Lead-free solder alloys have been around for as long as people have done soldering, with sources dating back about 5,000 years. Most of these alloys were combinations like copper-silver or silver-gold and used with so-called hard soldering. That’s a technique still used today to join precious and semi-precious metals together. A much more recent development is that of soldering electronic components together, using ‘soft soldering’, which entails much lower temperatures.
Early soft soldering used pure tin (Sn), yet gradually alloys were sought that would fix issues like thermal cycling, shock resistance, electron migration, and the development of whiskers in tin-based alloys. While lead (Pb) managed to fill this role for most soldering applications, the phasing out of lead from products, as well as new requirements for increasingly more fine-pitched components have required the development of new solder alloys that can fill this role.
In this article we’ll be looking at the commonly used lead-free solder types for both hobby and industrial use, and the dopants that are used to improve their properties.