Survey: Soldering Equipment and Materials Updates, Part II


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Gail Flower, editor-at-large, SMT, surveyed soldering equipment manufacturers and solder material suppliers to learn more about the latest practices and requirements. In Part II, equipment suppliers explain what customers ask for on new machines and solder suppliers talk about environmental legislation and its effect on solder alloys.

Read Part I in the January/February issue of SMT.

What are customers asking for on new or upgrades to existing soldering equipment?

Many soldering equipment suppliers agreed that customers are expecting cost controls. “These days, everyone is in a cost-cutting mode and reflow ovens have not been overlooked,” says Henry Mann, CEO, Manncorp Inc. He added that demand has waned for the large 8- to 12-zone reflow systems, which are expensive to run and occupy excessive floor space. Even though customers ask for lower cost and compact equipment, they still expect high quality, lead-free convection with features like independently controlled multi-zones and on-board profiling. One difference between who wants what, according to Mann, is that larger 8-zone nitrogen ovens have been purchased by overseas buyers, whereas U.S. customers want nitrogen capability in an economic format. “All customers are asking for cost reductions in any form, as they are under extreme pressure on margins,” agrees Graham Norman, owner of EVS International. To respond to market demand, EVS introduced the smaller EVS1000 dross recycling system to enable SMEs to gain the benefits of solder recovery.

Respondents to the readers' survey come from every sector of the electronics manufacturing industry. The listing here is a representative sampling.Consumer/Commercial Electronics: Consumer electronics; LED assemblies; entertainment electronics; cell phone assemblies; displays; battery chargers; video/audio equipmentMilitary/High-reliability Electronics: RFID; defense electronics; military electronics; aviation; automotive; marine electronics; missile controls; RADAR; security systemsCommunications/Industrial Electronics: communication systems; telecommunications; networks; control panels; testing equipment manufacturer; earth moving machinery controls; jewelry assembly controls; industrial drives; down-hole drilling; broadcast equipment; satellite TV equipment; serversOther Specializations: contract assembly; package assembly; flexible PCB assembly; engineering design; connector/wire assemblies; custom prototypes

It’s not only the initial cost, but also the cost of ownership, which also includes ongoing operational cost. “We recently worked with a customer who had numerous production lines,” relates Fred Dimock, manager, process technology, BTU. Unfortunately, when the reflow ovens were purchased, they decided to save money by opting for the lowest initial cost. This resulted in excessive energy usage and inability to maintain the necessary solder processing window. “There was a lack of repeatability and thermal uniformity on many of their boards that resulted in having to hand solder or repair the large components on some PCBs. They decided to try one of our ovens, and their profiles could be obtained with oven set points that were 15°C lower than their previous recipes and the belt speed could be increased by 12%, saving energy and increasing capacity. The added benefit was significantly improved thermal uniformity and repeatability that avoided most hand soldering operations,” concludes Dimock. The cheapest price tag isn’t always the least expensive.

Overwhelmingly, survey respondents stated that customers want quality soldering equipment — equipment that lasts. “We are seeing three particular areas of focus,” says Mick Austin of Vitronics Soltec. “One area is process control, wherein advanced tools to allow the equipment to be more intuitive and self-reliant for those critical process steps that ensure optimum quality with less operator intervention. We introduced Autoset predictive profiling on all our XMP reflow ovens for this reason.” A simplified operator control accommodates users with lower skill sets. Austin also noticed that customers want “green” products that consume less power. Jonathan Wol, president of Pillarhouse USA Inc., agrees that quality issues have grown in importance. “Customers are continually searching for new equipment and upgrades that improve their first-pass quality, reduce maintenance, and increase manufacturing flexibility. Our MPR selective soldering system offers dual modular quick-change solder baths and fully interchangeable point-to-point, Multi-Dip, or Jet-Wave solder nozzles for flexibility. The MPR can be equipped with fiducial recognition, board warpage detection, and closed-loop solder height monitoring to meet needs of complex board assemblies.”

Flexibility for different manufacturing jobs in a machine that lasts a long time is a good investment, notes Christian Ott, senior sales and process manager at SEHO Systems GmbH. Soldering in nitrogen atmosphere improves quality and long-term reliability of solder joints, he says. “SEHO offers both local inert systems and unique full tunnel nitrogen system. There is a huge difference regarding dross formation and solder quality.” Joachim Biegel, product manager, reflow soldering systems at Essemtec, asserts that customers want their reflow ovens to be prepared for nitrogen usage, even if nitrogen isn’t used in current processes.

