If they did, the CAD work would be much easier. There would be one land pattern to worry about and that would be that. Unfortunately, that is not that and in this case, that, in fact, that may never be that.

Many different varieties of QFN packages could use the same land pattern, but they don't always do. Some will have the same pitch, but more distance between the outside contacts and the corner, thus a greater overall dimension. That can happen even with the same labeled variety of QFN package. Some will have different dimensions, differnt pitch, different pad sizes or different thermal pad sizes. Sorry. No easy answer here.

I popped on over to the NXP website, one of our Circuit Design ECOsystem partners, for some examples. NXP lists two 60 contact HUQFN part packages. One is 5mm x 5mm. The other is 6mm x 4mm. Same with the HVQFN. There is a .65mm pitch 4mm x 4mm package and two.5mm pitch 3mm x 3mm parts with a different overall package outline.

In general, generalzations aren't going to work here. You're going to have to go dig out that datasheet and quite possibly create a new land pattern.

Duane Benson
One pattern to rule them all and in the solder bind them

AT Tiny is Tiny

ATTINY44A-MMH I just spotted a note on Twitter, from SiliconFarmer, referring to the ATtiny44A coming in a 0.45 mm pitch QFN as well as a 0.5mm pitch MLF package. (In practice, an MLF is the same as a QFN, by the way.) Just in case you actually care, we're on twitter at "pcbassembly".

I've run across a number of 0.4mm BGA packaged parts, but this is the first sub-0.5mm QFN I've seen. Interesting that they have two different sizes of QFN package, one at 4mm x 4mm and the other at 3mm x 3mm. If you're that tight on space, that little 7 square mm of extra open area can make a difference.

Screaming Circuits won't care on the assembly floor. We do plenty of 0.4mm parts so a 0.45 isn't anything new. The most important thing to remember is to use the right footprint. It's easy enough to accidentally use a QFP footprint when you have a QFN (like here). I could see it being even easier to swap for the wrong footprint with this part. Doing so would be bad, most certainly. You might get one or two contacts per side on the right footprint, but that's pretty much as good as none.

Duane Benson
It's like Ice-9. The same, only different.

Funky QFN Land Patterns

I've described the optimal way to create your land and solder paste layer for QFNs a couple of times before. Complex QFN land pattern But that was for a standard square QFN or rectangular DFN. What happens if you look at the bottom of your QFN and it's all weird like this one?

Does it require a different philosophy for the big pad areas? Should it just be a solid opening because their is more than one thermal pad and they don't cover the whole area?

Well, this pic is an Intersil ISL8200 power module. It's pretty cool and Intersil was kind enough to actually put the paste layer recommendations right in the data sheet. Unfortunately, not all chip manufactures do that.

The bad news is that it's a pretty complex pattern. The good news is that the data sheet gives a diagram with great detail on the required dimensions for the lands and the stencil. And, yes, you treat this just like any other QFN thermal pad. They recommend 50 - 80% paste coverage for the thermal pads just like everyone else. That means that you'll segment the paste cut-outs in the paste layer for each of the four thermal areas just like you would for the whole pad area on a standard QFN. The data sheet for this part has the specifics.

For similar parts from other manufacturers, you should go to their datasheets and app notes first, but if you don't find a recommendation, we would suggest you do the segmenting and shoot for somewhere between 50 and 80% coverage. Putting down too much paste is a bad idea for any QFN or DFN, but it's probably even more critical with a part like this where the solder areas only cover half the part. If there's too much solder on the underside, it will likely tilt and most likely not solder reliably.

Duane Benson
Don't eat paste.

Re-runs

I've been pretty occupied with the upcoming Embedded Systems Conference in Boston. The exhibition is next week on Tuesday, the 21st and Wednesday the 22nd. Screaming Circuits will be in booth 809. Stop by if you happen to be at the show.

In any case, I've been pretty much wrapped up in show preparation so I haven't had much time for original writing here. That being the case, I'm going to play an old TV sit-com trick and just select some old, but good, content to re-run.

