Tips on Cooking Both a Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey and a PCB

Why does it take half a day to cook a Thanksgiving turkey?  The answer is simple ― you have 20 lb of bird that simply cannot just be nuked in a microwave like last night’s dinner.  If not properly thawed, prepared and monitored, you either have an overcooked, dried-out bird or worse: Salmonella. Strangely enough, as you will see in a moment, PCBs are not that much different.

Let’s say you skip the thawing process and in your haste stick a frozen bird in the oven.  What happens?  The bird may look properly cooked on the outside, but as soon as you try your skill with the carving knife, you either hit bedrock or the inside is completely raw. OK, I will admit I speak from personal experience on this one (please do not bring this up with my wife).  Are PCBs any different?  Well, your reflow profile has a preheat phase, with the purpose of bringing your PCB to temperature. In other words, the entire mass of the board with all its components is gradually brought to equilibrium. If you do not do this, you run the risk of thermally shocking your components when they hit reflow and peak.  Thawing your bird and preheating your PCB ― you have the same objective in mind.

So, for the vast majority of us, we really have no idea when the turkey is fully cooked until getting an internal reading. A PCB is no different. On the surface, both might look great, but upon closer inspection, you discover some components have defects due to improper reflow or, for that matter, when you cut into a turkey that is still pink it really hits home that you aren’t cooking a TV dinner.


Because of this, as we all know, a 20 lb turkey requires a thermometer. I will concede that some of you use the old “poke the bird and check for pink until done” trick. Let’s assume you are not as skilled, like me, for example. Would you seriously cook a turkey by relying solely on the oven’s temperature reading on your stovetop?  Of course not, but why do some of you profile your PCB by relying on your reflow oven’s reported readings? Are either situation that much different?  Actually, yes. Your nice self-contained turkey cooking oven is more of a steady state, but there remains a large difference between what is reported by the oven and the internal temperature of your turkey. In contrast, your PCB is exposed to anything but a steady state environment because it rides on a conveyor through different heated zones with blowers, extraction systems and both ends of the oven even open to the elements!  For this reason, any oven manufacturer will adamantly tell you to profile and with regularity. Alright, you may have learned how to cook a turkey in your Mama’s kitchen and, in fact, be skilled at not using a thermometer; however, I doubt any serious SMT manufacturer would take a similar approach, checking your PCBs regularly for “doneness” in your reflow process.

What about placing the fate of your Thanksgiving feast on the cheap-o plastic pop-up indicator that likely came with the turkey? Do not laugh. How many of us use the trailing wires that came with the reflow oven?  Now to be fair, both work in principal; otherwise, you would have the likes of Purdue Farms with food poisoning lawsuits on their hands, but they only give you ballpark readings in many cases. By design, the turkey is going to be a little overdone and dried out.  Your PCB, on the other hand, cannot afford to be a little overdone or it is simply OUT of spec.  You can get by with eating the overcooked turkey … the gravy and mashed potatoes are there to make up for less than a perfectly cooked bird. But your PCB will not be as forgiving.  Trailing wires, never mind being cumbersome to use, have a tendency to kink and stretch, which compromise their readings.  They also are susceptible to 50 or 60 cycle noise from some reflow oven environments, further questioning their accuracy in some cases.

So you want to cook the perfect bird. Who doesn’t? So you pony up for a stainless steel large-dial meat thermometer to accurately read the internal temperature of your 20 lb bird. You also pony up for a KIC Explorer with Navigator because you want to create the perfect deep-in spec reflow profile. It will not only tell you the specific temperature of the joints of your $500 BGAs, but it also will find a balance that does not overcook them or any of your other temperature-sensitive components on the PCB.  No pop-up indicator profiler needs to apply since the KIC Explorer with Navigator will go the extra mile and tell you not only if you are in-spec but how DEEP in-spec your profile is, along with what can you do to improve the profile in minutes, if not seconds.  Now do you know of any turkey thermometers that can do that?

So when you prepare your Thanksgiving turkey, and as you pause to give thanks, consider applying the same care and consideration that you have given to your family’s feast as you do to your PCBs.

Happy Thanksgiving – Profilingguru


Reducing Reflow Product Changeover Time

2009 Presentation at SMT Long Island on how to reduce the changeover time from one reflow profile recipe to another.  If you ever opened up your reflow oven to dump all its heat to lessen downtime, this 4 min video is for you!!!

To view the complete video series (click here).

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


Increasing Reflow Oven Throughput

2009 Presentation at SMTAI San Diego on how to increase reflow oven throughput without sacrificing quality profiles in the process.  After you watch this 3 min video you will learn an easy method of increasing throughput on your reflow oven for a particular profile in 20 mins or less.

To view the complete video series (click here).

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


Getting your Profiler Deeper within Specification

2009 Presentation at SMTAI San Diego on how and why you need to drive your reflow profile deep within specification.  After you watch this 8 min video you will never take profiling for granted again!

To view the complete video series (click here).

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


What to do with Zig-Zagging TC Readings?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Profile Lose TC

Well if you have ever used Kapton tape to attach a thermocouple, you have certainly seen your share of profiles like this!

