Despite a common way to fix components to a circuit, soldering needs proficiency. Melting the solder without damaging circuitry or other components and getting the right amount of solder in the right place is tricky. The basic tool for soldering is a soldering iron, which is nothing but a simple heating element used for melting solder. With electronics becoming increasingly complex, and circuits going compact, more precision is required in soldering irons. Hence, different soldering irons are required for different soldering jobs
By Richa Chakravarty
Monday, April 9, 2012: Global trends in soldering irons
According to Dipti Patil, general manager, Kyoritsu Automation India Pvt Ltd, “Global trends in soldering irons are at their technological best, with innovations being made continuously in the products, in process complexity and in equipment costs by soldering equipment giants.” There have been various developments in soldering methods and equipment. Today, customers not only look for cost effective methods but are equally concerned about quality issues. Informs Dilip Rane, regional sales manager, SE Asia, OK International India, “Globally, customers look for a soldering iron with the ability to meet the increasing thermal demands of new technologies such as LEDs and solar applications. Customers not only look for greater productivity but also want
minimum operator interference in the soldering process to ensure that process quality is maintained. The latest trend includes
parameters of joint temperatures requirements to ensure a good intermetallic bond.”
The level of understanding about the process requirements is increasing exponentially. Many organisations have adopted a daily, basic temperature verification process for soldering iron tips, which increases the quality of solder joints. Customers also look for stand alone irons with a digital display and inbuilt calibration. Says Ajay Gupta, director, Advance Tech Services Pvt Ltd, “Global technology trends in soldering irons are moving towards more energy efficient products and a lower cost of ownership. Several technologies like ultrasonic heating and induction heating, are driving the market.”
Another trend that is apparent is to design a soldering iron keeping the operator’s comfort and efficiency in mind. Modern irons
are very lightweight, have fine wire for easy movement and have an ultra long life tip.
Keeping abreast with the evolving technology and specific requirements of the customers, there have been advances in the performance of hand soldering tools. Manufacturers today have overcome the challenge of transferring heat to the area of application without significantly increasing the working temperature of the soldering tool. This is achieved by increasing the thermal capacity of the tool. More attention is also being paid to applications that require more precise soldering techniques; hence, more features are being added to these irons. Features like temperature lock-out for process control, auto setback and auto off for improving tip life; and Fahrenheit-to-Celsius conversion
capabilities, are some of the latest improvements in soldering irons.
Soldering irons come in both high and low wattage versions. They also have variable temperature settings to deliver the appropriate amount of heat for a desired job. Thus, the heat required dictates the choice of a soldering iron. “Goot, Japan has introduced ‘tip heater sensor’ integrated technology, where there is no loss of energy because of the absence of air, which acts as a bad conductor of heat. This avoids oxidation, which, in turn, acts as an insulation layer. It offers quick heat generation (6 sec to set
temperature). This new technology has the capability to do the same work in 300°C and at lesser time, whereas through the conventional method, the temperature required would be as high as 400°C,” informs Ajay Gupta.
Developments are taking place in soldering tips as well. In order to overcome shorter life expectancy in soldering tips, an increased thickness of iron is used, which improves the tip’s life. However, the industry is now using ceramic tips as well. Also, users are getting more educated and spending more time while choosing a bit. The most appropriate bit is thick and short. Short bits can store more heat and deliver it more efficiently compared to the long and narrow ones. Says Dilip Rane, “Conventional soldering irons are fixed power systems that store energy in their tips. They do not adjust power in response to thermal demand. The temperature needs to be manually set and adjusted to vary the amount of thermal energy applied. Also, there is always the danger of overshooting as the tip cools, since it heats the joint and the heater reheats the tip. Moreover, conventional soldering systems require calibration, whereas the latest soldering technologies have overcome all such limitations.”
Using SmartHeat soldering technology, OK International offers ‘smart heat’ tips and cartridges that sense the load and instantly deliver the right amount of heat directly to the solder joint. It operates at safer temperatures where power is delivered in proportion to the load, which eliminates the possibility of overshooting. Also, it does not require any calibration, which saves money and system downtime.
Another effective feature added to soldering irons is that of accurate electronic temperature control. The temperature of the iron
can be easily adjusted with the front panel control knob. This means the user always knows whether the tip of the iron is hot enough for the material to be soldered. Also, one of the main problems of most of the soldering irons is that users need to wait for the iron to get heated up from its cold stage to be ready for soldering. This not only happens at the initial stage, but also in between jobs if left unused for a long period of time. The latest soldering irons come with built-in activators that automatically shut down the power after a designated time of inactivity. Loaded with advanced features Kyoritsu’s soldering iron offers digital three stage temperature setting function. Its optimal temperature loss assistant function alongwith auto sleep mode saves energy and ensures long life of tip. With EMS function on the tip, it minimises mistakes during soldering.
Where does India stand?
