What is Che Ni/Au or ENIG?

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What is ENIG?

ENIG, short for Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold, is a type of surface finish that consists of a thin layer of gold over a layer of nickel. The nickel layer is deposited using an electroless plating process, which means that no electrical current is required. Instead, the nickel ions are reduced by a chemical reaction, allowing them to bond with the copper surface of the PCB. The gold layer is then applied using an immersion process, where the nickel-plated PCB is dipped into a gold solution.

Composition of ENIG

The ENIG surface finish typically consists of the following layers:

  1. Copper substrate: The base material of the PCB, which is typically made of copper.
  2. Electroless nickel layer: A layer of nickel (2-8 µm thick) that is deposited onto the copper substrate using an electroless plating process.
  3. Immersion gold layer: A thin layer of gold (0.05-0.2 µm thick) that is applied over the nickel layer using an immersion process.

The nickel layer serves as a barrier between the copper substrate and the gold layer, preventing the formation of intermetallic compounds that can lead to brittleness and poor solderability. The gold layer provides excellent oxidation resistance and enhances the solderability of the surface.

Advantages of ENIG

ENIG offers several advantages over other surface finishes, making it a popular choice for many PCB applications:

  1. Excellent solderability: The gold layer provides a clean, oxide-free surface that allows for easy and reliable soldering.
  2. Flat surface: The electroless nickel plating process results in a flat, smooth surface that is ideal for fine-pitch components and wire bonding.
  3. Long shelf life: The gold layer protects the nickel and copper layers from oxidation, allowing ENIG-finished PCBs to be stored for extended periods without degradation.
  4. Good thermal stability: ENIG can withstand multiple reflow cycles without significant degradation of the surface finish.
  5. Suitable for a variety of applications: ENIG is compatible with a wide range of PCB materials and can be used for both leaded and lead-free soldering processes.

Applications of ENIG

ENIG is widely used in various electronic applications, particularly those that require high reliability, good solderability, and long shelf life. Some common applications include:

  1. High-density interconnect (HDI) PCBs: ENIG’s flat surface and excellent solderability make it ideal for HDI PCBs with fine-pitch components and small vias.
  2. Aerospace and defense: The long shelf life and thermal stability of ENIG are valuable properties for aerospace and defense applications, where PCBs may need to be stored for extended periods and subjected to harsh environmental conditions.
  3. Medical devices: ENIG’s biocompatibility and resistance to corrosion make it suitable for use in medical devices, such as implantable electronics and diagnostic equipment.
  4. Automotive electronics: The reliability and thermal stability of ENIG are important for automotive electronics, which must withstand high temperatures and vibrations.
  5. Consumer electronics: ENIG is commonly used in consumer electronics, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops, where high-density packaging and reliable soldering are essential.

ENIG Process Flow

The ENIG plating process involves several steps, each of which must be carefully controlled to ensure a high-quality surface finish. The typical process flow for ENIG is as follows:

  1. Cleaning: The copper surface of the PCB is thoroughly cleaned to remove any contaminants, such as oils, oxides, or residues from previous processing steps.
  2. Microetching: A mild etching solution is used to roughen the copper surface slightly, improving the adhesion of the electroless nickel layer.
  3. Activation: The copper surface is activated using a palladium-based solution, which creates catalytic sites for the electroless nickel plating process.
  4. Electroless nickel plating: The PCB is immersed in an electroless nickel plating bath, where the nickel ions are reduced and deposited onto the copper surface. The nickel layer is typically 2-8 µm thick, depending on the specific requirements of the application.
  5. Immersion gold plating: The nickel-plated PCB is then dipped into an immersion gold plating bath, where a thin layer of gold (0.05-0.2 µm thick) is deposited onto the nickel surface.
  6. Rinsing and drying: The PCB is rinsed with deionized water to remove any residual plating solutions and then dried using hot air or nitrogen.

Throughout the ENIG process, strict control of the plating parameters, such as temperature, pH, and composition of the plating solutions, is essential to ensure a consistent and high-quality surface finish.

