Reflow Oven Profiling Automation

2009 Presentation at SMTA Long Island on how to automate your reflow profiling processes, with added benefits such as traceability and process control.

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Are you profiling bare boards or bricks?

No one of course reflows bare boards, so why would you profile one?  For that same matter, no one sells bricks, so why do you put one through your reflow oven?

Profiling Bare Boards:

Today I came across CM doing exactly this.  They were processing networking boards.   They were  just too complex and expensive to profile, so the solution instead of finding a scrap board or some other reasonable substitute was to profile it as a bare board.  I guess the thinking was it is better than nothing, but can anyone honestly say that a bare board comes close to representing a true production board?  After all wouldn’t you agree profiling modern boards with mixed components, higher densities and micro-BGAs are already a challenge and to think profiling a bare board would yield any reliable results is a stretch?

Profiling Bricks:

So if this is such a terrible solution, what about putting a brick through your reflow oven?   A brick, come on Brian, who does this?  Well what do you think you are doing when you take one of the many fixtures available on the market that are used for characterizing an oven and using it to profile?    I bet if you melted them down (with profiler included) they aren’t far off in mass from a brick.   Consider the following attributes of a large mass:

  1. A large mass will behave differently than a production board.
  2. A large mass acts like a heat sink and will cause the oven to react differently compared to when a production board is run through the reflow oven.
  3. A large mass will result in a change to airflow due to its larger size as compared to the production board.

Now notice I included the profiler as part of the mass.  Many fixtures further add mass by adding a two pound weight to the fixture!   Now don’t get me wrong, these fixture do give you a relative measurement from week to week or month to month as to changes in the oven, but they do not tell you if your product is in spec nor provide a thermal profile.   Changes in the oven do not neatly correlate to changes in one’s profile.  After all how can they?   Chaos theory came out of the field of thermal dynamics, nothing neat about it.  Just like a bare board is no substitute to a populated PCB, a brick is also no substitute.

Don’t take my word for it, hear it from the oven manufacturers themselves.  http://profilingguru.com/reflow/standard-calibration-tool-for-reflow-process/

Here is a quote from Fred Dimock of BTU:

Oven manufacturers normally use custom designed test fixtures to simulate a board but their real purpose is to measure uniformity across the oven and confirm that the oven is working correctly.

….I have personally seen companies place unrealistic performance specifications on reflow oven testing with (fixtures) boards that have little to do with actual production needs. For example, we once were required to show that an oven could reproduce an inspect ramp soak spike profile on two 12 X 18 inch aluminum sheets that were 0.040 and 0.080 inches thick without changing any recipe parameters….

….From a surface mount manufacturing point of view – single board oven performance testing has little benefit. The real answers are to use actual boards with TCs placed on the critical components….

Both solutions profiling bare boards and bricks are inadequate.  Make matters worse if you do both such as I saw with this CM, the results are only compounded.  In other words, you are developing a profile based on an unpopulated board and afterwords taking measurements with a thermal mass that does not in anyway represent how your oven will in fact react to a production board.  This is classic garbage in, garbage out.autofocus

Now there are alternative solutions that don’t require the destruction of a production board in the process.   Many of the automated systems will create accurate virtual representations of production boards without the need to attach a single thermocouple.   There are also some brilliant software solutions that allow you to create accurate profiles without the need to run a profile.  http://profilingguru.com/category/reflow/automation/

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No Waste: Beyond PCBs in Reflow Profiling

Article is from SMT Magazine

In many situations, EMS providers cannot waste a PCB for thermal profiling. Some ovens are equipped with profiling tools to generate an accurate reflow recipe without thermal profiling. This saves time, labor, money, and materials, but there are limitations.

