This website requires JavaScript.

Understanding PCB Tombstone: Causes and Solutions

Blog  /  Understanding PCB Tombstone: Causes and Solutions

Understanding PCB Tombstone: Causes and Solutions

Apr 28, 2024

In the ever-evolving landscape of PCB (Printed Circuit Board) and PCBA (Printed Circuit Board Assembly), manufacturers face an array of challenges, from intricate designs to precise assembly processes. Among these challenges, PCB tombstoning stands out as a particularly vexing issue. Tombstoning occurs during the reflow soldering process when one end of a surface-mounted component lifts off the pad, resembling a tombstone. This seemingly minor defect can have major repercussions, jeopardizing the functionality and reliability of electronic devices. Thus, delving deeper into the intricacies of PCB tombstoning—from its definition to its impact—is crucial for ensuring high-quality PCB assemblies.

Sophisticated black circuit board

I. What is PCB Tombstone?

PCB tombstone, also referred to as "vertical chip migration," presents itself as a visually distinctive defect during the assembly process. Imagine a scenario where a passive chip component, such as a resistor or capacitor, appears to stand erect on one end, detached from the PCB pad. This phenomenon occurs due to imbalances in solder paste application or uneven heating and cooling rates during reflow soldering. The result is an open circuit, rendering the affected electronic device non-functional. Understanding this phenomenon is fundamental to addressing its root causes and implementing effective solutions.

PCB tombstone on a blue PCB

II. Causes of PCB Tombstone

Exploring the causes of PCB tombstone through a scientific lens unveils additional factors contributing to this perplexing phenomenon:

1.Imbalance in Solder Paste Volume:

During stencil printing, variations in solder paste deposition can lead to discrepancies in the volume of solder applied to each pad. This imbalance creates unequal forces during reflow, causing components to tilt and ultimately tombstone.

2. Component Placement Challenges:

Precision is paramount when placing components onto the PCB. Even slight deviations from the specified alignment can result in differential heating and cooling rates during reflow, exacerbating the risk of tombstoning.

3. Thermal Gradient Variations:

Throughout the reflow soldering process, temperature differentials across the PCB can induce unequal expansion and contraction of solder joints. These thermal gradients contribute to the manifestation of tombstone defects, particularly in densely populated PCBs.

4. Material Properties and Surface Tension:

The physical properties of solder paste, such as viscosity and surface tension, play a critical role in the formation of solder joints. Variations in these properties can lead to uneven wetting and adhesion between the component leads and PCB pads, increasing the likelihood of tombstoning.

5. Surface Finish and Pad Design:

The choice of surface finish on PCB pads, such as HASL (Hot Air Solder Leveling) or ENIG (Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold), can influence solder wetting and adhesion. Inadequate surface preparation or incompatible surface finishes may compromise solder joint integrity, exacerbating tombstone defects.

6. Component Geometry and Size:

The geometry and dimensions of surface-mounted components can impact their susceptibility to tombstoning. Components with asymmetrical designs or larger aspect ratios may experience unequal thermal expansion and contraction during reflow, predisposing them to tombstone defects.

7. Board Warpage and Flatness:

Variations in PCB flatness and warpage can disrupt the uniform distribution of solder paste and thermal energy during reflow soldering. Excessive board warpage may induce localized stresses on component leads, promoting tombstoning in vulnerable areas of the PCB.

Green PCB with blue components, intricate design.

III. Prevention Techniques for PCB Tombstone

To combat the persistent threat of tombstoning, manufacturers can employ a strategic arsenal of prevention techniques:

1. Optimized Stencil Design:

Stencil design plays a pivotal role in ensuring uniform solder paste deposition. By meticulously crafting stencils with consistent aperture sizes and shapes, manufacturers can promote even solder distribution, mitigating the risk of tombstoning.

2. Precision Component Placement:

Adhering to stringent component placement guidelines is imperative. Leveraging advanced placement technologies and meticulous calibration processes can enhance the accuracy of component placement, reducing the likelihood of tombstone defects.

3. Thermal Profile Fine-Tuning:

Crafting precise thermal profiles for reflow soldering is essential for minimizing thermal differentials across the PCB. Fine-tuning ramp-up, soak, and cool-down stages can help alleviate thermal stresses and prevent tombstoning.

IIII. Effective Solutions for PCB Tombstone

In the event of tombstone defects, swift and decisive action is paramount. Effective solutions include:

Lego figure with circuit board components.

1. Reflow Profile Optimization:

Tweaking reflow soldering parameters, such as temperature profiles and dwell times, can rectify tombstone issues. By tailoring reflow profiles to the specific characteristics of components and PCBs, manufacturers can achieve optimal solder joint formation, mitigating tombstoning.

2. Skilled Manual Rework:

In isolated cases of tombstoning, skilled technicians can perform manual rework to rectify the defect. Through precise realignment and soldering techniques, technicians can restore affected components to their intended positions, ensuring the integrity of the PCB assembly.

3. Continuous Process Refinement:

Embracing a culture of continuous improvement is vital for preventing future occurrences of tombstone defects. By regularly evaluating assembly processes, conducting equipment maintenance, and providing comprehensive training for operators, manufacturers can bolster quality assurance efforts and uphold the reliability of PCB assemblies.

4. Automated Optical Inspection (AOI) Systems:

Integrating AOI systems into the PCB assembly process enables real-time monitoring and detection of tombstone defects. High-resolution cameras and sophisticated image processing algorithms can identify subtle deviations in component alignment, facilitating timely intervention and reducing the incidence of tombstone defects.

5. Material and Process Optimization:

Collaborating with material suppliers to develop solder pastes and fluxes tailored to specific PCB assembly requirements can mitigate tombstone risks. Optimizing solder paste rheology, flux activity, and surface tension properties can enhance solder wetting and adhesion, minimizing the propensity for tombstone defects.

6. Innovative Rework Techniques:

Exploring innovative rework techniques, such as laser reflow or selective soldering, can offer precise and localized remediation of tombstone defects. These techniques provide targeted heat application and solder deposition, enabling efficient correction of tombstoned components without compromising adjacent assemblies.

7. Design for Manufacturability (DFM) Guidelines:

Integrating DFM principles into PCB layout and component selection processes can proactively mitigate tombstone risks. Design considerations such as component orientation, pad geometries, and thermal vias can optimize solder joint formation and mitigate thermal gradients, reducing the likelihood of tombstone defects during assembly.

By embracing these comprehensive solutions and leveraging scientific insights into the underlying mechanisms of PCB tombstone, manufacturers can effectively mitigate risks, enhance assembly quality, and ensure the reliability of electronic devices in today's demanding market landscape.


PCB tombstoning poses a formidable challenge for manufacturers, jeopardizing the functionality and reliability of electronic devices. However, by delving into the intricacies of tombstoning, implementing robust prevention techniques, and embracing effective solutions, manufacturers can fortify their assembly processes and mitigate the risk of tombstone defects. Through diligence, innovation, and a steadfast commitment to quality, manufacturers can navigate the complexities of PCB assembly with confidence, ensuring the integrity of electronic devices for years to come.