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.