By Brian O’Leary, KIC

There is a right way and a wrong way to set up a reflow oven to manufacture a new PCB assembly. This article suggests using the wrong method, but for the right reason. If an electronics manufacturer is prevented from following the correct method for setting up the reflow oven for a new production run, does a fallback position exist where they can still expect good results? For example, contract manufacturers find themselves in a not-so-uncommon situation where the manufacturer receives 100 boards and is expected to give a 100 assembled boards back. Sacrificing a single PCB to the profiling process is not an option. In another example, a manufacturer has PCBs that run in the several thousands of dollars. A suitable scrap board is not available for profiling, due to the cost incurred for the lost PCB.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Traditional Reflow Oven Set-up

The traditional method for setting up a reflow oven to manufacture a new PCB assembly is to attach thermocouples (TCs) to the PCB and run a series of profiles. Multiple profiles are usually required for the technician to adjust the oven recipe until an in-spec or deep in-spec profile is found. The introduction of lead-free assemblies has made this task more difficult and time-consuming. However, automatic prediction software and process optimization software have significantly cut down on the number of profile iterations required to determine the oven recipe that provides an in-spec process.

The benefit of this conventional reflow profiling method is clear: It achieves a deep in-spec and therefore stable process that is fundamental to good end-product quality. It also provides documentation to the client that proper process development work was performed.

These procedures, however, tend to sacrifice one or more PCBs. One reason for this concerns the TC attachment method. There are several TC attachment solutions, some more destructive to the PCB assembly than others. The use of high-temperature solder wire is a reliable method, but tends to damage the PCB assembly. Aluminum tape is also a reliable and repeatable method with the added benefit that the tape can be removed after the profile without damaging components.

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A second cause of PCB damage is the fact that each subsequent thermal cycle through the reflow oven raises the risk of latent or real defects as solder joints are re-reflowed, components are exposed to multiple reflow cycles, and the properties of the substrate changing. The PCB gets lighter, discolored, and more brittle with multiple profiles. Therefore, even with non-destructive TC attachment methods, such as aluminum tape, the PCB may need to be discarded when several profiles are run.

A final risk is that the technician selects, often guessing, a wrong initial oven recipe prior to the first profile. The initial recipe could damage the PCB. This could happen when the peak temperature is too high, the slope too steep, the soak prematurely dries out the volatiles in the paste, etc.

Profiling the Reflow Oven, Not the PCB

Modern reflow ovens are a far cry from their legacy siblings. Each oven model produced in volume tends to have very tight and similar thermal characteristics to each other. Equally important, these properties do not change over time as rapidly as in the past due to better flux management, improved oven control systems, more precise mechanics, etc. This enables new thermal process tools that “learn” the behavior of each oven model. To capture the thermal properties of a specific oven model, numerous profiles are run on a variety of PCB assemblies under differing process windows. This database will cover all but the most unusual applications encountered in SMT production. Once this work has been done, it is a simple matter of copying the information onto all the similar oven models. At that point, the operator could simply enter the basic information of the application, such as the length, width, and weight of the PCB assembly as well as the appropriate process window, and the oven will find its suitable recipe (zone temperatures and conveyor speed). This recipe will yield an in-spec profile in the vast majority of the cases without the need to run a profile or attach TCs. Experience with such technologies also suggests that when the recipe generated by the new thermal process tools does not yield an in-spec profile, it is usually very close.

Some U.S. oven manufacturers have completed this work. These reflow oven makers ship ovens with a fully functional database that essentially allows their customers to set up for new production runs without the need for profiling and sacrificing PCBs.

These systems do have limitations. The first was alluded to above, namely that there will be a small percentage of the applications that will not be processed in-spec. The fail-safe method is to wait for the oven to stabilize on the suggested recipe and then run an old-fashioned profile to verify whether it is in-spec. If out of spec, it should, in the vast majority of the cases, be close enough to achieve an in-spec profile on the second try. One profiling pass through the reflow oven, with aluminum tape used for TC attach, should not damage the PCB assembly.

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Another limitation is that an oven will, given enough time, eventually change its thermal properties. Wear and tear, changes in exhaust conditions, preventive maintenance, and a host of other factors will have an accumulative effect on the behavior of the reflow oven. Therefore, the initial database will need to be updated. This can be achieved by running some real-life profiles from time to time, and feeding this fresh information back into the database.

