Accelerating the Selective Soldering Learning Curve

October 01, 2013

When qualifying a new manufacturing process, it is essential to review the experience and skill levels of key staff members, including factory personnel and the manufacturing engineering team. All processes should deliver repeatable results, which comes from having knowledgeable personnel and advanced high performance process equipment. By investing in the professional development of its manufacturing and engineering staff, every company involved in the electronic printed circuit board (PCB) assembly business can increase its value-add, reduce their production costs and improve its operating efficiency. An investment in employee training is often rewarded with a corresponding effort to excel.

Selective Soldering Technology
Selective soldering is a relatively new technology compared to other more traditional soldering methods such as reflow soldering, wave soldering or hand soldering. Because it is a newer technology, many equipment operators, shop floor technicians, process engineers as well as manufacturing and quality personnel who are experienced in surface mount and through-hole assembly may need to expand their expertise to learn more about selective soldering. With proper knowledge, many end-users can often get more out of their selective soldering machines. Equipment manufacturers such as ACE Production Technologies are aware of the need to find better ways to communicate knowledge about the selective soldering process. One solution is to conduct selective soldering workshops in our factory where the machines are built and tested, and where our process development engineers work and have process diagnostic tools and analysis equipment available for our customers.

Production technology and human resource departments go hand-in-hand to ensure good selective soldering equipment performance. Procuring advanced technology selective soldering equipment also requires skilled and knowledgeable personnel. Developing a partnership with an equipment supplier capable of providing in-depth process training can help guarantee the utmost in quality, manufacturability and reproducibility. Having access to this type of training allows equipment operators and process engineers to expedite the learning curve immediately following new installations. Workshops dedicated to selective soldering also enrich the understanding of how a PCB is constructed and how certain PCB manufacturing characteristics effect soldering.

Achieving high quality levels, good first pass yields and eliminating defects are important aspects for all electronics assembly companies in order to compete globally and provide high quality end products. Eliminating defects and increasing throughput are paramount to keeping pace in a highly competitive electronics manufacturing business. Having the latest advanced technology processing equipment in and of itself does not ensure process repeatability since advanced equipment also requires knowledgeable and experienced factory personnel and engineering staff for optimal results. Quality assurance starts with having the best process equipment available, together with a regimented and proven process, but these tools must be combined with personnel with the expertise to deliver positive results.

Employee turnover can have a cost and impact on a manufacturing facility much greater than many managers might think. A recent survey indicated that 40% of employees who receive poor job training leave their positions within the first year. Those leaving a position cite a lack of skills training and development as principal reason for moving on. With even one less worker, a company’s productivity will slip and current staff members will be required to work more hours, which can affect employee morale. Time must be spent to find a replacement for the worker who left, to screen and interview applicants. Once someone is hired there is an obvious need to train that person which causes the cost of staff turnover to further increase. Figures vary, but the cost can be as high as $2,500, depending upon the position, to replace a frontline shop floor employee. By providing suitable training, employee turnover can be reduced.

Training Boosts Efficiency
Training can provide profound benefits for an electronics assembly company since training is essential for knowledge transfer, enables manufacturing flexibility and efficiency, and helps a business run better and more profitably. Trained employees have increased job satisfaction, higher retention rates and improved morale. When implementing new technologies or methods within an electronics assembly operation, training is a key ingredient for achieving increased process efficiencies resulting in an improved financial picture. Properly trained employees feel more empowered to implement quality initiatives that can help the company, such as total quality management (TQM) efforts or quality circles and actions that lead to increased manufacturing yields, improved product quality and increased productivity. Initial training often takes place during the installation and startup of new production equipment. During his time, topics such as setup, basic operation and preventative maintenance are usually covered. In addition, there is a significant benefit in supplementing this initial training with follow-on professional development courses since the upgrade in employee skills makes perfectly good business sense.

Training can also be more effective when conducted off-site. Personnel attending an offsite workshop training program are better able to focus on the subject and come away with in-depth knowledge without the day-to-day distractions of their shop floor. Although the return on investment may take a while to appear, the long-term gains associated with employee training can make a substantial difference in a manufacturing facility’s productivity and quality. For the short-term expense of an offsite workshop training program it is possible to maintain qualified, productive and satisfied workers who will help a company prosper and grow.

