Soldering irons and soldering stations

- an overview about soldering irons and soldering stations, the points to note when buying and using soldering equipment.

Even when automated methods for PCB assembly are used, there is still the need for manual soldering and as a result soldering irons and soldering stations are needed. When used in a electronics production environment, it is essential that a high quality soldering iron or soldering stations are used. By using the correct equipment any soldering or re-work can be made to the highest standards. If inferior soldering irons or soldering stations are used, then not only can there be an immediately noticed effect in terms of obvious dry joints result, but there can also be long term effects resulting from intermittent joints as well as problems resulting from effects such as electro-static discharge.

Soldering iron

There is a very wide variety of soldering irons that can be bought. These irons range from the very cheap types suited only for limited home construction right up to highly sophisticated irons with many facilities. If the iron is to be used for straightforward construction of electronic boards using leaded then a straightforward mid range iron may be suitable.

There are a number of requirements that may be placed upon a soldering iron. The main requirement is that the iron should be temperature controlled. Simple irons do not have temperature control and their temperature is maintained by the level of cooling that can vary according to many factors ranging from the location, the temperature of the day, whether the iron is in a draught, etc. Thus their temperature will only be approximately in the right region for soldering.

Fully temperature controlled soldering irons have a thermostat to control the temperature. This is also adjustable and enables the soldering iron temperature to be set and maintained at the correct value.

Electro-static discharge, ESD

Electro-static discharge, ESD can cause major problems with today's electronic equipment. Static that builds up on any item, if discharged through an electronic circuit can damage the components, and in particular integrated where the feature sizes may be only a few microns. Even comparatively low static voltages can give rise to currents that can burn out the small connections, or the voltages themselves can break down the thin oxide layers. While ESD can cause an immediate failure, it can also cause latent defects where the chip is weakened and this can lead to a defect in the field.

As a result of this any soldering equipment used for electronics equipment these days must be protected against ESD so that it can be used safely for soldering electronic equipment.

Soldering stations

One of the major elements that is always required in any electronics production or PCB assembly area is the ability for re-work. There will always be board failures and as a result, components need to e removed and replaced. This needs to be done using skill and the right equipment so that no damage is caused. While de-soldering tools are helpful a full solder station is an essential item. The solder station comprises equipment for solder and de-soldering. The de-soldering elements of the solder station normally comprise a heated element with a central hole that is connected to a vacuum pump. In this way the solder station can be used to effectively apply heat and remove the solder from the joint. This means that a solder station will be the most effective way of ensuring that any rework is undertaken with the minimum of risk to the board.

By Ian Poole

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