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What Is the Shelf Life for Electronic Components?

Make sure you understand how to inspect electronic components for shelf life problems and properly store components.

Just like the food in your pantry, electronic components have a fixed shelf life before they can be considered unreliable. Shelf life varies across different types of components, and storage conditions will impact the shelf life of your parts. Whether you’re holding leftover components from a consigned assembly run, or you’re keeping spare parts around for testing and rework, proper storage conditions help ensure components can reach their rated shelf life.

The other factor surrounding shelf life is purchasing from the broker or reseller market. Unscrupulous brokers might sell you expired or reused components, even if they did not intend for these to end up in their inventory. Some basic inspection and testing by your 3PL provider will help identify these components so they can be removed from parts kits before assembly.

Mixed Standardization of Shelf Life

Unlike most other aspects of electronic components, there is no industry-standard for determining or defining the shelf life of a given component. The term “shelf life” refers to the time the components can be kept in storage or packaged before they should be used in PCB assembly. It can also refer to the amount of time a component can be stored before the performance no longer matches manufacturer specs.

Some electronic materials, and other parts like batteries, do have a specific shelf life based on understanding of degradation mechanisms and some long-term testing. The one exception is moisture-sensitive devices, which have exposure limits defined in the JEDEC J-STD-020 standard, as well as handling requirements in the J-STD-033 standard.

The table below broadly summarizes the shelf life of various categories of electronic components.

Component Type, Shelf Life, and Additional Information

  • Integrated circuits
    • Shelf life: Very long
    • Note: Silicon has longer lifetime than GaAs and GaN
  • Electrolytic capacitors
    • Shelf life: 5-15 years
    • Potential for electrolyte dry-out
  • Tantalum capacitors
    • Shelf life: Similar to electrolytic
    • Note: Potential for electrolyte dry-out
  • Ceramic and film capacitors
    • Shelf life: Very long
  • Resistors
    • Shelf life: Very long
  • Inductors and transformers
    • Shelf life: Very long
    • Note: Ferrite cores can become demagnetized over very long periods
  • Batteries (Alkaline)
    • Shelf life: 5-7 years
    • Note: Shelf life varies by battery type
  • Batteries (Lithium)
    • Shelf life: 10-15 years
  • Batteries (NiCd, NiMH)
    • Shelf life: 3-5 years
  • LEDs
    • Shelf life: Very long
    • Note: Performance can degrade with high temperature or humidity.
  • Connectors and sockets
    • Shelf life: Varies
    • Note: Gold-plated lasts without tarnishing; Tin-plated might oxidize quickly
  • Printed circuit boards
    • Shelf life: 6 months - 1 year
    • Note: Potential copper oxidation; Shelf life depends on components
  • Moisture sensitive devices
    • Shelf life: Limited by floor life (see J-STD-020)
    • Note: Absorb moisture from the air if not stored correctly

Looking through the above list, we can see some instances where shelf life will be impacted by the storage environment. This should underscore the need to follow some basic guidelines for storing components if you plan to hold them for any length of time.

Follow Best Practices for Long-Term Storage

For some companies, shelf life is a non-issue because these companies will use components as soon as they are received. As long as ESD-safe and moisture-safe handling practices are implemented, you can rest accrued of reliable assembly. This is generally the case for design companies creating consignment orders, PCB assembly companies, and EMS companies that handle procurement for clients.

Small and large companies alike might purchase and hold components for a long period, such as after prototyping runs and for testing/rework purposes. For these companies, some basic long-term storage practices can help ensure parts can still be used in an assembly at a later date.

The risk comes from using non-specialized supply chain services, as well as parts from brokers, resellers, and non-authorized distributors. Sale of expired components, reused (desoldered) components, or moisture-exposed components comprise one type of counterfeiting that might be encountered when purchasing components from broker or reseller networks.

Can Old Components Be Identified With Testing?

The answers to this question are mixed. The simplest way to do this is to look at the markings on a component, particularly on integrated circuits. Some component will have a date code that can be found on the case, and this date code will have a specific format indicating the date the part was released from manufacturing. The date code can be found in the datasheet for the component.

Example date code for a PIC32 microcontroller.

Counterfeiters may fake the date code by remarking a component. This can be verified by swabbing a solvent on the top of the component and seeing if any of the marking dissolves from the casing. If it does dissolve, it may be evidence that the component was remarked, which could indicate an expired component.

Another possible tell for an expired component is to look at exposed conductors or leads on the component. If the leads have any visible corrosion or solder alloy, it is evidence that the component may have been used in an assembly and later desoldered. Visible corrosion is also evidence of mis-packaging, mis-handling, exposure to humidity, or exposure to oxidizing gasses or liquids.

If you want to reduce your component risk and simplify your inventory management processes, make sure you work with a 3PL provider like Cofactr. Electronic design teams and procurement professionals use Cofactr to quote, purchase, manage inventory, and manage logistics for their electronic components. Cofactr also provides testing, inspection, warehousing, and logistics management services through its online platform.

Zachariah Peterson


Owner, NWES | PCB Design for RF, Mil-Aero, Data Center, AI/ML

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