Manufacturing in this domain is still a distant dream in India. When it comes to procuring a reliable and technically advanced soldering iron, most products are being imported. While some players assemble in India, others like Soldron, which are pioneers in soldering irons, manufacture some of the most reliable products locally.
Despite the low levels of manufacturing in India, experts believe there has been a positive shift in India, with regard to adopting the
latest technology. Opines Dipti Patil, “India is treading on the advanced path, which is in sync with the global trends. Rapid development and the growing complexity of electronic equipment have forced Indian electronics companies to go in for high quality, fast operating, mass-production-compatible soldering methods. Solder joints are vital parts of an electronics assembly. These are critical to electronic equipment, including computers. Thus, soldering methods and equipment have to be carefully selected, taking into consideration all the factors involved in assembly. The economic advantage of the soldering process can only be realised if it is associated with high reliability.”
Today many Indian companies adhere to various industry standards. They follow the IPC standards (formerly known as the Institute for Interconnecting and Packaging electronics Circuits) and organise training for the operators to ensure soldering quality. With IPC coming into India and many training centres being set up, experts believe the hand soldering process in India will definitely improve. Also, with India’s e-waste rules having been put in place, the thermal demand on the joint will increase due to the use of lead free solders.
Adds Manish Kwatra, “Most soldering products in India today meet or exceed the stringent requirements for electrical over stress (EOS) and electro static dissipative (ESD) standards. Also, irons for lead free solders, which are now a prerequisite for products being exported to Europe, adhere to the restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS) standards.” In a nutshell, India may not be
manufacturing soldering irons in large volumes, but local demand for technologically advanced and quality soldering irons is very high. Hence, all the global trends are also being witnessed in India.
What players offer
Keeping a tab on the latest technology, the prominent players in the industry have an array of advanced products. Kyoritsu Automation, with its Korean principal Good Feel Co Ltd, offers high frequency induction heating soldering iron, AL301S. This is an environment friendly product that does not use lead. The AL301S and i153 series incorporates a state-of-the-art technology that dynamically responds to the load, precisely delivering the required energy for each connection, while protecting sensitive components and substrates from damage. This product series provides high power solutions for production soldering, touch-up soldering and SMD rework. “This is perfect for lead free soldering with a temperature sensor that functions inside the tip. With this technology, users are assured of highly responsive and controlled heating. With nearly double the power, the time to recovery increases production rates and throughput,” says Dipti Patil.
Some soldering irons have a temperature control switch, while there are less expensive soldering irons that do not have temperature settings. There are also models that are powered by butane gas instead of electricity. Modern irons use ceramic tips to adjust to specific applications. These tips come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including very specialised shapes to meet specific requirements.
OK International, another major player in this segment, offers three ranges of soldering systems, all using Metcal’s SmartHeat technology. Its PS series is an entry level system allowing the advantages of ‘smart heat’ to be applied to cost sensitive applications. The MFR series provides its customers with affordable solder cartridges and rework systems for a variety of applications. Its MX series is designed to address the most demanding applications for its customers in leading edge technologies, ensuring that the soldering in high value assemblies is done safely and easily.
WXMP from Weller is a powerful 40W fine soldering iron with an integrated heating system in the soldering tip. Thanks to its plug-in system, the soldering tip can be changed without tools. WXMP is equipped with a usage detector and can be automatically switched to stand-by mode or switched off when not in use. Weller has also launched WXDP 120, a desoldering iron. The products offered by Weller are ideal for professional reworking on the latest electronic components in the industrial operation.
With its principal Goot, Japan, the soldering technology that Advance Tech Services offers is entirely of the type that incorporates a tip heater and highly sensitive sensor integrated technology. Its RX-802AS (70W) for PCB soldering, RX-852AS (150W) for heavy mass point soldering and RX-822AS (dual soldering iron technology using 70W and 150W) ensures the bits last three times longer than that of any other reputed firm.
Kurtz Ersa, the German principal of Bergen Associates, offers solutions for screen printing, soldering, reworking and inspection. Higher working temperatures and smaller process windows for lead-free hand soldering demand precise temperature control of the soldering tip and rapid recovery
of the heating element. Guaranteeing quality in lead-free environments puts the greatest demand on hand soldering applications. Hence, to meet these challenges, Esra has launched i-Con Pico. This is small, lightweight, ergonomically designed and does not get too hot during use, while offering maximum power and efficiency.
Players who offer soldering irons
- Tech Services Pvt Ltd
- Ascomp Inc
- Bergen Associates Pvt Ltd
- Blue Sky Systems
- Inde Enterprises
- Klapp Heating Tools Pvt Ltd
- Kyoritsu Automation India Pvt Ltd
- Max Technology & Co
- Mectronics Marketing Services
- Metro Electronic Products
- Mithra Electronics
- OK International
- RS Components & Controls (India) Ltd
- Silvertone Trading Co
- Srinivasa Electronics
- Sumitron Exports Pvt Ltd
- Vimla Engineering
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