Reliable machines with up-to-date technology for temperature, flux, and other control are in demand. Manfred Maehl, president of SMT North America Inc. says, “Customers are continually looking to upgrade their existing reflow ovens to enhance product quality, reduce process defects, and minimize production downtime. As a result, the modular design of our reflow ovens allows our customers to retrofit options, thus creating added flexibility and lengthening the life span of their investment.” Customers look for highly accurate temperature profile control, which is why Essemtec’s reflow machines have temperature-controlled systems.

“Customers are asking for many detailed improvements, and Seica is working on this,” says Carlo Perucca. The company’s Firefly was already prepared for lead and lead-free production and was designed to be flexible. Additionally, some configurations are soldering from the bottom- or top-side. According to Marc Dalderup, COO at Rehm Thermal Systems, in the high-end market, which for the most part still needs to move to lead-free soldering in the coming years, the question is, “What is my [customers’] future process going to be, convection or condensation soldering?”

How are you working with the latest restrictions on hazardous materials, such as halogens, while maintaining solder quality?

“Lead and halogen materials have been used by the entire electronics industry for decades,” says Debbie Ligouri of Qualitek. Concerns have been steadily rising regarding their impact on health and the environment. And industrial concerns include long-term reliability, robustness, and wetting creates other types of issues for developers. However, “Qualitek’s Halogen 0 products exceed the acceptable industry standards and contain 0% halogens,” Ligouri says. “Currently, there isn’t any official legislation that bans the use of halogen-containing fluxes,” respond Steve Dowds and Mark Currie of Henkel. “There are specific halogenated flame retardants that are banned (such as Penta-BDE, Octa-BDE, or BDE), and Henkel does not use these in our formulations.” It is true that there are efforts underway to encourage the removal of halogens from electronics, he added, and Henkel had developed materials without halogens

John Vivari, applications engineering supervisor at Nordson EFD, points out that EFD has done environment impact research on halogens and developed truly halogen-free reliable products. There have been various development by Koki in the area of halogen-free materials, including solder paste, wave flux, rework flux, and rework cored wire, underfill, and adhesives, says Jasbir Bath of Christopher Associates on behalf of Koki Solder. “The challenge has been developing halogen-free materials while still maintaining the ability of the flux in the soldering materials to wet well to the components and boards with the reduced or minimal halogen content.”

“Environmental, health and safety regulations are a key consideration for Cookson Electronics during the development of new products, as well as in the management of existing products,” says Paul Cote, global marketing communications manager for Alpha at Cookson. The company works with strategic OEMs to help them meet their green product objectives. Cookson has already developed a complete line of halogen-free and low-halogen solder pastes, liquid fluxes, and other soldering materials compliant with the different industry specifications, he adds.

Indium Corporation’s Tim Jensen, product manager for PCB assembly products, states that Indium developed a new oxidation barrier technology, which prevents the solder paste deposit from oxidizing during the preheat and solid stage of the reflow process. The end result is much better coalescence, despite removal of the halogen activators,” Jensen says. Karl Seelig, VP of Technology for AIM says that solder manufacturers are always dealing with changes in regulation related to hazardous material classifications. Suggested halogen bans by non-government organizations (NGOs) are causing some difficulties with the formulation of soldering materials. However, he claims, AIM has offered halogen-free paste for years now in lead-free. To achieve the same activity, halogen-free products need more organic acids and amines, he indicates. And non-halogenated activators seem to be more sensitive to higher temperatures and durations encountered in lead-free processing.

“Nihon Superior continues to work on developing user and environmentally friendly products to enhance its SN100C lead-free technology,” says Tetsuro Nishimura. Recently, the company has been focused on halogen-free technology, since customers do not want halogens in flux cores and pastes. “We are constantly looking at our materials to ensure that we conform to the latest regulations and staying ahead of them with our research and development department, constantly meeting the customer demands for more environmentally friendly products, such as the new range of our low-VOC and VOC-free fluxes,” says Stan Renals, managing director, CEO Cobar Division, Balver Zinn.

Conclusion

Soldering equipment suppliers understand that quality, cost control, and environmentally friendly green products take the lead in users’ priorities.

Materials suppliers all agreed that customers need choices of many products without halogens and without many other restricted materials as well to meet modern assembly needs.

Gail Flower, editor at large, SMT, may be contacted at gailflower@gmail.com 

Read Part I online here.

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