Be careful with those Arduino GSM cards. As [James] reports, they may turn into fire starters. One person has reported a small explosion and fire already on the Arduino forums.
Now before we go any further – You may be asking yourself who the heck [James] is, and what gives him the ability to second guess the Arduino team. Well, here is [James'] blog disclaimer: “James is a Senior Technical Expert for Technology and Applications at KEMET Electronics, a capacitor manufacturer. The content of this post are his and in no way reflects opinions of his employer.”
Senior Technical Expert? That’s a good enough reason for us to believe him.
[James] states the problem is a tantalum capacitor used to decouple the GSM radio power supply from the main Arduino supply.
Tantalum capacitors are great for their low ESR properties. However, they have a well known downside of getting very hot, or even exploding when stressed. It’s not the Tantalum Anode that is burning. The Manganese Dioxide used as a cathode in some Tantalum capacitors is the culprit.
It comes down to voltage rating (or more aptly, derating). The Arduino GSM shield runs at 5 volts. The designers chose a 6.3V rated capacitor. While this close of a tolerance may be good enough for some types of capacitor, it is a no-go for a Tantalum cap with Manganese Dioxide. The dielectric material in these capacitors is so thin that the stress of a reflow oven cycle causes cracks. The cracks pass leakage current, and this sets the Manganese Dioxide on the path to destruction.
What’s the solution? [James] suggests several options:
- Switch to a 10 volt part
- Switch to a safer Tantalum Polymer capacitor.
We haven’t heard anything from the Arduino team yet about this, but to be safe we’d follow [James'] advice.