The final limitation is the fact that a system that eliminates profiling, by definition, does not have a profile recorded for the specific assembly. This means that there is no documentation or evidence that the PCB was indeed processed in-spec. Some customers will accept this, while others will not and require reflow profile documentation.

Conclusion

The correct method for reflow oven set up with a new application is to profile the PCB and dial the processed deep in-spec using prediction software. If the electronics manufacturer either cannot or will not perform this task, there are now thermal process tools available that achieve a more than 80% effective solution. Oven-inherent programming produces an in-spec recipe in the vast majority of the situations with no need to profile or sacrifice a circuit board. This technology also saves set up time and associated labor.

Using a profiling technology without an actual PCB profile run is also far better than doing nothing. Many manufacturers in our industry currently do not profile at all, or they limit their profiling to a single application a few times a year. If you do not want to do traditional profiling at all, oven-generated recipes can be an intermediary, rather than blindly reflowing.

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Plugging the Hole in the SMT Reflow Inspection Process

MB (Marybeth) Allen, General Manager of KIC Europe in an interview with Globalsmt.net makes a terrific case for RPI (Reflow Process Inspection). MB_Allen

Here are some excerpts:

Q. 2009 saw the introduction of your RPI In-Line Process Inspection System for SMT reflow ovens.  For manufacturers currently relying on AOI and X-Ray systems to carry out inspection functions, can you explain how this system works and why RPI should be the choice for this process?

Automated inspection systems have become critical in controlling quality throughout the manufacturing process.  SPI (solder paste inspection) and AOI (automated optical inspection) are excellent defect detection tools, within the limitations of their design.  The RPI (reflow process inspection) inspects the reflow process for each and every manufactured PCB.

The quality of a solder joint is not only a function of whether there was adequate solder, accuracy of placement, missing components etc., but that the solder was processed correctly.  For example, the peak temperature needs to be high enough, but not too high to damage the component; the time above liquidous must be within the required range etc.  The AOI machine is not designed to check for these critical events.

KIC’s RPI verifies that the PCBs have been manufactured within the required thermal process window.  Perhaps the best example of where RPI complements AOI is in the soldering of BGAs and other Area Array Packages, where the AOI machine cannot see the solder joints as they are hidden from view by the component body.  RPI even complements X-Ray machines as these inspection systems cannot tell whether the solder joints were processed in accordance with the required profile specs.

Q. So KIC RPI offers both oven and product data in one solution, this obviously enables the operator to harness this key data and use the yield charts to refine the process. What type of data do they receive and how easy is this to understand?

RPI automatically generates both Yield and DPMO (Defects Per Million Opportunities) production charts.  There’s really nothing for the customer to do as the information on all boards produced is captured automatically.  You’ve seen these charts in many factories showing product data for many steps in the manufacturing process.  However, previously data from the reflow process was missing.  Only reflow oven machine data was available.  KIC’s RPI now provides this missing key product process data, providing another key link to product quality.

Q. This product offers a timely solution for manufacturers in this tough climate and I understand it has already received awards for its innovation. What has been your feedback so far?

Yes, RPI has already received several awards around the world.    People are looking for a solution to save money and ensure continued quality control.  When I visit customers and prospective customers their initial questions or requests can be taken care of by using RPI.  It’s wonderful to be able to say “Yes, RPI can help you with that” to most of their requests.  We have plugged the hole in the inspection process.

For the full interview go to: http://www.globalsmt.net/content/view/7583/70/

Awards:

2009 EMAsia Innovation Award in the category of Process Control Software for its RPI in-line inspection system.

2009 NPI Award in the category of Process Control Tools for its RPI in-line inspection system.

Innovative Technology Center Award at Apex 2009

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BGA Profiling Webinar Recording

The following presentation was first held as a 30 min BGA Profiling webinar in July 2009, with over 120 participants.  Due to its popularity an abridged 8 min version was created.

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What is Reflow Process Inspection?

Reflow Process Inspection is catching on as the next advancement in-line inspection systems for SMT Reflow.   I have pulled together the various aspects of RPI to better explain how it works and what are its benefits.

