Contact Mechanisms and Contact Resistance Characteristics of Solid Tin and Plated Tin Contacts Used for Connectors

Terutaka TAMAI  Shigeru SAWADA  Yasuhiro HATTORI  

IEICE TRANSACTIONS on Electronics   Vol.E93-C   No.5   pp.670-677
Publication Date: 2010/05/01
Online ISSN: 1745-1353
DOI: 10.1587/transele.E93.C.670
Print ISSN: 0916-8516
Type of Manuscript: PAPER
Category: Electromechanical Devices and Components
connector,  tin contacts,  tin plating,  contact resistance,  contact area,  

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Tin and its alloys have been applied for the plating of electrical contacts for low electrical power conditions. In particular, tin-plated contacts are widely used as connector contacts in automotive applications and as make-break contacts in keyboard switches. In the relationship between contact resistance (R) and contact load (W) for both solid and plated tin, singularities have been found. Previously established and well known theories on the deformation of contact interfaces cannot explain these singularities. In this study, to clarify these singularities, and to obtain a contact model explaining this phenomenon, contact traces for contact load were examined by SEM and STM. The obtained microscopic images indicated piling-up at the periphery of the contact area for both solid and plated tin. In this case the contact configuration comprised a platinum probe with a hemispherical tip surface and a flat tin surface for both solid and plated. When the probe was loaded, this tip of the probe sank into the soft tin surface owing to its lower hardness. In case of solid tin, the sinking of the probe surface into the tin surface causes piling-up around the periphery of the contact trace. In this deformation process, since the periphery of the indentation of the indented contact area severely slid against the surface of the platinum probe while applying a contact load, the contact resistance rapidly decreased with load. In this case, the center portion of the true contact area was not affected mechanically; thus, the surface film on the bottom portion of the deformed of the flat surface did not break down mechanically. On the other hand, in the case of a tin plated surface, similar piling up occurred; however, it was accompanied by scattering and separation of tin crystal grains from the surface. As a result of this process, a decrease in contact resistance similar to that for the solid tin occurred. Since the piling-up of the contact surface is a very important process in the application of connectors, the above-mentioned unusual characteristics were clarified in this study.