Using FTDI chips as a USB to Serial solution is nothing new, but this MicroFTX board takes the footprint to a new low. If you’re space limited this should have no problem fitting into your project. But if you plan to use it for prototyping we predict it’ll be lost in the parts bin forever as soon as you take your eyes off of it.
The USB Mini-B connector is becoming quite popular with hobby electronics these days. But here [Jim Paris] chose to use its little brother, the USB micro connector. Want to put this together by hand? How are you with 0402 footprints and QFN chips? In fact, there’s a ground pad on the bottom of that IC which means you really need to use a reflow oven to do the job right.
Aside from the diy-unfriendly fabrication size, we do like the design. There are four output pins (voltage, ground, TX, and RX) with a set of four solder jumpers to configure them. It can be powered from the USB port or an external connection, with the option for 5V or 3.3V output.
We try to stick to the 0805 parts because they’re still big enough to solder by hand. But [Scott] shows us that it doesn’t take too many special tools to reflow fine-pitch components at home. In this case he’s using 0402 resistors, a footprint that we consider functionally impossible to solder using an iron.
The two parts of the equation that he spent some money on are professionally produced PCBs and a solder stencil. The stencil is laser-cut from Kapton, which is heat-resistant so it doesn’t warp during the cutting process. An acrylic frame holds the PCB in place, and he just tapes the stencil over it and uses a chunk of acrylic as a squeegee to evenly apply the solder paste. Splurging on the PCB and stencil means you’ll achieve tolerances which lead to success.
The next issue is placing the components. [Scott] shows off some vacuum tweezers he built using an aquarium pump. Watch the video after the break to see how small those 0402 parts are when he extracts one of the resistors from the tape packaging. With the board manually populated (check everything twice!) he moves the board to a completely unaltered toaster oven for reflow. We have seen a lot of projects which add controllers to these ovens, but he really makes the case that you don’t need it. Instead, he uses a thermocoupler read by a multimeter just to let him know what’s going on with the temperature. He uses a smart phone as a timer, and switches the oven on and off to match the solder’s heat profile. Continue reading “Fine-pitch SMD soldering with minimal tools”