Failure of Aluminum Wire Connections
An electron probe microanalyzer was applied to the study of service failures (due to severe heating) of aluminum wire connections in residential electrical circuits. Perturbed regions in which the composition underwent a change during the failure were revealed by optical and scanning electron microscopy of the contacts. A sequence of iron-aluminum compositions that shift from the pure aluminum of the wire to the nearly pure iron of the screw was revealed by analyses of two distinct layers formed on the aluminum/iron region. The compositions were found to correspond to specific intermetallic compounds found in the aluminum-iron phase diagram. Similar compositional variations were noted at the aluminum/brass interface. It was concluded that the failure of the electrical junction due to extreme heating was related to the formation of intermetallic compounds at the current carrying interfaces. These intermetallics were established to have a high resistance causing significant resistive heating.