Hands free hot air station

In an effort to ease the process of soldering Ball Grid Array (BGA) chips at home [Roger] rigged up a hands-free solution for his hot air equipment.

The main component in the build is an Aoyue hot air rework station that he already had in his workshop. He wanted an adjustable mount that would hold it steady when reflowing parts so he hit Amazon and bought a $14 articulated lamp. After ditching the funnel-shaped shade he bolted a cable clamp to the socket housing. This can be tightened on the hot air wand, with the spring tension of the lamp making it easy and quick to reposition the nozzle. [Roger] sent this project directly to our tips line and we’ve embedded the rest of the project images after the break.

If you’re looking for a more DIY rework solution you should checkout this hot air pencil hack. It uses a desoldering iron, a fish pump, and some metal mesh as a heat sink to put out a stream of very hot air.

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Semi-professional board assembly for your workshop

[Zach Hoeken] has the answer to assembling multiple surface mount PCBs in the home workshop. It’s certainly not for everyone. But if you’ve ever thought of marketing your own small runs he has the equipment and methodology you need.

He had tried using hacked together equipment, but after encountering a range of issues he finds the investment in a few key items saves time and money in the long run. The first is a precision tooling fixture block; that metal plate with a grid of holes that makes up the background of the image above. It comes with machined pegs which fit the holes perfectly, and as you can see, his panel of 16 boards include tooling holes that line up with the fixture. Once in place, a steel solder stencil is aligned with the board using its own tooling holes. The alignment of the stencil and its uniformed thickness ensure that the perfect amount of solder paste is easy to apply with a squeegee. [Zach] hand places his components but he did invest in a proper reflow oven to make the soldering a set and forget process.

How to repair a ribbon cable connection on consumer electronics

It’s not uncommon in cheaper devices to find a ribbon cable soldered directly to the circuit board like the one pictured above. Using a connector would have been a much more resilient approach, but adding parts adds cost. If you take a close look you’ll see things aren’t looking so great anymore. [Chaotic and Random] pulled this board out of his VW Camper Van. Rather than buy an expensive replacement part, he shows us how to repair a soldered ribbon wire connection.

This repair is rather invasive and he suggests trying some hot-air rework (possibly using a heat gun) to fix up any misbehaving connections. But if that has failed it’s time for the knife. The first step is to  cut the ribbon so that the LCD can be removed from the board. From there he peels the remaining scrap off ribbon of the pads. This makes us cringe as it could lift traces from the PCB, but he was gentle enough to avoid it. Now comes the time to start reassembling. After thoroughly cleaning the pads the ribbon is cut straight and resoldered. The trick is to flow the solder without melting the ribbon. He uses tin foil to cover the tip and cools it on a moist sponge just before reflowing solder.

It sounds like more art than science. But when the only alternative is to spend hundreds on a new part it may be worth a try.

Know thy enemy: Open vias in BGA footprints

[Andrew Zonenberg] has crossed a line in his electronic hobby projects. The Ball Grid Array (BGA) is a type of chip footprint which most hobbyists leave to the professionals. But he’s learned the skills necessary to use them in his projects. Recently he ran a test batch to show off his soldering process and illustrate one of the errors a novice might make.

For those that are unfamiliar, the BGA footprint is notoriously difficult to accurately solder because it consists of a large grid of tiny points covering the bottom of the chip. There’s no way to get in there with an iron, so soldering depends on accurate placement of solder paste and chip, as well as a near-perfect reflow cycle. Often times it’s difficult for the professionals too. Many blame the heat-failure of Xbox 360 on the complications of the BGA connects for one of the console’s chips.

For this experiment [Andrew] wanted to show what happens if you include vias in the BGA footprint. It’s fine to do so, as long as they’re capped. But if a standard via is included, capillary action ends up pulling the solder down into the via instead of making a connection with the chip. The image above is a cross-section of one such uncapped via, seen on the far right.

[Thanks George]

Toaster oven reflow project goes way overboard

This project may take the cake on high-end reflow retrofits. It’s a HUGE project which uses a toaster oven to reflow surface mount circuit boards. And the fact that it bursts with features makes us giddy.

So what parts have we come to expect on these devices? Obviously a heat source which usually comes from a reused toaster oven. Then you need a way to switch the heating elements on and off based on feedback. Since solder profiles have precise timings and temperatures a clock is usually involved. All of this can be done with a temperature probe on a multimeter and a smartphone as the timer. But what we have here is full-automation and then about a thousand more features.

The driver above has a full user interface. It’s got its own PID routines which help to ensure proper holding temperatures and accurate ramping when going from one temperature to the next. The cable exiting the controller below the red buttons is providing feedback via a thermocoupler.  So program in your solder profile and let it go. But wait, don’t you want to record and graph what actually happened during this reflow run? Well that’s what the serial connection is for. In fact, you can even load new profiles and control all aspects of the device from a PC interface.

Switching for the toaster oven is done in a different way as well. Instead of just switching mains power, the circulation fan and the heating elements have been electrically separated. This way the fan can run whether the elements are on or not.

Toaster oven reflow soldering roundup

SMD components have a lot of advantages over the through-hole parts our fathers and grandfathers soldered. Working with these tiny surface mount components requires a larger investment than a soldering iron and a wire-wrap gun, though. Here’s a few reflow ovens that were sent in over the past week or two.

[ramsay] bought a 110 V toaster oven off of eBay. Even though [ramsay] is in England and has 230 V mains, everything in the oven is mechanical and works just fine with a higher voltage. His first test didn’t go quite as planned; the solder paste wasn’t melting at 120° C, so he cranked up the temperature and learned that the FR in FR-4 stands for flame retardant. Never deterred, [ramsay] decided to build a controller so the temperature ramps up and cools off at the right rates for the flux and paste to do their thing.

Solder paste has a temperature profile that requires the board to be kept at a temperature between 150° and 180° C for a minute or so before climbing up to 220° for a second so the solder will melt. [Nicolas] had the interesting idea of putting a USB port in his toaster oven and storing the heating profiles on his desktop. The build uses an MSP430 microcontroller to turn the relays powering heating elements on and off. [Nick] is working on a C# desktop app to monitor and regulate the oven temperature from his computer, so we’re fairly interested in seeing the final results.

Watching the SMD self-alignment videos on YouTube is a lot more fun than messing around with tweezers, stereo microscopes, and extremely fine soldering irons. If you’ve got a better idea for a toaster/reflow oven, send it in on our tip line and we’ll check it out.

A very detailed reflow oven build

smd-solder-reflow-oven

If you do a lot of SMD soldering, a reflow oven is the fastest and most efficient way to get all those tiny components attached to your PCB. [Frank Zhao] saw the reflow ovens we featured here over the last few weeks and figured he might as well show off his rig as well. We’re certainly glad he did, because his very thorough writeup is a great stepping stone for anyone looking to construct a reflow oven of their own.

Like many others, he started off with a used toaster oven, modifying it to be controlled directly via the power cable rather than the oven’s dials. He built a small PCB to regulate the oven, which features an ATmega32u4 and thermocouple to keep the temperature in check. Control of the heating element is done using a solid state relay, for which he built his own heatsink.

He studied the reflow profile of the solder he would be using, programming the microcontroller to regulate the heating/cooling process without requiring any user input, aside from turning the oven on.

Check out the video below to see a brief overview of his system, and be sure to swing by his writeup to take a look at all the build details. There are a handful of additional videos along with plenty of pictures there, walking through each step of the process.

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