Guest Forum User asked 18 years ago

Can anybody please refer me to a source of information on Capacitor Aging and Shelf Life (aging mechanisms and reliability of older components).
I am particularly interested in CHR capacitors (fixed, metallized, plastic film dielectric).
Thanks in advance.

5 Answers
RMQSI Technical Staff Member Staff answered 18 years ago

Message: Film
The expected life of a film capacitor is dependent on a number of factors, which generally apply to paper-oil capacitors as well. Many of the causes listed below apply mainly to high-voltage capacitors where life problems are of the greatest concern. This list is as follows:

Voltage stress: Electrons, in the form of leakage current, collide with polymer molecules causing them to break down. Given time, the dielectric will fail. Any kind of defect in the film or between windings will speed this process by creating voltage gradient “hotspots”. The defects may actually be required to cause damage. It is believed that in high voltage AC applications, UV light generated by charge movement deteriorates the dielectric. This has been observed in clear dielectrics like unfilled polyethylene, and no doubt happens in opaque ones as well .
Corona: The worst form of voltage stress is “corona”, a current flow in ionized gas in a void, either in the dielectric, or between layers (see below). Corona does not constitute a true voltage breakdown, but once corona starts, rapid deterioration of the polymer will lead to breakdown. Corona is similar to “partial discharge”, except that corona, by definition, always involves the emission of light and partial discharge may not. Some dielectrics, like polyethylene and Teflon, are more vulnerable to corona than others (mica).
Moisture: Moisture absorption accelerates damage from voltage stress. Some film dielectrics, like polycarbonate and polysulfone tend to absorb more moisure than others (polypropylene and polystyrene),
High-voltage pulses and voltage reversal: Stress on the dielectric depends on how fast voltage it is applied, as well as its magnitude. For example, when the voltage applied to a high-voltage DC capacitor is reversed, accumulated charge in the dielectric (called space charge) adds to the voltage stress. This must be allowed for in certain applications. Space charge is implicated in all sorts of capacitor behavior and failure mechanisms. Many high-voltage capacitors are designed for pulse operation. As far as I know, there is no rigorous way to calculate reliability. Manufacturors apparently depend on testing and experience.
Thermal stress: Elevated temperatures will cause a slow deterioration of the dielectric, especially film.
Contamination: Because the film is often only microns thick, microscopic conductive particles can cause shorts between the conductive layers. The short will not necessarily occur at the time of manufacture, but can occur hundreds or thousands of hours later when cold flow has allowed the particle to penetrate the film.
Film defects: Thin spots, pinholes, cracks, voids, and impurities in the film can cause early failure. Because these are just about impossible to avoid in ultra-thin plastic films, film capacitors are often wound using several thin film layers instead of one thick one. It is unlikely that a pinhole or other defect in one layer will line up with a defect in another layer. Oil impregnation greatly reduces the problem.
Voids in the windings: Voids in the windings, like voids in the dielectric, cause higher than normal voltage stress, and points where corona or voltage breakdown can more easily occur. This can also be mitigated by oil impregnation, which can greatly increase the voltage need to start corona.
Other problems: Film capacitors tend fail by shorting, but some defects can cause other kinds of failures. Poor lead attachment can cause opens for example.
Note that these are all great simplifications. Whole books are written on the complex mechanisms of dielectric deterioration (aging) from high voltage, for example.

A generally accepted formula for estimating film capacitor life is:

L=LR x [(ER/Eo)^7] x 2^(deltaT/10)

L = operating life under stated temperature and voltage
LR = life at rated temperature and voltage
ER = rated voltage limit
Eo = operating voltage
deltaT = difference between rated operating temperatur

Guest Forum User answered 18 years ago

Thank you very much for the detailed answer, it was greatly appreciated.

Do you happen to have any information on the degradation mechanisms of CHR capacitors (hermetic and non-hermetically sealed) with respect to their shelf life prior to assembly into a PWB (i.e. dormant storage) ? In this case electrical stress would not be a factor as the device is non-operating.

Best regards.

Guest Forum User answered 18 years ago

All components have degradation due to corrosion over time when in an uncontrolled non-op condition. Inaddition, electrolytic capacitors have a degradation mechanism due to loss of electrolyte by means of vapor transmission through the end seal. The rate of loss is a function of the storage temperature. Film capacitors do not have this degradation problem, so all you need to be concerned with is the corrosion. Sealing the parts or units in a bag that is back filled with dry nitrogen is one way of controlling the environment. By the way, electrolytic capacitors can be re-aged every two or three years by slowly applying voltage with a resistor in series.

zag888 answered 12 years ago

I have a request related to electrolytic capacitors (alum, paper, oil). We have some assembled PCBs in product that have been in storage for a year. The strategy some would like to follow is to test the product via functional test to ensure the ecaps have not expired prior to shipping them.

What is the effect of functional testing on ecaps? It would be like turning the product on for several hours.

Thanks for your help,


smorris answered 12 years ago

The effect is that you may not find any problems, even though some really may exist. Since they are already mounted on boards, this may limit your testing options. Here is a link that provides some insight/ideas on things you should consider, and how you might inspect for potential capacitor problems at this stage of the product life cycle:

You may also want to look to the underlying capacitor specification for guidance on specific testing. For example, established reliability specification MIL-C-39006 requires 100% operating voltage conditioning to screen out potential early life failures. Capacitors which exhibit excessive leakage are screened out as reliability hazards. For hermetically sealed types, a 100% seal test is also conducted.