How does RPI fit into the inspection processes in the SMT factory?

Unlike SPI and AOI that are defect inspection systems specifically designed for viewing solder deposition and component assembly respectively, RPI complements these systems by inspecting the performance of the thermal process IN-LINE.   RPI inspects the thermal process for any joint, including those that are not visible to the AOI system such as BGA components.

What is being measured?

RPI charts the thermal Process Yield and DPMO

What are the RPI benefits?

RPI provides information on the “health” of the thermal process over time.   The Yield and DPMO charts provide instant understanding of detrimental changes in the process.  The following format is easy to read and understand and often used by management as well as engineers.

dpmoyield1

For an Overview:

mbrpi

Awards for RPI:

2009 Innovation Award

KIC’s RPI Wins a 2009 NPI Award

Innovative Technology Center Award at Apex 2009

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What is a baseline profile?

Baseline profiles are used purely for set-up purposes. They are manually-fed into the reflow oven and are run in tandem with a monitoring system in order to create what is called a “virtual profile.”   Baseline profiles, thus, become the standard by which all automated profiles are compared.  If there are any deviations between the baseline profile and the automated profile, this information is recorded and can trigger alarms and stop production temporarily. Baseline profiles also have the added advantage of becoming a true “gold standard” for all of your profiles, since the same profiling board is not being used repeatedly or subject to degradation of the PCB, thermocouples or operator error.

The set-up of a baseline profile is performed by running a normal profile, per recipe.  Meanwhile, 1-2 fixed mounted probes (typical an array of 15-30 thermocouples) collect their own set of data as the PCB runs the length of the Reflow oven with a profiler. This information is then compared and processed by the monitoring system.  This array of internally-mounted thermocouples is able to reconstruct a virtual model of a profile. When a production board enters, without the profiler, the same TC readings that were present when your oven was profiled are now re-mapped onto each and every PCB.

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Oven vs. Process Monitoring, what’s the Difference?

Thermal monitoring systems can often help you troubleshoot your oven by getting to the root causes of many process-related problems. Information on oven and process changes can be investigated. There is a very important distinction to be made between oven monitoring and process monitoring.  Changes or no noticeable changes to your “oven” may or may not impact your process.  At best, you can only infer if changes to the “oven” are impacting your process.  Changes that occur to your “process” can be tied directly to the inputs that are causing the change.

troubleshooting

We see changes to the oven, which is only half of  the picture. A sudden spike in oven temperatures strongly suggests problems, but what happens if it is only momentary? Can you say then that your product is out of spec?  If so, for how long, how many PCBs do you need to chase down the line for rework?

This is where Process Monitoring comes into play. If I look at each and every PCB profile, then I know whether or not a given product is within spec.  Typically, engineers will run their process from SPC Charts tied to Cpk.  Only when the system alarms on Cpk or there is an out-of-spec profile will they look at the data presented above to try to troubleshoot the root cause of the problem.

cpk

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Why relay signals for your reflow monitoring?

Stop the presses!  Relay signals can help you stop your process before its out of control.

Jon Moore

Consultant at Moore Consulting and Manufacturer’s Representative, Ztech Services, Central US.  (http://www.ztechservices.com/)

Jon has worked extensively in aerospace, military and automotive electronics manufacturing for 15 years. His most recent position was with TRW where he served  5 years as a Senior Manufacturing Engineer.  Included with his hands on engineering experience Jon also taught 14 years as a certified soldering and rework instructor, with both the Department of Defense Category C certification and IPC J-Std certification.  Jon has a B/S in business from State University of New York.

To subscribe to my Podcast for iTunes (click here).

jon

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Getting the Most out of Monitoring Systems

Some reflow ovens come equipped with on-board monitoring systems that identify issues leading to process-related defects.  These systems indicate the need for oven recalibration and maintenance, which might not be caught until your next scheduled recalibration/maintenance cycle.

Continuous monitoring systems identify issues using a baseline of comparison and algorithms, such as PWI, SPC charts and Cpk.

spc_charts

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