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Gold Finger PCB Plating Thickness and Cost

Jarnistech > Goldfinger PCB > Gold Finger PCB Plating Thickness and Cost
6 Layer PCB Gold Finger Circuit Board

Gold plating is frequently utilized on the edge connector fingers of printed circuit boards (PCBs) in order to create a highly conductive and corrosion-resistant contact surface. The selection of the ideal gold thickness for a specific application involves a careful consideration of factors such as cost, durability, contact resistance, and insertion lifetime. This guide explores common gold finger plating specifications, cost considerations, and essential factors to consider when choosing the appropriate plating for PCB edge connectors.

Relevance of Gold Finger Plating

Gold finger plating is a critical process in the manufacturing of printed circuit boards (PCBs) that enables reliable electrical connections between the board and connectors. By coating the exposed copper contacts (known as gold fingers) with a layer of gold, the plating enhances conductivity, prevents oxidation, and ensures long-term performance.

Purpose of the Analysis

This analysis aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between gold finger plating thickness and its impact on cost. By exploring the factors that influence thickness requirements and the associated costs, PCB engineers can make informed decisions to optimize their designs and manufacturing processes.

The analysis will cover:

●Factors influencing plating thickness.
●Plating thickness recommendations based on industry standards and specifications.
●A detailed cost analysis considering raw material and process costs.
●Recommendations for optimizing plating thickness and minimizing costs.

Standard Range of Gold Finger Thickness

The gold plating thickness commonly used on PCB connector fingers typically falls within the range of 0.05 μm to 5 μm. Different applications may require varying thicknesses of gold plating, with typical ranges including:

Gold ThicknessApplications
0.05 – 0.15 μmConsumer electronics
0.15 – 0.3 μmIndustrial electronics
0.3 – 1 μmMilitary/aerospace electronics
1 – 5 μmHigh durability connectors

In applications where an extended insertion lifetime exceeding tens of thousands of cycles is required, a thicker gold plating is necessary. Thinner gold plating, as low as 0.1 μm, may be sufficient for consumer products with lower duty cycles.

Various standards, such as MIL-G-45204 and IPC-4782, outline minimum gold thickness requirements for PCB fingers based on different hardware classifications. Typically, these standards specify minimum thickness values ranging from 0.127 μm to 0.762 μm (5 to 30 microinches).

Military and industrial standards establish guidelines for the minimum thickness of gold plating required in various applications.

Factors Influencing Plating Thickness

The optimal plating thickness for gold fingers is determined by several key factors:

1. Connector Type and Requirement:

Different types of connectors have varying contact force and mating cycles, which influence the required plating thickness. For example, connectors with high mating cycles or those used in harsh environments may require thicker plating to ensure reliable connections.

2. Plating Standard and Specifications:

Industry standards and manufacturer specifications often dictate minimum plating thickness requirements. These standards are established to ensure compatibility and performance within specific applications. For example, IPC-6012C provides guidelines for gold finger plating thickness based on the type of connector and intended use.

3. Board Material and Surface Finish:

The material and surface finish of the PCB can also impact plating thickness. Different materials, such as FR-4 or polyimide, have varying expansion coefficients, which can affect the adhesion and integrity of the gold plating. Additionally, the surface finish (e.g., HASL, OSP) can influence the plating process and thickness requirements.

Understanding these factors is crucial for determining the appropriate plating thickness to meet the specific requirements of the application while optimizing cost and performance.

Plating Thickness Recommendations

To ensure reliable performance and meet industry standards, the following plating thickness recommendations should be considered:

1. Industry Standards and Manufacturer Guidelines:

IPC-6012C, a widely recognized industry standard, provides guidelines for gold finger plating thickness based on the type of connector and intended use. For example, for general-purpose connectors, a minimum thickness of 30 microinches (0.76 microns) is recommended.

2. Durability, Reliability, and Signal Integrity:

For applications requiring high durability and reliability, such as those in harsh environments or with frequent mating cycles, a thicker plating layer may be necessary. This ensures the gold fingers can withstand wear and tear while maintaining signal integrity.

3. Cost Considerations:

While thicker plating provides improved performance, it also increases the cost. Therefore, it is important to strike a balance between plating thickness and cost, considering the specific requirements of the application.

Recommended Plating Thickness:

Based on industry standards and practical considerations, the following plating thickness ranges are recommended:

●General-purpose connectors: 30-50 microinches (0.76-1.27 microns).
●High-reliability connectors: 50-100 microinches (1.27-2.54 microns).
●Harsh environments and frequent mating cycles: 100 microinches (2.54 microns) or more.

By adhering to these recommendations, PCB engineers can ensure optimal performance and reliability while managing costs effectively.

Durability and Insertion Lifetime

Utilizing thicker gold plating serves as a key strategy to enhance the durability of connector fingers during repeated insertions into mating connectors. Thinner gold plating, typically below 0.15 μm, is prone to displaying visible wear and edge cuts after a few hundred insertions. In cases where the gold plating thickness is as low as 0.05 μm, a significant portion of the gold may wear off after fewer than 100 cycles.

While occasional connections in consumer devices may tolerate such wear, industrial controls, telecom hardware, and military systems often necessitate enduring thousands of insertions across decades of operation.

The impact of plating thickness on insertion lifetime is significant, with thicker gold plating offering increased resistance to wear and extending the longevity of connector fingers during repeated insertions.

