New Excel Software Tools to Practice for SMTA Certification #2: Reflow Profiling


In my last post, I shared about an Excelbased software tool called Line Balancer to help candidates for SMTA Certification prepare for the line balancing part of the program. They can use Line Balancer to check the correctness of practice line balancing problems. This post will discuss another Excel-based software tool, Reflow Profiler, to help candidates prep for the reflow profiling part of the certification.

Typically, the reflow profiling goal is to determine if the reflow profile matches the requirements of the solder paste specification.

As an example, let’s consider a reflow profile as shown in Figure 1. The solder paste specification is shown in Figure 2. We will first solve the problem by hand and then use the software.

Figure 1. A ramp-to-peak reflow profile.
Figure 2. The solder paste reflow specification

The first task is to determine if the ramp-to-peak rate matches the solder paste specification outlined in red in the specification shown in Figure 3. By measuring the change in temperature in Figure 4 from point A to B and dividing it by the change in time from those points, we see in Figure 4 that the ramp-to peak-rate is 0.857°C/sec., and is within the recommended specifications 0.5 to 1.0°C/sec.

Figure 3. The solder paste specification with the ramp-to-peak rate highlighted.
Figure 4. The reflow profile with the ramp-to-peak rate calculated.

Figure 5 shows the solder paste specification with the time above liquidus (TAL) with the peak temperature highlighted. While Figure 6 shows the reflow profile, where the TAL is measured as 60 seconds and the peak temperature at 240°C, both are consistent with the recommended values.

Figure 5. The solder paste specification with the TAL and peak temperature highlighted.
Figure 6. The reflow profile with the TAL and peak temperature identified.

Lastly, Figure 7 shows the solder paste specification with the cooling ramp rate highlighted and Figure 8 shows the reflow profile with the cooling rate calculated as -2.8°C/s, again within the specification.

Figure 7. The solder paste specification with the cooling rate highlighted.
Figure 8. The reflow profile with the cooling rate calculated.
Figure 9 shows all of the calculations performed and matched to the specification with Reflow Profiler.

If you are interested in a copy of Reflow Profiler send me an email at [email protected].

Dr. Ron

Revelations at ACI


I’m taking a few moments from Wassail Weekend, held annually in my village, Woodstock, VT (“The prettiest small town in America”), to write a post about the recent workshops at ACI.

Indium colleague Ed Briggs and I gave a three-hour presentation on “Lead-Free Assembly for High Yields and Reliability.” I think Ed’s analyses of “graping” and the “head-in-pillow” defect are the best around.

There was quite a bit of discussion on the challenges faced by solder paste flux in the new world of lead-free solder paste and miniaturized components (i.e., very small solder paste deposits.) One of the hottest topics was nitrogen and lead-free SMT assembly. There seemed to be uniform agreement that solder paste users should be able to demand that their lead-free solder paste perform well with any PWB pad finish (e.g., OSP, immersion silver, electroless nickel-gold, etc.) without the use of nitrogen. Not only does using nitrogen cost money, but it will usually make tombstoning worse. However, in the opinion of most people, nitrogen is a must for wave soldering and, since it minimizes dross development, it likely pays for itself.

After Ed and I finished, Fred Dimock, of BTU, gave one of the best talks I have ever experienced on reflow soldering. He discussed thermal profiling in detail, including the importance of assuring that thermocouples are not oxidized (when oxidized they lose accuracy). He also discussed a reflow oven design that minimizes temperature overshoot during heating, and undershoot when the heater is off. Understanding these topics is critical with the tight temperature control that many lead-free assemblers face.

Fred Verdi of ACI finished the meeting with an excellent presentation on “Pb-free Electronics for Aerospace and Defense.” Fred’s talk discussed the work that went into the “Manhattan Project.” A free download of the entire project report is available.

There appears to be agreement that acceptable lead-free reliability has been established for consumer products with lifetimes of five years or so, but not for military/aerospace electronics where lifetimes can be up to 40 years and under harsh service conditions. These vast product lifetime and consequences of failure differences are depicted in Fred’s chart (see the pdf link). Commercial products are in quadrant A and military/aerospace products in quadrant D.

One of the greatest risks faced by quadrant D products is tin whiskers. Fred spent quite a bit of time discussing this interesting phenomenon. One of the challenges of this risk is that there is no way to accelerate it, so you can’t do an equivalent test to accelerated thermal cycling or drop shock. Fred mentioned that there have now been verified tin whisker fails, the Toyota accelerator mechanism being one.

In addition to tin whiskers, lead-free reliability for quadrant D products (with a service life of up to 40 years) in thermal cycle and other areas remains a concern.  I mention that tin pest was not on the list of issues for this quadrant.

Fred and the Manhattan Project Team have identified many “gaps” that need to be addressed to determine and mitigate the risk of lead-free assembly for quadrant D products.  They plan to start this approximately $100 million program in 2013.

For those that missed this free workshop, another is planned in about six months.


Dr. Ron

Patty and the Professor: Heading Off HIP

Patty, Rob, and The Professor finished their tasks in Shenzen and were flying to Shanghai for their last set of challenges in electronics assembly. Then they would head back to the US, Rob and Patty being only a week away from their wedding day.

