LIB3 is an open source hardware start-up from upstate New York. Thus far, the team has made some interesting products such as the piLED kit. However, they have big dreams for the future. LIB3 plans to become a contract assembly house specifically targeting low volume makers. To do this they have to build their own tools. LIB3’s latest project is a solder paste dispenser for surface mount components. Traditionally solder paste is applied with stencils made of stainless steel. In more recent years laser cut kapton has become a favorite for low volume production.
Both of these systems require a stencil to be made up. LIB3 took a different approach, and modified an old CNC glue dispenser for paste. The team got their hands on an 1991 vintage X/Y glue dispensing system. X/Y systems in this era were big, heavy affairs with powerful motors. LIB3 removed all the control electronics and built their own system from scratch. New features include direct computer control, and a vision system.
It’s no secret that we’re bizarrely drawn to macro videos showing solder paste during the reflow process. This electric skillet reflow guide provides the fix we’ve been jonesin’ for while including some helpful tips for first-timers and veterans alike. Not sure what we’re talking about? Look at the grey paste at the top of this image. As it heats up it’s drawn under each component as seen in the lower half of the image.
This particular guide is aimed at one-off assembly so a solder paste stencil is not used (we learned a lot about those earlier in the month). It instead uses the painstaking toothpick application technique. It takes time but the upside is that once you get the hang of it you’ll apply the perfect amount of solder each time. After placing all of the components [Count Spicy] carefully transfers the board to an electric skillet, covers it with the glass lid (so he can see what’s going on), and sets the temperature just above the solder’s specified melting point.
Since the skillet is cheap and easy to find you really just have to order the solder paste to get into this type of assembly. Our only gripe is that you can’t really follow a temperature profile with this rig. For that you need to move up to some PID controlled hardware.
We think you’re really going to enjoy this trick for making surface mount breakout boards. It’s common to use magnet wire to connect individual pins of a surface mount part to breadboard friendly protoboard with pin headers. What’s new here (at least to us) is that [Raul] solders one wire to both pins directly across from one another.
The image at the left shows an eight pin part with four wires soldered in place. To get to this point he first taped the wires down to a work surface being careful to space them to match the pitch on the chip’s leads. He then tapes the chip in place and solders all of the legs to the wires. This seems to kill two birds with one stone as aligning one wire to one leg is tough. From there he flips the chip over and cuts the wire spanning under it. This leaves an easy job of soldering the trailing side of the wire to a hunk of protoboard.
It’s perfect for chips with a small number of pins. Of course you may still want an etched breakout board for something with a ton of leads.
Our homemade shop tools rarely reach this level of finished quality. We probably would have stopped with assembly of this USB powered fume extractor. But [X2jiggy] went for style points by adding a coat of paint.
There are several nice features included in his build. He wanted it to be very easy to power the device so he settled on the 5V USB standard. But a PC fan running at 5V won’t pull much air. He used a boost converter board to ramp that up to 12V. The enclosure is a wooden hobby box. He drilled mounting holes and an airflow opening in the bottom of the box for the fan. The lid of the box has a rectangular opening which accepts a carbon filter meant for aquariums. The rocker switch and LED seen above are also nice touches, but not strictly necessary if you build this for yourself.
We’re still in the habit of gently blowing the fumes away from us as we solder. So the question is, will this device save us from a gruesome disease down the road, or is it mostly to capture the odor of the solder fumes?
This is exactly what it looks like. [Oleg] calls it soldering in inert atmosphere, but it’s just a toaster oven reflow hack dropped into a container full of carbon dioxide.
Why go to this trouble? It’s all about solder wetting. This is the ability of the molten solder paste to flow into all of the tinned areas of a board. [Oleg] talks about the shelf life of hot air leveled PCB tinning, which is about six months. After this the tin has oxidized. It will certainly not be as bad as bare copper would have, but it can lead to bad solder joints if your PCBs are more than about six months off the production line. This is one of the reasons to use solder flux. The acid eats away at the oxidized layer, exposing tin that will have better wetting.
But there is another way. Soldering in the absence of oxygen will also help the wetting process. CO2 is heavier than air, so placing the reflow oven in a plastic container will allow you to purge air from the space. CO2 canisters are cheap and easy to acquire. If you keg your own homebrew beer you already own one!
SMD components may be a little challenging for the home builder – even though the’re inordinately practical for homebrew PCBs – but if you play around with electronics and solder long enough, you’re eventually going to run into the horrors of BGA parts. Instead of convenient pins, BGA parts have tiny metallic balls on which solder is applied, a board is thrown through a reflow oven, and hopefully at the end, everything works. Sometimes these balls corrode or otherwise need to be reflowed. This isn’t an easy process, so [Edmar] came up with his own BGA rework station that costs much less than commercial offerings.
[Edmar]’s build began when he wanted to repair a graphics card. A common error on his Amilo XI2428 graphics card is having the small balls on the underside of the chip corrode, leaving the user with a non-functional graphics card. Towel trick notwithstanding, the easiest way to fix this error is to heat up the card to above the melting point of solder, removing the chip, and resoldering it with careful application of solder paste.
[Edmar]’s reflow station is made of an electric skillet for the bottom of the board, an infrared lamp for the top side of the board, and control circuitry constructed from an ATMega128, temperature sensors, and a huge power supply. The temperature is controlled via USB by a computer, allowing [Edmar] to set a temperature profile as recommended by the BGA chip’s data sheet.
Right now, removing a BGA chip works great, but [Edmar] is still working on the tech necessary to replace a BGA chip on a board.
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.