Active Solders For Solar Panel Manufacture

In recent years, active solders have made their way into use in solar panel manufacture. To understand where S-Bond solder alloys are being used one has to understand the solar panel construction. Solar panels consist of arrays of solar cells, soldered together. A solar cell consists of three basic elements, top contact, base and rear contact, as shown in Figure 1. From the back of each solar cell, electrical contact needs to be made between these surfaces to close the circuit and provide an electron path as photons emit electrons in the semiconductor polysilicon photovolatic (PV) cell which migrate to the back of the exposed cell surface, as illustrated.

Solar Cell IllustrationFigure 1. Illustration of solar cell.

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S-Bond Helping Recycle Water on International Space Station (ISS)

International Space StationCarrying water to the space station is a real challenge and cost, hence recycling water is critical. Waste water, sweat and other ISS water is constantly recycled in a complex system that evaporates and condenses clean water for reuse. For more information on the space station recycling system see the following link: Water Recovery System.

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Solder Bond vs. Epoxy Bond as Thermal Interface Materials (TIM)

Thermal interface materials are materials used in creating heat conductive paths at interfaces between components and thus reduce thermal interface resistance. These materials permit more effective heat flow between separate components where heat is being generated to a heat dissipation components such as solid state transistors to heat sink or a high frequency device connected to a heat spreader. Thermal interface materials’ purpose is to fill the air gap that occurs at contact interfaces with more thermally conductive compounds to permit more effective heat flow than poorly conductive air.

There is a wide variety of thermal interface materials (TIM’s); thermal greases, phase change polymers, thermal tapes, gap filling pads, filled epoxies and solders. All having various costs, performance and manufacturing challenges.

S-Bond Thermal Interface

Figure 1. Illustration of thermal grease filling an interface
between a heat generating device and a heat sink.

Thermal greases are viscous fluid substance which increase the thermal conductivity of a thermal interface “gap by filling microscopic air-gaps present due to the imperfectly flat and smooth surfaces of the components as seen in Figure 1.

Thermal grease compounds have far greater thermal conductivity than air (but far less than metals). They are used in electronics, as depicted in Figure 2, to improve the heat flow from lower power electronic devices thus lowering the components temperature and increasing its life.

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Epoxy Bond vs. Solder Bond Applications

Bond assembly can be done via 1) mechanical attachment, 2) adhesive bonding of which epoxy bonding is one form of adhesive, 3) soldering bonding using lower melting filler metals (< 450˚C), 4) brazing using filler metals melting above 450˚C and 5) welding such as resistance welding bonding, ultrasonic welding and friction weld bonding that uses locally melted parent metal.

Bonding is done for a variety of technical reasons a) mechanical attachment, b) thermal contact, c) electrical contact d) gas or liquid seal, or e) any of all combinations of a – d. The choice of bonding method will then depend on the intrinsic properties of the bonding filler materials (hermetic, electrical conductance, thermal conductance, thermal coefficient of expansion, adhesive bond strength related to the intrinsic fillers’ mechanical properties and their adhesive and cohesive strengths…

With all these variables and design considerations how does one choose? The three main guiding principles are:

1. Cost of filler and Cost of bonding processes

2. Performance in Service (based on the properties of the bond and bonding materials)

3. Compatibility with Manufacturing Sequence.

To compare epoxy bonds to solder bonds one has to ask the purpose of the bond… Is strictly a mechanical bond ? Is cost a large factor? If cost drives the choice then many times epoxy is the bonding material of choice. Epoxies are generally low cost thermosetting polymers, that are mixed chemicals which are thermally or UV cured to achieve hardness and adherence. Epoxy by far is the lower cost material over solder metal fillers and thus if low cost is the driving aim of the bond, then epoxy will be the bonding material selected.
Figures 1-2 illustrate typical epoxy bonded applications


When bonds have to be thermally conductive or electrically conductive solders are usually the bonding material of choice. Solder are metal fillers melt below 450˚C are normally alloys of Sn, Ag, Pb, In, or Bi with the Pb-free alloys being preferred for environmental reasons. As metals, these materials are intrinsically 10 – 100 time more conductive than epoxy bonds. In recent year epoxy bonds have been filled with aluminum or silver particles to increase the epoxy bond filler conductivity to values of 3 – 5 W/m-K from 0.5 – 2 W/m-K. When compared to solder bond metals with conductivities of 40 – 400 W-m-K, one can see for thermal bonded components that solder bonding would be preferred. S-Bond Technologies makes active solder alloys that bond to metals, ceramics, glass and their combinations without the need for flux or plating and are many times selected over epoxy bonds for their improved thermal characteristics.
Figures 3 – 4 illustrate typical solder bond applications.

Figures 5-7 show the solder bond process being used to make a heat exchanger.


Bonding for electrical resistance or conductance will many times determine the choice of epoxy bonds over solder or active solders. If the bond joint has to provide electrical isolation, then epoxy has much higher dielectric strength and resistivity, hence are excellent at isolating electrical components from their base materials. However, if the bond has to be electrically conductive solder bonds are preferred.

Bonding for seals are a mixed choice… in the short term epoxy seals can perform and create a sufficient seal for liquids and many gases. However, in applications for long term use epoxy bonds are permeable to certain gases and moisture and are not used in seals that require high hermetic seal integrity. Metals are impervious to moisture and gases thus solder bonds are the preferred bonding materials for high integrity hermetic seals.

Epoxy bonds are “permanent” and less resistant to thermal cycle and temperatures as well as UV exposures (can degrade with time). Solders on the other hand being metallic can be remelted repeatedly to renew or rework the bond. Additionally, as metals, solders are resistant to cracking being ductile and tough and are not susceptible to UV degradation.

