My introduction to electronic manufacturing was as a production technician at Pennsylvania Scale Company in Leola PA in the early 1980’s. I learned that to work on what I wanted to work on I had to get my assigned duties done by noon or thereabouts. The most important lesson I had learned as a TV repairman, other than not to chew on the high voltage cable, was to use your eyes first. I would take a box of bad PCB’s that were essentially 6502 based computers that could count and weigh, and first go through inspecting them; usually the contents were reduced 50% right off by doing this. Then it was a race to identify and fix the remaining units and to keep my pace up I had to do my own desoldering.
It worked like this; you could set units aside with instructions and the production people would at some point go through changing components etc. for you or you could desolder yourself. I was pretty good at hand de-soldering 28 and 40 pin chips using a venerable Soldapulit manual solder sucker (as they were known). But to really cook I would wait for a moment when the production de-soldering machine was available. There was one simple rule for using the desoldering station: clean it when done! Failure to do so would result in your access to the station being suspended and then you might also incur the “wrath of production” which was not limited to your lunch bag being found frozen solid or your chair soaked in defluxing chemicals.
Everyone reading this post has had a cheap pencil-style soldering irons that plug straight into the wall at some point in their lives. Even if you’ve upgraded to a professional soldering station, you probably have one of these cheapy irons kicking around that are slow to heat up to an unknown temperature. [Pantelis] thought he could fix the latter problem with his Homemade Soldering Station for those basic soldering irons.
Since the intent of the soldering station was to control the temperature of the iron [Pantelis] had to figure out a way to sense the temperature. He did this by strapping a thermocouple to the iron near the tip. The wires were run back through the handle and then along the power cord.
Both the stock iron plug and the thermocouple leads plug into a box put together specifically for this project. In the photo you’ll notice the LCD screen that displays both the target and actual temperatures. The linear potentiometer below the LCD screen is used to set the target temperature. The LED to the right alerts the operator that the iron is heating up and when it is at temperature and read to go.
Although there isn’t a lot of schematic or part list information, [Pantelis] did do a good job photo documenting his build. Check it out, it’s worth a gander.
When you think about the difficulties of working with surface mount components, the first thing that often comes to mind is trying to solder those tiny little parts. Instead of soldering those parts by hand, you can actually apply solder paste to the pads and place all of the components on at once. You can then heat up the entire board so all of the parts are soldered simultaneously. It sounds so much easier! The only problem is you then need a solder stencil. You somehow have to get a thin sheet of material that has a perfectly sized hole where all of your solder pads are. It’s not exactly trivial to cut them out by hand.
[Juan] recently learned a new trick to make cutting solder stencils a less painful process. He uses a laser cutter to cut Mylar sheets into stencils. [Juan] appears to be using EagleCAD and Express PCB. Both tools are available for free to hobbyists. The first step in the process is to export the top and bottom cream layers from your CAD software.
The next step is to shrink the size of the solder pads just a little bit. This is to compensate for the inevitable melting that will be caused by the heat from the laser. Without this step, the pads will likely end up a little bit too big. If your CAD software exports the files as gerbers, [Juan] explains how to re-size the pads using ViewMate. If they are exported as DXF files, he explains how to scale them using AutoCAD. The re-sized file is then exported as a PDF.
[Juan’s] trick is to actually cut two pieces of 7mil Mylar at the same time. The laser must be calibrated to cut all the way through the top sheet, but only part way into the bottom piece. The laser ends up slightly melting the edges of the little cut out squares. These then get stuck to the bottom Mylar sheet. When you are all done cutting, you can simply pull the sheets apart and end up with one perfect solder stencil and one scrap piece. [Juan] used a Full Spectrum 120W laser cutter at Dallas Makerspace. If you happen to have this same machine, he actually included all of the laser settings on his site.
[V. G. Karpov] from the University of Toledo suggest these whiskers are formed by differences in charge induced by metallurgical anomalies – contamination, differences in the grain of the solder, and oxides. Because of the difference in charge, the whiskers are extruded, for lack of a better word, out from the surface of the solder.
The theory of whisker growth is generally consistent with observed rates of whisker growth and other properties. With this theory, it should even be possible to grow tin whiskers. Why anyone would want to do that other than, ‘because it’s cool’ is anyone’s guess, but there you go.
There’s nothing quite like getting an eye full of solder fumes, but when it comes to solder fume extraction, the most common solution take up a whole lot of work area. Here’s a very clever solder fume extractor that doesn’t get in the way, and can be perfectly positioned over the acrid brimstone of a soldering station.
The build consists of a cheap bathroom vent fan built into the back of the workbench feeding into a long PVC pipe that blows the exhaust to the floor a few feet away. The fan is controlled by a simple wall switch, but the intake is where this build really shines. It’s a series of hard, flexible plastic segments that allow the intake to be precisely oriented above the work piece, or wherever it’s most convienent to suck solder fumes from.
This solder fume extractor is just a part of a really amazing electronics workbench. A lot of thought went into this workspace, from threaded inserts in the work surface to mount a panavise to an amazingly thoughtful equipment rack for computers, monitors, and other assorted heavy equipment.
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.