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"Case Studies" > Product Liability > Hard Disk Drive Failures Caused by Unforeseen Chemical Reaction in Chips

Hard Disk Drive Failures Caused by Unforeseen Chemical Reaction in Chips

Summary:


After continual exposure to hot and humid weather, the chips containing
red phosphorous flame retardant exhibited a tendency to degrade and form
phosphoric acid. Acid trails spread through the plastic, sometimes coming
into contact with the chip’s silver leads. The acid then etched the silver,
which followed the acid trails, creating dendritic growths of conductive
material. Eventually, in some drives, electricity passed between the leads,
causing an electrical short circuit.

Defendant chose to use a phosphorous-based flame retardant in the plastic encapsulation of computer chips that controlled motors of millions of hard disk drives. When the chips were continually exposed to a hot and humid climate, red phosphorous particles in the plastic sometimes degraded, causing the formation of phosphoric acid inside the chips.

Eventually, acid trails spread out, some of them spanning the gap between the silver leads of the chip, which caused the silver to etch away and traverse the path of the acid trails. If these silver dendritic growths joined to form a solid bridge between two leads, an electrical short occurred, which over time, caused the motor drive chip to fail.


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