Surge Test Failure Due to PCB Manufacturing Process

We recently had a piece of customer equipment fail the IEC 61000-4-5 surge test at 2kV line-to-earth. There was a loud crack of an electrical arc forming, the unit stopped responding to communications and was making a hissing/squealing noise.

To give it the appropriate technical term, this was “A Bad Thing”.

Using the thermal camera we quickly found several hot components all on the 3V3 supply line that we supposed had been damaged by the surge. The hissing noise was the DC/DC converter in a cycle of burst mode trying to supply too much current before shutting down.

However these were all secondary side components on the isolated part of the system. How did the surge get across the safety barrier? The designer was using correctly rated parts and the PCB creepage distances were dimensioned correctly.

As part of the fault diagnosis process, we used our hot air solder rework tools to remove one of the isolated power supplies providing a low voltage supply to the AC mains monitoring circuitry. Underneath we found this:

 

conductive contamination underneath surface mount isolated power supply causing line to earth surge failure(marked up photo)

 

The samples had been hand soldered by the customer, unfortunately leaving a large amount of solder paste underneath the power supply.

Whilst this was not a short circuit across the safety barrier it did reduce the creepage distance significantly. When a 2kV surge (1.2/50us, 12 ohms) was applied from AC mains to earthed secondary this pollution was enough to cause an arc to form and into the 3V3 supply pin (centre right).

This voltage was enough to fry several components on the 3V3 line, rendering the board inoperative.

 

Lessons Learned

  • Hand soldering prototypes is OK provided you take great care in the process and cleaning the board afterwards
  • Professionally manufactured boards will generally avoid this issue
  • Apply a line-to-earth safety test on your AC mains powered products to check your samples
  • We are going to start a policy of performing a line-to-earth safety test on all AC mains powered products coming into the lab for testing from now on to try and catch problems like this.