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issue: May 2004 APPLIANCE European Edition

Engineering Microelectronics
New Insights in Underfill Flow and Flip Chip Reliability

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by Karl.F. Becker, N. Kilic, T. Braun, M. Koch, V. Bader, R. Aschenbrenner, and H. Reichl, Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration, Berlin, Germany

During the last several years, Flip Chip Technology has been widely accepted as a means for maximum miniaturization of microelectronic assemblies. Flip Chips have been used in advanced products such as cellular phones, global positioning systems (GPS) devices, and in medical devices such as pacemakers.

The Flip Chip assemblies have proved to yield at least comparable reliability as standard surface mount technology (SMT) packages—standard packages as opposed to through-hole packages—with a reduced package footprint or product volume resp., meaning a reduction of footprint and/or volume is possible when using Flip Chip technology. To achieve this reliability, it is necessary to carefully select the materials and the process parameters.

At Fraunhofer IZM (Institute for Zuverlässigkeit [Reliability] and Microintegra-tion) previous investigations on processibility and reliability have been updated using state-of-the-art Flip Chip Underfillers. Motivation for the investigations is that for industrial use it is necessary to have defined encapsulation process parameters that guarantee a robust process without internal flaws. As these flaws often result from non-optimized material parameters, an easy way to detect critical material combinations or assembly geometry was investigated. The investigations performed correlate calculated flow rates to results from in-situ flow measurements. Here the direct-flow visualization using video equipment (i.e., flow-front fingering) was combined with acousto-microscopic visualization of material inhomogeneities (i.e., comet-like filler agglomerations). Furthermore, the influence of different substrate-base materials, solder-mask types, and geometries on five different underfill materials is considered and related to material flow and filler agglomerations as detected and visualized by acoustic microscopy. For further material evaluation concerning the reliability of the selected material systems, accelerated aging tests are performed. During process setup and accelerated aging tests, the use of Acoustic Microscopy allowed the precise detection of material imperfections as variations in filler distribution or voiding. As these internal flaws are critical to Flip Chip reliability, it is crucial to avoid such effects.

Derived from these investigations, a material ranking of the underfillers used was done, and material systems suited for the assembly of reliable Flip Chip packages have been identified.

The Technology

Flip Chip technology has found increasing acceptance in electronics industry in the last years. At the same time, it became clear that the semiconductor and packaging roadmaps hold challenges for this technology [1]. Device sizes and interconnection densities continue to increase together with a growing demand for decreasing packaging costs and higher throughput. But large dies, finest pitches, and vias under the die impede the application of cost-effective flip-chip processes [2, 3, 4]. The enabling technology has to fulfill the following contradictory demands: high yield, high throughput, low cost, suitability for large integrated controllers (ICs), fine pitch, and insensitivity to PCB topography.

Though there are technology alternatives as molded underfill or reflowable underfill, the classic capillary-flow underfill still has a potential for future applications. The main advantages of capillary flow underfiller are as follows:

• the relative ease of processing, suited for small-scale production with manual equipment as well as high-volume manufacturing using fully automated dispensers;

• the flexibility of the underfilling process allowing fast adaptation to layout changes; and

• the compatibility with standard eutectic PbSn solders and also with lead-free solders such as AgSn, that need increased reflow temperatures of about 260°C.

To further improve the capillary flow underfillers, material suppliers constantly modify their products to allow faster processing, the encapsulation of larger devices >15 by 15 mm, or of devices with smallest gaps less than 40 µm, and that yield increased reliability. The main parameters used to do this are the use of improved resin/ hardener systems with minimum reaction time and low viscosity [5] and the smallest filler particles [6] to decrease viscosity and simultaneously keep the CTE mismatch between chip, underfiller, and substrate low.

For the investigations described in this paper, five state-of-the art underfill materials have been chosen and tested concerning their processibility and reliability to provide the reader with information on the potential of advanced capillary flow underfillers.