As usual Rob, conked out as soon as the plane lifted off. Surprisingly, The Professor also drifted off to sleep. Patty was too excited to sleep. Rob’s mother had given her and Rob their wedding presents early … an iPad for each. They decided to bring only one laptop and one iPad. Patty was a little nervous about using the iPad for presentations but it worked quite well. She was still surprised that the iPad did not have a USB port. The Professor also gave each of them an early wedding present, a Pickett slide rule for Rob and a K&E slide rule for her. She must be the only person in the world right now that was watching a movie on an iPad and solving a math problem with a slide rule!

True to form, The Professor was passionate about how learning to use a slide rule helped improve a person’s innate math ability. He showed Patty and Rob how to use them and gave them several assignments. Rob was better with his slide rule than Patty due to the amount of “one on one” time he had with The Professor. She had to admit that using the “slip stick” gave one more of a feel for calculations and it was consistent with one of The Professor’s adages: “Always know approximately what the answer to a calculation should be … it will help you to avoid errors.”

In addition to the iPad and slide rule, Patty was excited to be going to Shanghai at the time of the World Expo 2010. Our trio had scheduled some time at the expo into their busy schedule.

Their plan was for Rob and The Professor to work on some productivity issues and for Patty to take on some of the process materials related problems. The three of them again met with the site GM for ACME’s newly acquired plant in Shanghai, a Mr. Wong. Wong was relieved to find that they all spoke Mandarin, as his English was a little rough. When The Professor addressed him in excellent Shanghainese, everyone was speechless. Patty was determined to ask him about this later. No American spoke Mandarin, Cantonese, and Shanghainese!

They again agreed to stick to Mandarin. Patty headed out to the line, accompanied by a young Chinese engineer, Zhou Chang, who seemed to be taking more interest in her than expected. She tried to make her engagement ring visible, but she wasn’t sure he recognized its significance. When she got to the line that was experiencing yield problems, she was met by the engineering manager, Fei Ding. He showed her some of the fails and she quickly identified head-in-pillow defect as the likely culprit. After investigating more fails, looking at stencil printing, some of the BGA components, and component placement, she asked Zhou Chang what spec was used to thermal profile the line.

“I don’t understand what you mean,” Zhou said in Mandarin.

“How do you determine what the reflow profile should be?” Patty responded.

With more discussion, Patty determined that they had one profile for all products! Fortunately most of the products were of similar, small thermal mass.

“What solder paste do you use for this line?” Patty asked.

The embarrassed silence suggested that Zhou did not know. They grabbed a tube and Patty was relieved to see that it was one of her favor solder pastes. Since profiling was so rarely performed, Patty and Zhou had to go to another part of the complex almost a mile away to find a reflow profiling unit. After taking the profile, the likely solution appeared. The 11-zone oven was very long and the reflow profile had a long thermal “soak” before the temperature went above liquidus. This long soak probably exhausted the flux, so that when the PWB went above liquidus, there was little flux left, resulting in oxidation and poor reflow.

All during their time together, she had mentioned that her fiancée Rob was with her on the trip. This information seemed to do the trick.

“Zhou, why don’t you look up the solder paste spec on the web and then set up the right type reflow profile,” Patty suggested.

It was clear that Zhou was troubled. It became obvious Zhou did not know how to profile a reflow oven. Patty set about working with Zhou to accomplish this mission. Within an hour they had re-profiled the oven and, over the next two hours, 300 PCBs were manufactured with the yield improved to 95%.

Patty asked Fei if she could give a brief presentation on the head-in-pillow defect to his team and he cheerfully agreed.

Her major points were:

HIP is caused by the failure of the BGA sphere to reflow with the solder paste. There are three major reasons for HIP:

1. Supplier Issues
a. Solder BGA sphere oxidation
b. Silver segregation to the BGA sphere surface

2. Process Issues
a. Stencil
i. Registration accuracy
ii. Insufficient solder paste
b. Component Placement
i. Off pad
ii. Out of plane
iii. Non optimum pressure
c. Reflow
i. Inappropriate reflow profile
ii. Flux exhaustion
iii. PWB warpage

3. Material Issues
a. Poor solder paste transfer efficiency
b. Insufficient solder flux oxidation barrier
c. Solder paste slump
d. PWB or BGA warpage

Patty went on to say that she had investigated all these issues with Zhou, and that the reflow profile was not optimum as the very long soak time had exhausted the flux. The other possible issues in the list did not seem to be a concern.

At the end of the day Patty, Rob, and The Professor met at the GM’s office to leave together for dinner and the Expo. Patty had to ask, “Professor, how can you possible know Mandarin, Cantonese, and Shanghainese?”

“Actually, I speak Min reasonably well, too,” he replied.

“How can this be?” Rob inquired.

“Mother and father were missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators,” The Professor answered. “I grew about around many languages during my youth. Mother and father speak more than I do.”

Patty went on to tell about the interest that Zhou Chang seemed to have in her, and how she had to discourage him.

“The burdens of being a beautiful young woman,” Rob teased.

Patty elbowed him, but they all left the taxi laughing as they headed for a restaurant near the Expo.

Best Wishes,

Dr. Ron