Gold ThicknessInsertion Lifetime
0.05 μm< 100 cycles
0.1 μm< 500 cycles
0.3 μm1,000 – 5,000 cycles
1 μm10,000 – 50,000 cycles
3 μm> 100,000 cycles

For connectors with exceptionally high duty cycles necessitating hundreds of thousands of mating cycles without degradation, a gold plating thickness exceeding 2-3 μm is typically specified.

In addition to gold plating thickness, the wear life of connector pads is influenced by the substrate material. Employing harder nickel underplating can extend the lifetime of gold pads in comparison to using softer copper or brass bases.

Gold Finger Plating Procedure

The process of applying gold to PCB connector fingers involves electroplating, where the PCB panel undergoes a series of plating baths to deposit various metal layers in a specific sequence:

1. Copper PCB Traces – Base metal fingers are created through copper etching.
2. Electroless Nickel – A thin nickel layer is applied to enhance adhesion.
3. Electrolytic Nickel – A thicker and harder nickel layer is deposited to extend the wear life.
4. Gold – The final gold plating is applied to the specified thickness.

The gold bath contains either gold potassium cyanide or gold sulfite dissolved in a solution. By applying current to the PCB, gold ions are deposited onto the nickel underplating.

Following the plating process, a glassivation step may involve applying a solder mask to protect against solder bridging between fingers. Additionally, a lubricant coating is applied to improve insertion performance.

Cost Analysis

The cost of gold finger plating is influenced by several factors:

1. Raw Material Costs:

The price of gold is a major contributor to the overall cost of plating. Gold prices fluctuate based on market conditions and global supply and demand.

2. Plating Process Costs:

The plating process itself incurs costs, including labor, equipment, and chemicals. These costs vary depending on the plating method (e.g., electrolytic, electroless), the plating thickness, and the volume of boards being plated.

3. Variation in Thickness and Scrap Rates:

Variations in plating thickness can lead to increased scrap rates, as boards that do not meet the specified thickness requirements may need to be discarded. Controlling plating thickness within a tight tolerance range helps minimize scrap and associated costs.

Cost Impact of Thicker Gold Plating

Increasing the thickness of the plating necessitates a longer plating duration and a higher quantity of gold material, leading to elevated process expenses. Below is an estimated cost analysis comparing different gold thicknesses:

Gold ThicknessRelative Plating Cost
0.05 μm1X
0.15 μm1.5X
0.75 μm2X
1.5 μm3X
3 μm5X

Doubling the thickness of the gold plating results in an approximate 50% increase in the base cost. Transitioning from a thickness of 0.05 μm to 1 μm can lead to a cost escalation of 2-3 times, with the gold material alone accounting for over 90% of this additional cost.

For a moderately complex PCB, enhancing the gold thickness from 0.15 μm to 0.75 μm may introduce an additional cost of $5 to $10 to the overall board fabrication expenses. In cases where boards feature high edge connector density, the incremental cost for thicker gold plating tends to be higher.

The cost of plating increases non-linearly with thickness due to the utilization of gold material. It is advisable to collaborate with JarnisTech PCB manufacturer to determine the optimal gold finger thickness that aligns with your budget and meets the requirements of your connectors.

Cost Optimization:

To optimize costs while maintaining quality, consider the following strategies:

●Negotiate with Suppliers: Establish favorable pricing for gold and plating services through negotiations with suppliers.

●Optimize Plating Thickness: Determine the minimum plating thickness that meets the performance requirements to reduce material and process costs.

●Control Variation: Implement process controls to minimize variations in plating thickness, reducing scrap rates and overall costs.

●Consider Alternative Finishes: Explore alternative surface finishes, such as silver or palladium, which may offer cost savings while meeting specific performance requirements.

By carefully considering these factors and implementing cost-effective strategies, PCB engineers can achieve optimal plating thickness while minimizing the impact on overall manufacturing costs.

Common Questions about Gold Fingers on PCBs

Why Gold be used for edge connector fingers?

Gold is chosen for edge connector fingers due to its exceptional conductivity, corrosion resistance, and lubricity, allowing for numerous insertion cycles without compromising electrical or mechanical functionality.

Reduce gold thickness on non-contact areas of fingers, why?

Implementing selective gold plating solely on the mating wiping surfaces of fingers offers a cost-effective solution with minimal impact on performance. This approach allows for reducing the gold thickness on the ends and sides of the fingers that do not serve as contact areas.

Which the hardest Metal used for PCB edge fingers?

For PCB edge fingers, beryllium copper alloy is recognized for its superior hardness and wear resistance. Nonetheless, the toxicity of beryllium necessitates cautious handling, leading to the prevalent use of steel fingers for applications demanding high durability.

Which Plating PCB Edge Fingers is Cost-Effective?

Among the plating options, pure tin stands as the most cost-effective alternative, costing less than 10% of gold. However, it tends to oxidize rapidly and wear out after a limited number of insertions.

How thick Gold Plating Thickness for Automotive Electronics?

In automotive electronics, a gold plating thickness ranging from 0.3 to 1 μm is recommended to ensure durability in environments characterized by frequent insertion cycles amidst vibration and temperature variations.


Optimizing gold finger plating thickness requires careful consideration of performance requirements, industry standards, and cost factors. By implementing strategies such as determining minimum thickness, controlling variation, and exploring alternative finishes, PCB engineers can achieve optimal plating thickness, ensuring reliable performance and cost-effective manufacturing.

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