Underfilling Basics

To understand what is happening during the underfilling process, it is helpful to take a closer look at the flow behavior of liquids in a capillary. It has been shown that the flow distance L between parallel plates can be calculated using the following formula [7, 8]:

where h = Gap Height
t = Flow Time
f = Coeff. of Planar Penetration

The coefficient of planar penetration CPP is a material-specific parameter that can be described as:

where g = Substrate Surface Energy
cos q = Underfiller Wetting Angle
h = Underfiller Viscosity

By simply determining the CPP using a flow module, i.e. parallel plates with a defined gap height and materials identical to the assembly of interest, the flow length for any assembly with these materials may be calculated using formula (1). The CPP was introduced to allow the determination of a material specific parameter indicating the suitability for the underfilling process: typical values for underfilling materials have been determined to values between 15 mm/s and 47 mm/s in a previous study [9].

However, it is necessary to keep in mind that some restrictions do apply to this simple model. Major effects that complicate underfiller flow calculations include the following: Underfiller Gelation, Gap/ Surface Variation, Filler/Filler Interaction, and Filler/Wall Interaction.

Analytical Methods for Material Characterization. For material analysis during the project, a wide variety of methods was used. Rheological investigations, thermo-mechanical analysis, humidity absorption, and thermal conductivity testing have been used for material characterization.

Empirical Test Method/Flip Chip Test Vehicle. To approximate the flow behavior of underfiller in Flip Chip cavities, the travel distance in gaps between parallel glass slides versus time is monitored. For this purpose, flow modules have been set up using a glass cover plate glued to a substrate. The adhesive contains spacer particles, whose diameter defines the flow module gap.

To determine underfiller flow behavior, the flow modules were brought to process temperatures typically between 70°C and 95°C, and a reservoir of underfiller was dispensed at one side of the module. The travel distance of underfill between the parallel glass slides and glass/substrate is recorded versus time using a video camera. After cure, the flow modules are investigated by acoustic microscopy and by cross sectioning.

For evaluation of the Flip Chip underfillers, a specially designed test vehicle has been used. This test vehicle is based on FR4 substrate and has six spaces for the placement of 10- by 10-mm Flip Chips. The Flip Chip dies were peripherally bumped with pitches of 300 µm. Test structure used for contact integrity testing was a daisy chain pattern. In combination with the test adapter, the daisy chain resistance could be checked simultaneously, allowing fast and efficient module testing. The solder used in the board layout was eutectic. PbSn on an electroless Ni UBM. The bump diameter prior to assembly was ca. 100 µm, after assembly the resulting bump height was ca. 80 µm. The resulting gap depended on the solder mask thickness. The flux used for assembly was a state of the art no clean flux, reflow was performed under N2 Atmosphere with a peak temperature of 230°C.

Reliability Analysis. For assembly reliability, evaluation standard tests were performed and analyzed by the following non-destructive and destructive techniques:

Popcorning Test (JEDEC 020) Level 1: 168-h storage at 85°C/85-percent relative humidity and 3x reflow with a peak temperature of 240°C.

Pressure Cooker Storage: 121°C/100-percent relative humidity/2 atm.

Thermal Cycling (MIL STD 883e): -40 °C/+125 °C with 30-min cycle time.

Table 1 - Material Properties of Flip Chip Underfillers Used. CLICK for a full-size image.


A detailed material analysis was performed to evaluate the material properties concerning thermo-mechanical behavior and processibility. Material data obtained from manufacturers and data determined at IZM are summarized in Table 1.

Material A is a medium-viscosity underfiller (0.59 Pa*s @ 70°C) showing medium surface tension of 33 mN/m. The material has a high filler content of ~70 wt%, and maximum filler particle size is 12 µm, the second highest in the test field. Thermo-mechanically, the material is rather stiff showing a Young’s modulus of 10 GPa and has a low CTE of 26 ppm/K that is close to that of the solder used.

Material B shows a similar viscosity as Material A (0.61 Pa*s @ 70°C) and a similar surface tension of 39 mN/m. The material has a medium filler content of 62 wt%, and maximum filler particle size of 15 µm is the highest in the test field. Thermo-mechanically, the material is also stiff with a Young’s modulus of 7.6 GPa, though softer than Material A. It has a low CTE of 28 ppm/K and also is close to that of the solder used.