And, there you go.

Duane Benson
Hide Wally Bee. Andre is back and he's got a fly swatter

Easy Reading for a Long Weekend

The holiday is upon us and most folks here in the US will have a three day weekend. Of course, when you're an engineer on deadline, all too often holidays don't really mean that much. Here's a little food for thought for those that will be working over the weekend.

  • If you're trying to finish off that layout and need some advice on a pesky QFN or DFN, read these few bits about laying out for a quality reflow: here, here and here.
  • If you're trying to decide what finish to order on your PCB, read this, this and this.
  • If you just want to confuse yourself a bit, try this, this and this.

Now you can get back to some real problems - like finding that last little bit of clock jitter or figuring out how to keep the back-EMF from mucking with your MOSFETs.

Duane Benson
No shorts allowed under that BGA, 'cause shorts cause tan lines

All Leadless

It wasn't too terribly long ago that just about any design could still be built all thru-hole. Okay, maybe it was a little longer ago than that. Once the big CPU chips stopped showing up in PGA (pin grid array), thru-hole PC motherboard possibilities went out. Then when blue-tooth and Zig-bee came around, most if not all of those chips came out in BGA, LGA or QFN forms - no thru-hole. Anyway, it's not too difficult to do pretty much any design in all SMT now, but what about all leadless?

DFN-8 Okay, we don't really consider passives to be leadless, but they kind of are. So, we have all of our passives in a leadless like form. Now all we have to worry about are the chips.

I'll start with a Microchip PIC18F4550 in a QFN44 package. It's got built-in USB, so I don't have to worry about a separate USB chip. I'll load up a bootloader and it will all be happy. Wireless will have to wait for version 2.0. This is going to control a two side-by-side wheel platform scooter type thing, so I'll need a gyro and accelerometer. Digi-Key just sent out their "techzone" mini-catalog/magazine featuring just some of these type parts. I'll take the Analog Devices ADXL345 three-axis accelerometer in LGA form-factor.

I only need to worry about pitch and yaw, so a dual axis gyro should be fine. I'll try out the ST Micro LPY550AL in a 5x5mm QFN package. For voltage regulation in the prototype, I'll use a Linear Technology LTC3642 in a 3x3mm DFN package. It has a 3.3 volt output and can accept 5 to 45 volts in. That gives me the flexibility of powering off of a dedicated battery pack or off the scooter main battery.

All LGA or QFN/DFN. The only problem is soldering up the prototypes and next half-dozen or so units, for all of my friends, after that. I'm not going to stick those things in a toaster, and I certainly can't hand solder them like I could with the old thru-hole or TSSOP and SOIC chips. Oh. Wait. I work for a company that does that.

Duane Benson
Fight Uni!

Large Via In Pad

Large QFN vias I haven't written about via in pad in a while, but the issue hasn't quite gone away yet. This particular QFN, to the left, has the vias tented, which is good. However, it could be better. If you look close, you'll see that they're tented on the bottom of the board with solder mask.

Tenting on the bottom will usually prevent solder spillage out on the back side of the PCB, but with vias this large, the solder will probably flow down into the space, leaving quite a bit of voiding under the part. Sometimes outgassing will pop open the little tents too causing the spillage. And with immersion silver boards, outgassing can cause corrosion in the vias if you have the bottom tented and the top also sealed - like by the part.

If it's a low speed, low temperature QFN that just needs a little ground connection to the center pad, that voiding might not matter. But, in most cases with QFNs, you need minimal voiding for thermal or noise reasons.

The best option for manufactureability is always to have the vias filled and plated over at the board house, but that can be expensive. If you are going to tent with solder mask, this next image illustrates the three Soldermasked vias for blog b ways to do it.

A is the best: a cap on the component side about 100 to 125 microns bigger than the via. B, a larger cap on the component side, or C, a cap on the bottom, will also work but both come with a greater risk of excessive voiding.

Duane Benson
Do solder mask tents need a rain fly?
In Oregon - probably yes.