Hand Soldering: The Move Toward Automation


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JBC is a hand soldering company headquartered in Spain and with branches in USA and Mexico. In 2015, it expanded its business model in China. I met with JBC's Domingo Taberner in China at NEPCON to learn more about the hand soldering market in China, the move towards automation and what to know about choosing the right temperature and tip.

Barry Matties: Just for a little context, why don't you tell us about JBC and what do you do?

Domingo Taberner: JBC is a hand soldering company, and we have been making hand soldering equipment for many years at our facility in Barcelona, Spain. We make all the soldering equipment ourselves, which is our strategy for quality. We make the entire product inside our company, and we assemble it in Spain, as well.

Matties: How many employees do you have at your company and how do you manage your R&D? How many people are on that?

Taberner: Our company has about 80–100 people. About 30% of the people who work for JBC are focused on R&D. Innovation and new product development is really important for JBC. We are not fighting against pricing. We are talking about innovation, good products, great new applications, and finding solutions for our current customers.

Matties: What's your strategy in China? How do you fit into the market share currently?

Taberner: Actually, the market share of JBC in China is small. The main competitor here is another brand, so we decided to provide a product to China through traders. We divided the country into different areas, and we have three or four traders who are going to bring the products to the new customers and try to open doors.

Matties: Currently, in China, automation is key. Do you have an automated hand soldering solution?

Taberner: We are working on it. Our stations already have a robot connection, but we are looking to make our own automatic machine. At the moment we don't have that product, but it is on our wish list.

Matties: How soon do you think you're going to have it? I think that's rapidly being accepted in China. I heard something like 3000 automated units were sold just recently by some of your competitors in China.

Taberner: I hope in no less than one year or a year and a half. We’ve started to realize that. I was visiting some customers in the past two weeks in Mexico, and my experience was much different there, than here. There wasn’t as much automation. Here in China, it's an important market to consider. We have provided that feedback to our headquarters and they are now considering a full solution for the customers.

Matties: What sort of interaction do you have with your customers?

Taberner: We try to be really close to the customers. We are a part of our customer’s journey. We visit the customer, we see their needs, and then we try to find problems they have or even that their customers have. Even our R&D department will sometimes see problems in different customers and we provide the solution before the customer has an issue. We are like partners. Customer success for us is our success, so we can expand our business. We are not a huge company, so we are more focused on the needs and problems customers may have, and that is the way we try to bring the product to them.

Matties: What's the greatest problem your customers have in soldering?

Taberner: My customers have a lot of problems filling up all the through-hole PCBs at that moment, because the PCB is getting thicker and thicker. With selective soldering and the way soldering is not arriving, my customers have an issue with filling up 100%. The problem my customers have is if you apply too much heat, you're using pre-heaters on everything and you can't scrub the board. So we designed a special tip three months ago, and the first contact for this application, or the through-hole, was wrapping up the wire. So we decided on really low temperature and a really short time frame. Our bigger competitors were using heaters, up at 450°C, to perform this through-hole problem. For us, with our one tip, we could do the job at 370°C with no pre-heater.

Matties: Does it matter whose solder they're using?

Taberner: Yes, as well as sometimes the geometry and the diameter of the tip. So we make custom-made products for our customers. One problem in China or one problem in Europe may also be the same problem in the U.S. and Mexico. Since we have 15 people working in R&D, only developing products, we have really close relationships with our customers and find solutions quickly. We have less bureaucracy than big companies.

Matties: What's the most important thing someone needs to know about hand soldering?

Taberner: The most important thing you need to do is, first of all, choose the best geometry for soldering. Secondly, use the lowest temperature that you can, because high temperature can be really bad for the applications. Third, one needs to have good technique, and training in person. Your operators that do soldering need to be IPC trained, because if you have people that don't know about soldering they're going to make a mess of the products. Then, it's important to train on how to use your brand of solder equipment, choosing the best tip, and so on.

Matties: How do they decide what tip they should be using? What's the process behind that?

Taberner: They need to realize how much contact they want to have with the pad. It's about contact and temperature recovery. If you have contact, but the temperature recovery is going down, you are going to need to work with higher temperatures. But the most important thing is to decide the right temperature and the right tip. If you're using a really small tip in a big area, it's going to take a long time. If you're using a really big tip, you're going to scrub the board. You need to use the right tip for the right application. The reality, and what I see in my customers, is that they have a really limited selection of tips. In a perfect world, you need to have 20 different geometries to work perfectly and do really good rework.

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