Material C is a low-viscosity as is Material A (0.19 Pa*s @ 70°C) and has a surface tension of 40 mN/m, comparable to Material B. Material C has a low filler content of 40 wt%, and the maximum filler particle size of 10 µm is medium. Thermo-mechanically, the material is rather soft with a Young’s modulus of 2.8 GPa; CTE is high with 40 ppm/K. Material C has the highest humidity uptake amongst the materials analyzed, at least doubling the values for the other materials. No correlation between humidity desorption of 1.77 wt% and the content of inert filler of the material was found (e.g., Material E with a similar filler content does shows 0.83 wt% humidity uptake). It is thus assumed that this effect can be correlated with the underfiller chemical composition, but as the material recipes are proprietary, this point cannot be clarified.

Material D shows the highest viscosity of the materials investigated (0.73 Pa*s @ 70°C) and the lowest surface tension of 32 mN/m. The material has the highest filler content of 70 wt%, and the maximum filler particle size of 8 µm is rather small. Thermo-mechanically, the material is as stiff as Material A with a Young’s modulus of 10 GPa. Due to its high filler content, it has a low CTE of 23 ppm/K, ideally matched with eutectic PbSn solder CTE.

Material E shows the lowest viscosity in the test field (0.04 Pa*s @ 70°C) and the highest surface tension of 44 mN/m. Material E also has the lowest filler content of 30 wt% and the lowest maximum filler particle size of 5 µm. Thermo-mechanically, the material is rather soft with a Young’s modulus of 3.5 Gpa. CTE is as high as Material C’s with 40 ppm/K. Material E shows the highest CPP of 244 mm/s all the materials tested. This value is five times the value of Material C, showing the next largest value of 48 mm/s. The extreme increase of the CPP can be correlated to the extraordinarily low viscosity of the material. The value of 0.04 Pa*s is also five times smaller than that of Material C with a viscosity of 0.19 Pa*s. As shown in formula (2), the CPP is reciprocally proportional to the viscosity. With the other properties basically similar to the other underfills, the viscosity plays the major role as far as flowability is concerned.

Nevertheless, it must be noted that the CPP is not the only parameter to determine underfill processability: the proneness toward filler agglomeration is another key parameter that can only be determined empirically.

Three different solder mask materials have been chosen for the test program to identify their influence on material processing and reliability. Table 2 lists the geometrical data, and information on surface energy and surface roughness. Solder mask roughness values have been determined using atomic force microscopy to investigate the potential influence of surface roughness on the wetting behavior of the underfillers, possibly supporting underfiller flow by the wicking effect known from textile wetting. As it was found that the surface of all materials is comparably smooth, it is assumed that there is no wicking effect present with the assemblies.

Table 2 - Solder Mask Properties. CLICK for a full-size image.

The surface energy was determined using the sessile drop method initially and after a reflow process step. Though the materials showed a strong variation in surface energy in initial state, it was found that the surface changes during the reflow process decrease surface energy to a similar level. It is thus assumed that the influence of the solder mask is not as important as the solder mask topography. Concerning geometry, it was found that solder mask material SM 1 had 2.5 to 3 times the thickness of the other materials. With a given distance from substrate surface to die surface of 80 µm, the Flip Chip gap can be calculated by subtracting the solder mask thickness. Result is a narrowing of the Flip Chip gap from ca 65 µm for SM 2 and ca 60 µm for SM 3 down to only 30 µm for SM 1, impeding underfiller flow (see Formula 1).


A test matrix of five capillary flow underfill materials and three solder-mask materials have been analyzed using analytical as well as empirical tools. Valuable data have been determined to estimate material behavior during processing and use.

During flowability testing, Materials C and E show good performance, characterized by even and fast flow. Materials A and B were fair concerning processibility, and Material D showed only poor processing behavior. These results correlate with the CPP that has been calculated from analytically determined material parameters.

Filler agglomerations were detected with Materials A, B, and D, causing in some cases air voiding. Materials C and E did not show agglomerations. Cross sectioning through not agglomerated areas showed that filler settling does not occur with state-of-the art materials. So it is assumed that the formation of a two-layer structure with a non-filled area on top and a highly filled area on the bottom is prevented by optimized filler processing concerning size and coating.

