There are a variety of methods for reflowing a circuit board, but they all rely on a single principle: heat up the solder paste (a mixture of flux and solder) until the flux burns off and the solder becomes liquid, and then cool it down. Accomplishing this once or twice is easy; once you’ve played with a hot plate you’ll swear off through hole. Scaling it up and doing it repeatedly with high yield is extremely challenging, though. Continue reading “Tools of the Trade – Reflow”
Reflow soldering – setting components on a PCB in blobs of solder paste and heating the whole assembly at once to melt all joints simultaneously – has been the subject of many ingenious hacks. Once it was the sole preserve of industrial users with specialist microprocessor-controlled ovens, now there are a myriad Arduino-controlled toaster ovens, hot air blowers, and hotplates that allow hackers and makers to get in on the reflow act too.
This morning a fresh idea in the reflow soldering arena has come our way. It’s not the most earth-shattering, but it does have some advantages so is worth a second look. [Analog Two] has successfully used a PTC heating element as a reflow soldering hotplate.
PTC heating elements are thermistors with a positive temperature coefficient. As their temperature rises, so does their electrical resistance. By careful selection of materials they can be manufactured with a sharp increase in resistance at a particular temperature. Thus when an electrical current is passed through them they heat up until they reach that temperature, then the current decreases as the resistance goes up, and they do not heat beyond that point. Thus as heaters they are intrinsically self-regulating. From our point of view they have another advantage, they are also cheap. Fitted as they are to thousands of domestic heating products they are readily available, indeed [Analog Two] found his on Amazon.
The heater chosen was a 200W 110V model with a temperature of 230 Celcius to match the solder he was using. They are also available for other mains voltages, and even at 12 and 24V for automotive applications. He reports that the time to reflow was about 90 seconds.
We’ve mentioned the advantages of this heater as its price and regulated temperature. Looking at the pictures though a disadvantage is its size. This is a reflow plate for small boards. There are larger PTC heater elements available though, it would be interesting to hear people’s experiences reflowing with them.
Hotplates for reflow soldering have featured before a few times here at Hackaday. We recently had this tiny plate, but we’ve also had a PID-controlled plate, and an Arduino-controlled domestic hotplate. We’re sure this is an avenue with further to go.
Homemade reflow ovens are a great inexpensive way to quickly solder multiple prototypes at once. [Andy] may just have built one of the best ones we’ve featured so far on Hackaday. For his project a £25 1300W 12litre halogen oven was chosen because of its low cost and fast heating time, the latter being required to follow typical reflow profile ramp-up stages.
To control the AC power [Andy] first bought a chinese Fotek Solid State Relay (SSR) on ebay, which was quickly replaced by an american one after reading concerning reports on the internet. He then made the same ‘mistake’ by buying the typical MAX6675 thermocouple-to-digital converter from the same website, as he spent much time understanding why the measurements were wrong when the IC was just defective. His final build is based around a 640×360 TFT LCD that he previously reverse engineered, the cortex-M0 STM32F051C8T7, a SPI flash, some power regulators and buttons. The firmware was written in C++ and we’ll let our readers visit [Andy]’s page to see how well his oven performs.
Need to do some SMD soldering? No tools? No problem! Here’s a creative method that could be a handy tool to add to your belt: SMD soldering using hot sand.
[Oliver Krohn] recently released this little video demonstrating how to perform re-flow soldering using hot sand. He’s using a bunsen burner to heat up a ceramic pot of sand to use as a kind of hot plate. It seems to work pretty well, and it’s a very unique way of doing it — if you wanted to get a bit more technical, you could also throw a temperature probe in the sand to get a much finer heat control!
Of course there are lots of other ways of doing re-flow soldering, like using a re-purposed toaster oven, frying up some circuits on a skillet after you’ve had your bacon, or if you want to be fancy, you could even build your own toolkit for it!
Anyway, stick around for the epic video of SMD soldering on hot sand.
Has reflowing surface mount components got you down? [Giorgos] is currently working on a project that will lift your spirits…. well at least your hot air gun. Tired of manually holding his heat gun in one hand and IR thermometer in the other, [Giorgos] set out to create a device to alleviate just that. Although not completed yet, it appears the machine’s intent is to hold the heat gun at an appropriate height above the work piece in order to achieve the correct reflow temperature. He doesn’t say how the height of the hot air gun will be controlled. We’d like to see a microcontroller adjust the height of the hot air gun depending on the temperature of the component to be reflowed. [Giorgos] gives an extremely detailed account of his build process. Make sure to check out all four pages of the project post!
We’ve seen a lot of interesting work from [Giorgos] over the years like this capacitive touch-pad entry system.
[via Dangerous Prototypes]
[Tyson’s] family went with creating rather than buying Christmas presents last month, which gave him the opportunity to build some electronic fireflies for gifts. He drew inspiration from a similar firefly project we featured last year, but expanded on the original model by designing dedicated PCBs and housings for each of his firefly pieces.
Although he’d settled on using ATTiny85’s for this project, [Tyson] was fresh out of through-hole versions. He decided to skip the prototyping phase and go right for fabrication, cranking up the laser-jet printer for some toner-transfer, which successfully produced 4 functioning boards (and 3 failures). The fireflies were [Tyson’s] first attempt at SMD soldering, and we’d have to say it’s a job well done; he reflowed each board with a cheap-o heatgun from Harbor Freight.
After some hiccups with fuse programming, [Tyson] got the code uploaded and the fireflies illuminated. Swing by his site for the nuts and bolts on construction, then snag the project files here. (Direct .zip download)
[Kyle] teaches photography and after being dismayed at the shuttering of film and darkroom programs at schools the world over decided to create a resource for film photography. There’s a lot of cool stuff on here like mixing up a batch of Rodinal developer with Tylenol, lye, and sodium sulphite, and assessing flea market film cameras. There are more tutorials coming that will include setting up a dark room, developing prints, and playing around with large format cameras.
[hifatpeople] built a binary calculator out of LEGO® bricks or toys. It started off as a series of logic gates built out of LEGO® bricks or toys in the LEGO® Digital Designer. These logic gates were combined into half adders, the half adders combined into full adders, and the full adders combined into a huge plastic calculator. Unfortunately, buying the LEGO® bricks or toys necessary to turn this digital design into a physical model would cost about $1000 using the LEGO® Pick-A-Brick service. Does anyone have a ton of LEGO® Technic® bricks or toys sitting around? We’d love to see this built.
Think you need a PID controller and fancy electronics to do reflow soldering in a toaster oven? Not so, it seems. [Sivan] is just using a meter with a thermocouple, a kitchen timer, and a little bit of patience to reflow solder very easily.
The folks at DreamSourceLabs realized a lot of electronic test equipment – from oscilloscopes and logic analyzers to protocol and RF analyzers were all included a sampling circuit. They designed the DSLogic that puts a sampler and USB plug on one board, with a whole bunch of different tools connected to a pin header. It’s a pretty cool idea for a modular approach to test equipment.
Adafruit just released an iDevice game. It’s a resistor color code game and much more educational than Candy Crush. With a $0.99 coupon for the Adafruit store, it’s effectively free if you’re buying anything at Adafruit anytime soon. Check out the video and the awesome adorable component “muppets”.