Finally, the issue of compatibility with manufacturing sequences and the choice of solder bond vs. epoxy one has to select the bonding materials that will suit not only cost but the sequence of manufacturing operations. The bond has to have the properties that will take the exposure to all the assemblies operations. Bonding is many times completed after machining and fabrication but before plating or coating. If an electrical package the bonding has to be done in a compatible sequence with the electrical soldering operations. For example if a printed circuit board needs to bonded to a heat sink solder bonding the circuit board has to be done a temperatures below the solder reflow temperature on the circuit, for example below 200˚C or one has to epoxy bond the circuit board with a thermally filled epoxy. Compared to solder bonding, epoxy bonds can be less expensive in a manufacturing operation with no need for heating and reflowing solders. On the other hands solders “cure” as soon as the heating is off, while epoxy bonds need “setting time” to cure, which in some high volume applications provide some problems. When electroplating a full assembly, the bonded parts need to be bonded electrically hence solder bonding is the choice, while if powder coating, the epoxy bond may be the bond of choice.

This blog discussed how the choice of epoxy bond vs. solder bond is determined by a host of factors that need to be considered. We hope the discussion has been useful.

If you need help in making the choice of epoxy bond vs. solder please contact us, we can offer the proper counsel for making the right choice and we also offer alternative

New Lower Temperature Active Solders Developed

S-Bond Technologies has developed and proven a new, lower temperature active solder that melts from 135 – 140°C. The solder, S-Bond® 140 is based around the Bismuth-Tin (Bi-Sn) eutectic composition. This new solder is a lower temperature active solder that enables multi-step soldering where previously soldered connections/seals are not remelted. Active solders that melt below 150C are also finding use in thermally sensitive applications where Sn-Ag based solders that melt over 215°C can thermally degrade the component parts being assembled. Lower temperature soldering also can more effectively bond dissimilar materials where thermal expansion mismatch many times fractures or distorts an assembly’s component parts.

S-Bond 140 is already finding application in glass-metal seals in electronic packages where higher temperature soldering alloys would have damaged the packages’ components. S-Bond 140 is also being used to bond heat pipes and vapor chamber thermal management devices to protect the thermally sensitive phase change fluids from damaging the devices when solder bonding to electronic and LED devices.

Electro-optical package to be bonded to heat sink with S-Bond® 140

Electro-optical package to be bonded to heat sink with S-Bond® 140

Fluxless Soldering of Sputter Targets

Figure 1. Schematic of sputtering process

Figure 1. Schematic of sputtering process

S-Bond soldering is seeing increased application for the solder bonding of sputter targets. Sputter targets are used in a wide range of applications for making thing films used in making electronic chips, solar cells, sensors, TV screens, optical components, electrical devices, and on and on… Sputter targets support a very large physical vapor deposition (PVD) and diverse technological base that is wide ranging and pervasive. Sputter targets under ion bombardment release target material atoms into a high vacuum chamber that under an electric field can be accelerated and deposited onto the component surface where the arriving atoms arrange themselves into a contiguous thin film. Figure 1 schematically illustrates the sputtering process. Ion bombardment is a high energy collisional process that can heat target materials to their melting points unless cooled; hence most sputter targets are bonded to a water cooled backing plate. Backing plates are made normally made from copper and are mounted to a water cooling manifold. Other metallic backing materials are also used. See Figures 2-3 for examples of bonded sputter targets. Read more about Fluxless Soldering of Sputter Targets

S-Bond 220M Developed for Silicon/Silicate Joining

The direct solder joining of silicon is difficult posing solder wetting and adherence challenges for many applications including electronic “die” packages, sensor chips and solar panels. The direct solder bonding to silicon (Si) has been limited by the wetting resistance of angstrom thick nascent silicon dioxide (SiO2) layers that naturally forms on silicon. To combat these solder bonding challenges, metal plating (vapor deposition of Ti and Ni) has been used. To address this challenge, S-Bond Technologies has developed and has recently been awarded a patent for its S-Bond 220M alloy which is a Sn-Ag-Ti-Ce-Ga + Mg alloy that has been optimized for direct Si solder bonding without flux nor plating. The new alloy bonds well to silicon, silica, and glass silicates based on a solder formulation that adds magnesium (Mg) in low enough levels that does not change the solder melt behavior but enhances the “active” nature of S-Bond alloys to interact with oxides of silicon and many other metals even more effectively than other active solders. These Mg modified active solders wet and adhere very well to silicon based on mechanical activation used in other active solders. Read more about S-Bond 220M Developed for Silicon/Silicate Joining

Metal Soldering with Active Solders

Active solders such as S-Bond have wide application in joining a wide variety of metals including aluminum, copper, stainless steel, titanium, all based on S-Bond alloys’ ability to directly wet and adhere to the metallic surface compounds. Using mechanical activation active solders such as S-Bond successfully join like and dissimilar metal combinations in a wide variety of applications, from heat sinks and sensors to medical/surgical devices. Read more about Metal Soldering with Active Solders

Can S-Bond Soldered Joints be Coated ?

Many times our customers have to coat assemblies operations after aluminum bonding, graphite bonding, ceramic to metal bonding, etc; this can present certain challenges that one should be aware of since soldered joints. Unlike welded and many brazed joints, soldered joints utilize a significantly different filler metal. In the case of S-Bond solders, Sn-Ag is the common base filler that is used in aluminum bonding as well as copper, steel, stainless steel, refractory metals, and titanium and many other metals. As such, then the properties of the joint MUST be considered when coating. Read more about Can S-Bond Soldered Joints be Coated ?