Quality Control and Testing

To ensure the reliability and performance of ENIG-finished PCBs, various quality control measures and testing methods are employed:

  1. Visual inspection: The surface finish is visually inspected for any defects, such as discoloration, blisters, or voids.
  2. Thickness measurement: The thickness of the nickel and gold layers is measured using X-ray fluorescence (XRF) or cross-sectional analysis to ensure they meet the specified requirements.
  3. Solderability testing: The solderability of the ENIG surface is evaluated using Wetting Balance tests or dip-and-look methods, which assess the ability of the surface to be wetted by molten solder.
  4. Adhesion testing: The adhesion of the ENIG layers to the copper substrate is tested using peel strength or tape tests.
  5. Porosity testing: The porosity of the nickel layer is assessed using nitric acid or electrochemical porosity tests to ensure that the layer is free of pores that could lead to corrosion or delamination.
  6. Thermal shock and cycling: ENIG-finished PCBs are subjected to thermal shock and cycling tests to evaluate their ability to withstand temperature fluctuations and thermal stresses.

By implementing these quality control measures and testing methods, PCB manufacturers can ensure that their ENIG-finished products meet the required standards and perform reliably in their intended applications.

Comparison with Other Surface Finishes

ENIG is just one of several surface finish options available for PCBs. Other popular surface finishes include:

  1. Hot Air Solder Leveling (HASL): A tin-lead or lead-free solder is applied to the copper surface and then leveled using hot air.
  2. Immersion Silver (IAg): A thin layer of silver is deposited onto the copper surface using an immersion process.
  3. Immersion Tin (ISn): A thin layer of tin is deposited onto the copper surface using an immersion process.
  4. Organic Solderability Preservative (OSP): An organic compound is applied to the copper surface to protect it from oxidation.

The table below compares the key properties of ENIG with these other surface finishes:

Solderability Excellent Good Excellent Good Good
Shelf Life 12+ months 6-12 months 6-12 months 6-12 months 3-6 months
Surface Flatness Excellent Poor Excellent Good Excellent
Thermal Stability Excellent Good Good Good Poor
Fine-Pitch Compatibility Excellent Poor Excellent Good Excellent
Cost High Low Moderate Moderate Low

As evident from the table, ENIG offers several advantages over other surface finishes, particularly in terms of solderability, shelf life, surface flatness, and thermal stability. However, it is also one of the more expensive options, which may be a consideration for some applications.

Troubleshooting Common ENIG Issues

While ENIG is a reliable and high-quality surface finish, there are some common issues that can arise during the manufacturing process. These issues, if not addressed properly, can lead to poor solderability, delamination, or other performance problems. Some common ENIG issues and their potential solutions are:

  1. Black pad: This is a defect where the nickel layer becomes brittle and separates from the copper substrate, leading to poor solderability. Black pad can be caused by excessive phosphorus content in the electroless nickel bath or by contamination of the bath with organic additives. To prevent black pad, the nickel bath should be regularly monitored and maintained, and the phosphorus content should be kept within the recommended range.
  2. Gold discoloration: The gold layer may sometimes appear discolored or stained, which can be caused by contamination of the immersion gold bath or by excessive exposure to air. To prevent gold discoloration, the immersion gold bath should be kept clean and free of contaminants, and the plated PCBs should be stored in a nitrogen atmosphere or vacuum-sealed until ready for use.
  3. Nickel corrosion: If the nickel layer is too thin or porous, it may be susceptible to corrosion, particularly in humid or acidic environments. To prevent nickel corrosion, the thickness and porosity of the nickel layer should be carefully controlled during the plating process, and the PCBs should be stored in a dry, controlled environment.
  4. Poor adhesion: Poor adhesion between the ENIG layers and the copper substrate can lead to delamination during soldering or thermal cycling. Poor adhesion can be caused by inadequate cleaning or activation of the copper surface prior to plating, or by contamination of the plating baths. To ensure good adhesion, the copper surface should be thoroughly cleaned and activated, and the plating baths should be regularly monitored and maintained.

