A 200 W switch coupler board was developed for a U.S. Navy project using Omega Micro Technologies' proprietary plating process.
Photo provided by Omega Micro Technologies

A proprietary electroless nickel gold plating process has been developed for fabrication of high reliability, low temperature, co-fired ceramic substrates used in electronic devices and modules. From Omega Micro Technologies, based in the Purdue Research Park of West Lafayette, Ind., the process utilizes a multilayer ceramic substrate constructed exclusively with silver conductors. They are then electrolessly plated with nickel followed by a thin layer of gold, rather than traditional ceramic substrates for electronic modules that utilize gold exclusively for all conductors within the substrate.

"The nickel gold plating process over silver provides a high reliability substrate that allows for a cost savings of anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of a comparable substrate fabricated with all gold conductors," says Jacob Smelser, president of Omega Micro Technologies.

Furthermore, the cost savings potential of the new process will allow low temperature co-fired ceramic substrates - and modules with their performance and enhanced capabilities - to be directly cost competitive with less expensive substrate technologies such as high temperature co-fired ceramic and, potentially, laminate and polymer material sets.

"The cost savings potential provided by this new approach…opens new areas of market potential for our substrate technologies within both the military and the automotive and commercial marketplaces," Smelser says.

Over the last year, researchers for Omega Micro Technologies have been working with officials from various U.S. Department of Defense OEMs, as well as under a contract with the Indiana Radio Frequency Alliance and Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in southern Indiana to evaluate and characterize the performance and reliability of the new plating process under standard military environmental operating conditions.

"As a result of these efforts, our low-temperature co-fired ceramic substrate technology is currently going through final qualifications for acceptance by a major DoD OEMs' U.S. Army Joint Tactical Radio System," Smelser says. Omega expects to begin a low-rate initial production in 2010 and produce or plate more than 240,000 substrates annually beginning in 2011.