So You Can Solder Small SMD Devices. The Question Is, Just How Small?

A highlight of last year’s Hackaday Remoticon was a soldering competition that had teams from around the world came together online and did the well-known MakersBox SMD Challenge kit in which a series of LED circuits of decreasing size must be soldered. The Hackaday crew acquitted themselves well, and though an 01005 resistor and LED certainly pushes a writer’s soldering skills to the limit it’s very satisfying to see it working. Lest that kit become too easy, [Arthur Benemann] has come up with something even more fiendish; his uSMD is a 555 LED flasher that uses a BGA 555 and a selection of 008004 small components.

The trick with an 01005 is to heat not the tinned and fluxed solder joint, but the trace leading up to it. If components of that size can be mastered then perhaps an 008004 isn’t that much smaller so maybe the same technique might work for them too. In his tip email to us he wrote “Soldering 008004 isn’t much worse than a 0201, you just need magnification“, and while we think he might be trolling us slightly we can see there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be do-able. Sadly he doesn’t seem to have made it available for us to buy and try so if you want to prove yourself with a soldering iron you’ll have to source the PCBs and parts yourself. Still, we suspect that if you are the type of person who can solder an 008004 then that will hardly be an onerous task for you.

Meanwhile this isn’t the first soldering challenge kit we’ve brought you, and of course if you’d like to hone your skills you can find the MakersBox one on Tindie.

Competitive Soldering Is Now A Thing

At Hackaday, we’re constantly impressed by the skill and technique that goes into soldering up some homebrew creations. We’re not just talking about hand-soldering 80-pin QFNs without a stencil, either: there are people building charlieplexed LED arrays out of bare copper wire, and using Kynar wire for mechanical stability. There are some very, very talented people out there, and they all work in the medium of wire, heat, and flux.

At this year’s DEF CON, we opened the floodgates to competitive soldering. Along with [Bunny] from Hardware Hacking Village and the many volunteers from the HHV and Soldering Skills Village, dozens competed to solder up a tiny kit full of LEDs and microscopic resistors.

The kit in question was an SMD Challenge Kit put together my MakersBox, and consisted of a small PCB, an SOIC-8 ATtiny, and a LED and resistor for 1206, 0805, 0603, 0402, and 0201 sizes. The contest is done in rounds. Six challengers compete at a time, and everyone is given 35 minutes to complete the kit.

We’ve seen — and participated in — soldering challenges before, and each one has a slightly unique twist to make it that much more interesting. For example, at this summer’s Toorcamp, the soldering challenge was to simply drink a beer before moving to the next size of parts. You would solder the 1206 LED and resistor sober, drink a beer, solder the 0805, drink a beer, and keep plugging away until you get to the 01005 parts. Yes, people were able to do it.

Of course, being DEF CON and all, we were trying to be a bit more formal, and drinking before noon is uncouth. The rules for this Soldering Challenge¬†award points on five categories: the total time taken, if the components are actually soldered down, a ‘functionality’ test, the orientation of the parts, and the quality of the solder joints.

The winners of the soldering challenge, at the Hackaday Breakfast Meetup at DEF CON 26

So, with those rules in place, who won the Soldering Challenge at this year’s DEF CON? Out of a total 25 points, the top scorers are:

  • [True] – 23 pts
  • [Rushan] – 19 pts
  • [Ryan] – 18 pts
  • [Beardbyte] – 18 pts
  • [Casey] – 18 pts
  • [Bob] – 18 pts
  • [Nick] – 18 pts
  • [JEGEVA] – 18 pts

The Soldering Challenge had an incredible turnout, and the entire Soldering Skills Village was packed to the gills with folks eager to pick up an iron. The results were phenomenal!

We’d like to extend a note of thanks to [Bunny], the Hardware Hacking Village, the Soldering Skills Village, and MakersBox for making this happening. It was truly a magical experience, and now that competitive soldering¬†is a thing, we’re going to be doing this a few more times. How do you think this could be improved? Leave a note in the comments.

SMD Soldering Challenge Lands At DEF CON

Strap on the jeweler’s loupe and lay off the caffeine for a few days. You’ll need to be at your peak for the SMD Soldering Challenge at this year’s DEF CON (number 26 for those counting).

It’s exciting to see that a Soldering Skills Village has been added to the conference this year. It will be in the same room as the Hardware Hacking Village. After all, who doesn’t want to solder at a conference? This soldering challenge is a great way to ring in the new village, and will take place in eight heats of six people for a total of 48 contestants. If you want to compete, make sure you get to the village right away and sign up for a slot!

A familiar board is being used for the contest. It’s the SMD Challenge board which MakersBox developed. You can check out the Hackaday.io project page and even order one from their Tindie store if you like. The contest will be scored based on time, completion, functionality, precise orientation, and quality of the joints.

The SOIC ATtiny85 is a snap to place on the board, but things get harder with each step. To successfully complete it you need to solder both a resistor and an LED in 1206, 0805, 0603, 0402, and 0201 packages. Those oh-two-oh-ones are basically grains of sand… good luck with that! We’re really excited that MakersBox rolled some custom Hackaday and Tindie boards (pictured above) for this contest which we’re honored to sponsor. It sounds as if the winners will be announced during Hackaday and Tindie’s traditional Breakfast at DEF CON which is happening at 10:30am on Sunday in the HHV.

We plan to spectate during some of the heats and if you’re at the con you should too! For those participating, here’s our advice. Practice soldering the smallest of parts ahead of time (watch some videos on it at the very least). Bring a multimeter to test the diode polarity because you won’t be able to see the symbols on the smallest parts. You may even consider bringing some custom tools; this surface mount “clamp” comes to mind, you’ll just need a much smaller version.

If you have advice of your own, we’d love to hear it in the comments below!

Soldering Challenge To Challenge You

[Rick] knew that the blinking, beeping microcontroller kits that are commonly used for educational soldering workshops just would not cut it for a serious combat among SMD reworking professionals. The “Soldering Challenge” he created to fill this gap is a little PCB with eight difficulty levels from large through hole components to the smallest hand solderable SMDs. After assembly, the circuit assesses the skill level of the soldering aspirant based on a built-in scoring system.

soldering_challenge_ongoingThe challenge is meant to be played on a time limit. There are no two same-sized components of different value, so contestants may focus on soldering fast. Little rubber pads on the backside of the board provide for good ground contact in the curves. After the starting signal, you will be confronted with a few through hole resistors, a capacitor, different LEDs and a DIP-8 IC. Here it’s all about the speed and efficiency as you tackle a track full of bends and cut-off resistor legs. Over the course of the challenge, the components get smaller and smaller, until you finally reach the 0603 level, with a tiny SC-85 MOS-FET and a TSSOP 555 timer at the finishing line.
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