ACE Production Technologies, Inc. strives to bring value and quality to its customers by providing a series of selective soldering workshops. We provide an introductory workshop for those new to the selective soldering process and an advanced workshop for experienced users. The curriculum is based on real-world practice and both workshops are equally divided between classroom theory and hands-on training. The introductory workshop focuses on: the fundamentals of through-hole soldering, solderability and solder alloys; flux deposition, flux activation and thermal profiling; design guidelines and quality measurement; a troubleshooting guideline and process optimization procedures are also covered. The hands-on training portion covers programming, preventative maintenance practices and developing a robust soldering process.

The advanced workshop addresses topics including: printed circuit board design manufacturability, which PCB characteristics impact the soldering process; laminate choices, surface finishes, plating thickness and layer count; what parameters can the selective machine adjust for; and optimal thermal transfer properties for effective soldering. The hands-on training portion covers solder joint inspection protocols, ionic contamination testing and solderability testing.

Both 2-day workshops are highly successful and assist end-users in defining the proper understanding of component thermal limitations, clearance restrictions, thermal requirements and solder joint reliability issues. These professional development workshops provide a complete overview together with in-depth knowledge of the selective soldering process. A complete set of handout and reference materials are provided to each workshop attendee.

Testimonials from some recent attendees of the ACE selective soldering workshops:

“I learned a lot more than what I expected to. They covered a number of areas that I didn’t know well, or had forgotten about over the years. I had a number of questions for them and happily received a comprehensive answer for each one. Being at the factory was one of my favorite aspects of the workshop. I could visit whatever department I wanted to, and pick their brain for information and answers. I asked several questions of various people in different departments and they all either had the answer already, or found it for me. Since the workshop, I am able to operate our machines more efficiently and effectively than ever before.” “Your efforts and hard work were greatly appreciated by us. You guys were great teachers, hosts and just great people. I learned a tremendous amount of information on the selective soldering process at this workshop that I know will help tremendously as I start into selective soldering at our company. Again thanks for the great knowledge and great hospitality.” “I want to thank everyone at ACE for your instruction, peer-to-peer discussions and most importantly your hospitality. The time and effort put into your products was reflected in each of the members I met on this past trip, magnanimously. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to meet with each of you and see just what goes into each of your selective solder machines, and the culture of your business. Thank you again for your time knowledge and hospitality, it will not be forgotten.” “I wanted to sincerely thank you and your staff for the training class we just finished. We gained some invaluable knowledge from both aspects of the workshop. Everyone that we came across within your facility treated us like we were the most important customer to your organization, which is extremely refreshing. Your application people were a delight to work with, they are not only very knowledgeable but the customer service was at a very high level. They helped open our eyes when it comes to tips and techniques as well as processes. On our plant tour every person we encountered extended a helping hand and made sure that all of our needs were met. Overall the whole experience was wonderful and I can’t express my gratitude for everything that ACE has done and will continue to do for us. This trip in conjunction with the high level of customer service we’ve received from day one has cemented what I hope to be a long term business relationship with ACE.”

Introductory Workshop
The classroom portion of the introductory workshop is conducted by well-known process expert Bob Klenke of ITM Consulting while the hands-on portion is taught by the expert staff members in the ACE application lab. The curriculum for the introductory selective soldering workshop includes:

• Fundamentals of through-hole soldering
• Solderability
• Solder alloys
• Flux deposition
• Flux activation
• Thermal profiling
• Design guidelines
• Quality measurement
• Troubleshooting guideline
• Process optimization
• Programming
• Preventative maintenance

Advanced Workshop
The classroom portion of the advanced workshop is instructed by renowned fabrication expert Stan Bentley of DIVSYS International with the hands-on segments taught by the ACE application staff. The curriculum for the advanced selective soldering workshop includes:

• Printed circuit board design manufacturability
• PCB characteristics impact the soldering process
• Laminate choices
• Surface finishes
• Plating thickness and layer count
• What parameters can the selective machine adjust for
• Optimal thermal transfer properties for effective soldering
• Solder joint inspection protocols
• Ionic contamination testing
• Solderability testing

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of US Tech magazine

[Official Press Release]