During reliability testing, all materials did fulfill the criteria of the Jedec Std. 20 LVL 3 conditions. In pressure cooker testing, only Material A showed good performance. Materials A, B, and D performed fair, but Material C performed poor. During thermal cycling for all the materials tested, material combinations were found that did not show electrical failures until 2,000 cycles from -40°C to +125°C, though the degree of delamination varied for the different materials.

A strong dependency of assembly reliability to the material of the solder mask was found, possibly being dependent on the thermo-mechanical stresses present at a four-layer geometry of substrate/solder mask/underfiller/chip. This is especially true for solder mask SM 1, where the thickness of ca 50 µm is dominating over a small Flip Chip layer of only 30 µm. This effect has been described by Schubert et. al. inn [10]. Derived from the experiences of this study, it is recommended to minimize the thickness of a solder mask layer to a minimum, reducing the thermo-mechanical influence and maximizing the Flip Chip gap for improved flowability.

As a result of the material test run Material E, the high CPP material showed good processibility, as well as good reliability, and set a standard for future underfill materials. The recommendation for underfill material selection derived from this study and from previous work [11] is to perform a preselection of the materials related to underfiller viscosity and the thermo-mechanical properties of the material.


[1] ITRS Roadmap (Update 2002); http://public.itrs.net/Files/2002Update/Home.pdf.

[2] E. Jung, E. Ochi et al.; “Experience with a Fully Automated Flip Chip Assembly Line Integrating SMT;” Nepcon West, Anaheim, CA, U.S., March 1998.

[3] K.-F. Becker, P. Coskina, A. Schubert; Testing the Dimensional Limits of High-I/O Flip Chip Design; HDI Magazine, Vol. 3 No. 3, March 2000.

[4] K.-F. Becker, H. Vollbrecht, T. Braun, E. Jung, F. Ansorge, R. Aschenbrenner, H. Reichl; “Basic Design Guidelines for a Robust Underfilling Process,” Proc. International Acousto Microscopic Imaging Symposium - IAMIS 2000, 19.-20.10.00, San Jose, CA, U.S.

[5] J. Wang; “Underfill of Flip Chip on Organic Substrate: Viscosity, Surface Tension and Contact Angle;” Microelectronics Reliability; Vol. 42 (2002), pp. 293-299.

[6] S. Hackett, K. Gross, W.J. Schultz, W. Thompson; “Advanced Capillary Underfill for Flip Chip Aattachment;” Proc. SMTA International; 22.-26.09.02; Chicago, IL, U.S.

[7] M.K. Schwiebert, W.H. Leong; “Underfill Flow as Viscous Flow Between Parallel Plates Driven by Capillary Action;” IEEE/CPMT-Part C, Vol. 19, No. 2, pp. 133-137.

[8] J. A. Emerson, C. L. Jones Adkins; Techniques For Determining the Flow Properties of Underfill Materials; Proc. ECTC 1999; San Diego, CA, U.S.

[9] T. Bart; “Untersuchung und Optimierung des Fließverhaltens von Hochgefüllten Epoxydharzen in Kapillarspalten für die Verkapselung von Mikroelektronischen Bauteilen;” Work of Diploma, TFH Berlin; WS 1998/1999.

[10] Schubert, R. Dudek, B. Michel, H. Reichl; Package Reliability Studies By Experimental And Numerical Analysis; Proc. MicroMat 2000; 17.-19.04.2000, Berlin, Germany.

[11] K.-F. Becker, T. Braun, M. Koch, D. Vogel, R. Aschenbrenner, H. Reichl, H.-W. Hagedorn, J. Neumann-Rodekirch; Encapsulant Characterization—Valuable Tool for Process Setup and Failure Analysis;” Proc. of Polytronic 2002, 24.-26.06.02, Zalaegerszeg, Hungary.

This is an edited version of a paper that was originally presented at the IPC Surface Mount Equipment Manufacturers Association Council APEX® at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, CA, U.S. The paper was awarded the “Martin L. Barton International Paper Award,” named for former APEX Technical Conference Director Martin Barton.


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