By being aware of these common issues and implementing the appropriate preventive measures, PCB manufacturers can minimize the occurrence of ENIG defects and ensure the production of high-quality, reliable products.

Future Trends and Developments

As electronic devices continue to become smaller, faster, and more complex, there is a growing demand for advanced surface finishes that can meet the evolving requirements of the industry. Some of the future trends and developments in ENIG and related technologies include:

  1. Thinner gold layers: To reduce costs and improve the environmental sustainability of ENIG, there is a trend towards using thinner gold layers (0.05-0.1 µm) while still maintaining good solderability and corrosion resistance.
  2. Palladium-based surface finishes: Palladium-based surface finishes, such as Electroless Palladium Immersion Gold (EPIG) and Electroless Nickel Electroless Palladium Immersion Gold (ENEPIG), are emerging as alternatives to ENIG. These finishes offer similar benefits to ENIG but with improved wire bonding performance and compatibility with advanced packaging technologies.
  3. High-temperature ENIG: The development of high-temperature ENIG processes that can withstand higher reflow temperatures (up to 300°C) is becoming increasingly important for applications in the automotive, aerospace, and defense industries.
  4. Environmentally friendly processes: There is a growing emphasis on developing environmentally friendly ENIG processes that reduce the use of hazardous chemicals and minimize waste generation. This includes the use of biodegradable complexing agents, low-temperature plating baths, and closed-loop recycling systems.
  5. Integration with advanced packaging technologies: As advanced packaging technologies, such as 3D integrated circuits (3D ICs) and fan-out wafer-level packaging (FOWLP), become more prevalent, there is a need for surface finishes that can accommodate their specific requirements. ENIG and its variants are being adapted and optimized to meet the needs of these emerging technologies.

By staying abreast of these trends and developments, PCB manufacturers can ensure that they are well-positioned to meet the evolving demands of the electronics industry and provide their customers with the most advanced and reliable surface finish solutions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. What is the typical thickness of the nickel and gold layers in ENIG?
    The typical thickness of the electroless nickel layer in ENIG is 2-8 µm, while the immersion gold layer is usually 0.05-0.2 µm thick.

  2. How does ENIG compare to HASL in terms of cost?
    ENIG is generally more expensive than HASL due to the higher cost of the gold and the more complex plating process involved. However, ENIG offers several performance advantages over HASL, such as better surface flatness and longer shelf life.

  3. Can ENIG be used for both leaded and lead-free soldering?
    Yes, ENIG is compatible with both leaded and lead-free soldering processes, making it a versatile choice for a wide range of applications.

  4. What is the shelf life of ENIG-finished PCBs?
    ENIG-finished PCBs typically have a shelf life of 12 months or more, depending on the storage conditions. The gold layer provides excellent protection against oxidation and corrosion, allowing the PCBs to be stored for extended periods without degradation.

  5. How can I prevent black pad defects in ENIG?
    To prevent black pad defects, it is important to maintain strict control over the composition and purity of the electroless nickel plating bath. The phosphorus content should be kept within the recommended range (typically 7-9%), and the bath should be regularly monitored and replenished to avoid contamination with organic additives. Proper cleaning and activation of the copper surface prior to plating can also help prevent black pad formation.


Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold (ENIG) is a widely used and reliable surface finish for printed circuit boards, offering excellent solderability, surface flatness, and long shelf life. Its unique combination of properties makes it suitable for a wide range of applications, from high-density interconnect PCBs to aerospace and defense electronics.

However, achieving a high-quality ENIG finish requires careful control of the plating process and regular monitoring and maintenance of the plating baths. Common issues such as black pad, gold discoloration, nickel corrosion, and poor adhesion can be prevented through proper process control and quality assurance measures.

As the electronics industry continues to evolve, ENIG and related technologies are being adapted and optimized to meet the changing requirements of advanced packaging and environmental sustainability. By staying informed about these trends and developments, PCB manufacturers can ensure that they are providing their customers with the most advanced and reliable surface finish solutions.