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Palladium Plating of Printed

Circuits
By .J. E. Philpott, B.s~.

Where low and stable values of contact resistance are required in a


printed circuit, the contact surfaces are locally electroplated with a noble
metal. The physical properties of palladium, combined with its relatively
low cost and the ease with which it can be applied, make it an ideal
metal f o r .this purpose.

During the last decade the printed circuit properties of the track are of great importance.
has been extensively developed and is now in In the first, the printed circuit is used as
general use in a variety of electronic equip- the major component of a switch, the track
ment. It consists basically of a series of replacing the mechanically produced seg-
conducting tracks bonded on to a non- ments or slip rings of the conventional
conducting backing. switch.
Numerous materials and production tech- In the second, one edge of the printed
niques have been investigated during this circuit board is designed for plugging into a
period of development and although other suitably designed socket. This application is
types are still in use for certain specialised of particular importance to the computer
applications the most common form of printed manufacturer since it makes it possible for
circuit is based on synthetic resin-bonded various sub-circuits, each capable of carrying
paper and copper foil. Such circuits are pro- out some mathematical operation, to be
duced by etching techniques and they have plugged into a computer during program-
found their way into equipment ranging from ming. The plug contacts usually take the
domestic radio and television receivers to form of a number of parallel strips at right
elaborate defence devices. angles to one edge of the board.
The use of printed circuits was originally Copper is not an ideal contact material; the
confined to applications where the conducting oxide layer that it forms on its surface may
tracks replaced the wiring of conventional give rise to high and unstable resistances and
chassis. The main requirements of the track it is too soft for the more severe mechanical
were that it should be of tolerably high conditions that may be encountered, parti-
conductivity and that it should readily soft cularly in switching duties. Attention has
solder. Copper met these requirements therefore been directed towards providing
adequately, although there has been a growing tarnish-free surfaces that are preferably
interest in improving the soldering pro- harder than copper and this has been achieved
perties of the surface-particularly after by locally electroplating a noble metal on to
storage. The contact properties of the track the copper. Four metals have been investi-
were not however of interest, since all con- gated: silver, gold, rhodium and palladium.
nections to the circuit were soft soldered. Silver has not been widely used. Although
Wider uses of printed circuits have since silver electrodeposits are obtainable with a
been developed, and there are now two hardness in excess of 100 V.P.N., the metal
fields of application where the contact tarnishes fairly readily in sulphur-laden

Platinum Metals Rev., 1960, 4, (l), 12-14 12


Two printed circuits by Ferranti Ltd., designed for plugging into ,fixed sockets. The contuct
surfuces are palladium plated

atmospheres, and while this may be of little or cracking. The bath from which rhodium
consequence in many duties, it prevents its is deposited is extremely acid and although
use in the light duty conditions normally this does not affect the bond between the
associated with printed circuits. More copper and the base material it may attack
important is the tendency of silver to migrate exposed areas of the base material and reduce
across the backing and so to reduce the its insulation resistance.
insulation resistance between adjacent tracks. Palladium is coming increasingly into use
Gold or gold alloys are widely used for for the plating of printed circuits, particularly
conventional light duty plugs and sockets and for plug applications. Electrodeposited palla-
give outstandingly good electrical perform- dium has a hardness in the range 300 to 400
ance. Unfortunately, the gold baths in V.P.N. and is relatively free from internal
general use (like the silver baths) are strongly stress, so that the plate does not suffer from
alkaline, and when used for printed circuits curling and peeling troubles. It is tolerably
they readily attack the bond between the free from porosity, and a deposit only
copper and the base material. Some work has, o.oooos inch thick will remain tarnish-free in
however, been carried out on the development store and give a short operating life; for
of low pH gold electrolytes. improved working life deposits up to O.OOOZ
Rhodium is excellent for light duty inch should be applied.
switches, and rhodium plating is used The physical properties of palladium
extensively on printed circuit switches; the combine to make it an ideal metal for the
great hardness (800 V.P.N.) of electro- plating of printed circuits. In addition, its
deposited rhodium gives a remarkably long low specific gravity, coupled with its relatively
service life although the high state of stress of low intrinsic cost, make it of particular
the metal may sometimes give rise to lifting economic interest and importance in this field.

Platinum Metals Rev., 1960, 4, (1) 13


to abrade away any oxide film. Proprietary
Properties of Electrodeposited domestic cleaning powders should not be
Palladium used for cleaning because some contain
soaps which produce insoluble calcium soaps
Specific gravity .. .. 11.9 in hard water and these cannot be completely
Resistivity, microhm-cm at rinsed off the metal surface without a great
0 c . , .. .. , . 10.7 deal of trouble.
Electrical conductivity, p e r The base metal track on the printed circuit
c e n t IACS .. ., .. 16 is generally of copper, and after cleaning this
Thermal conductivity, CGS can be directly plated with palladium. Where
units .. .. . , .. 0.17 necessary the palladium plate can be confined
Vickers hardness (annealed) 300-400 to certain areas of the printed circuit by using
a chlorinated rubber masking paint or
Thermal emf against plat-
inum, (100C) mV . . .. 0.57 masking tape.

Several palladium baths are reported in the Plating Conditions


literature, but the best of these for use with The bath may be operated in the tempera-
printed circuits is that based on tetrammino- ture range 60 to 80C at current densities
palladium nitrate. The bath is simple and ranging from 5 up to 20 amp ftz. In the
stable in use, has good throwing power, and upper part of the temperature range it is
gives satisfactory deposits in normal applica- possible to increase the current density
tions, but is especially useful with printed appreciably without burning the work.
circuits because it is practically neutral, The rate of deposition at 5 amp,ft2 is approxi-
allowing direct plating on most base metals mately 1.2 mg per square inch per minute.
backed by phenolic resins without affecting As with all insoluble anode processes the
the bond. metal content of the plating bath is slowly
The bath consists of an aqueous solution reduced as the bath is worked, and it is
of tetrammino-palladium nitrate, containing necessary for replenishment to be made at
30 g of the salt per litre. It is preferably regular intervals.
contained in a glass-lined or polythene vat. The palladium metal plated out of solution
Insoluble anodes are used in the bath and may be replaced at the rate of 6 g of the salt
these are normally of platinum gauze, for every ampere-hour, and the palladium
although graphite and stainless steel anodes content of the solution should not be allowed
have been used. Graphite anodes tend to to drop below the level of 20 gll.
disintegrate with age and the possibility of Careful control of the palladium content
contamination by organic material originating of the bath will give a maximum service life,
from the bonding resin also exists, while with but after prolonged use it will be found that
certain types of stainless steel anodes corro- the pH of the solution is gradually reduced
sion has been known to occur, causing a due to the increasing concentration of ammon-
brown precipitate of ferric hydroxide to form ium nitrate.
in the bath. Rejuvenation of worked solutions by the
Generally, printed circuits are grease-free removal of ammonium nitrate from the bath
when received for plating, and no trichlor- is not practicable and it is advisable to make
ethyelene treatment is necessary. Initially up fresh solution. The palladium in worked
the printed circuits are cleaned with stiff solutions may be precipitated by addition of
bristle brushes in water and are then gently an organic reducing reagent such as hydrazine
scoured with fine pumice powder. This or formaldehyde, and the precipitate filtered
serves to remove grease from the surface and off and returned to the supplier.

Platinum Metals Rev., 1960, 4, (1) 14