So what, it is a perfectly good profile, right?  Yes, but no.  I had a customer who was using KIC’s Navigation (auto prediction) to help create a better “deep in-spec” profile.  The only problem, they were trying to optimize on a TC reading that was bouncing literally all over their PCB.   Navigator is an awesome tool, but it can only work with what you feed it.  If you feed it garbage, it will give you garbage.  In their case, it was trying to find them a new solution where literally every time the board was run the bouncing TC that was attached (or I should say was not very well attached) with Kapton was giving false readings.    Navigator would give a different solution based on what the TC was reading at that given time.   It is like try to put post-it notes on the ocean.

Solution is very simple, eliminate the TC reading from your graph.  You can easily do this with the profile you just ran.  Look what happens, you go from a far out-of-spec of 126% PWI to a far in-spec of 48% PWI.

Profile Lose TC2

So you saved your hard work this time, but you are after all one thermocouple reading short.  You added that TC to your profile for a reason.  Next go around, do yourself a favor and use a better material for attachment, such a conductive double side aluminum tape, which by the way, a recent study from RIT proves it a superior attachment method aside from sticking to your PCB much better.


Across the Belt Uniformity and Reflow Profiling

I am often asked the question about how to handle components that are close to the outer edge of a PCB.   Today a question came in on Circuitnet to highlight this problem:

Title: Issues with BGA Components Near PCB Edges

What issues are we likely to see when we place BGA components very close to PCB edges?

What impact might it have on reliability?

Will equipment (screening, placement, reflow, etc.) require modification?

T. B.

I leave it to the screen printer, pick and place and reflow oven guys to answer the equipment part of the equation, but I can answer how one can determine with a profile if your BGA is getting what it needs as well as how other aspects of your PCB are impacted.

Across the Belt Uniformity:

There can be anywhere from a 2 – 5+C variation in temperature across the belt.  For example, BTU uses this homemade fixture to test for uniformity.  The idea is fairly simple.  With a set of type K calibrated thermocouples, you can easily monitor 6 TCs across the belt.  You want obviously to see the least amount of variation (if you were wondering the front TC is for measuring air temperature which is also used for automatic mapping of the profile to the oven zones with KIC2000 software).

BTU tool

Profiling for Reflow:

BGAs typically require more heat to reach their peak temperatures than smaller massed components like electrolytic capacitors.   For example, your BGA might have a peak temperature of 245C.


While your electrolytic capacitors cannot tolerate as high as a peak temperature, therefore you want to set their maximum peak temperature lower, for example to 235C (this is just a relative example).


With KIC2000 software, you can define each component in isolation.  If the BGA is off on the edge, I might need to bump up even further my peak temperature spec since in many reflow ovens, the outer edge near the rail is the coolest.  This is why you see some ovens with heat tape running along the rails!  Keep in mind of course as you crank up your oven to reach higher temps to reflow your outer edge BGAs, everything else on your board is also going to be impacted.   More the reason you better be hooking up thermocouples to temperature sensitive components to ensure they do not get fried while you are focusing your attention on your BGAs.  Profiling software that can “balance” the board is a must.  If there ever was a case where software can help solve complex problems in profiling, here you go!

I had a webinar back in July talking about BGA profiling.  There is also a video that illustrates what I explained above.  You can find this in an earlier posting:


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.

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.


Why are you replacing BGAs?

There is a great post today in Circuitnet titled “BGA Replacement Limits,” that can be found under Circuitmart.  Panelists answer the following question:

How many times can a BGA component be replaced at the same location on the same PCB and retain reliability?

Mark McMeen of STI Electronics suggests that the answer may be as little as two times!

…most companies err on the cautious side and only replace twice at the same location after the initial build which is normally 2 thermal cycles for top and bottomside reflow thermal cycles.

I think a broader question needs to be asked, why are you replacing BGAs in the first place?  In my experience, often the answer is due to poor reflow profiling.  Often there is nothing wrong with the oven, PCB or BGA.   Why is it so hard to properly profile a BGA?  I believe the reason is most folks don’t have the option of placing a thermocouple underneath the BGA nor sacrificing a board in drilling a hole on the underside for TC placement.   In the old days, you could get away with snaking a TCs under the BGA, but with micro BGAs this is just not an option.  So what do people do?  They stick a TC on top of the BGA or along side it.  Many do nothing at all which is kind of scary and wind up asking question like how many times can I redo my board.

To go to show how hot of topic this is, I held a series of webinars a couple months ago with a turnout in the hundreds.  I shared some ideas, here is an abridged 8 min version of the session for those of you that missed it. Part of the answer is proper TC attachment which by the way is currently under study at RIT to see the most reliable method as well as determine if there is a non destructive methods that is both valid and repeatable.

The other part of the equation is profiling your PCB not only for your BGAs but also those components that cannot tolerate as high of temperatures. I’ve seen plenty of manufacturers so focused on a $500 BGA, ignoring pretty much what else is going on with other components on their PCB.   Certainly having the ability to define separate specifications, for example a peak temp for a DIP while addressing the special needs of your BGAs will lead to fewer BGAs having to be reworked in the first place.

After all, which is better, to treat the symthoms or the root cause?


SMT related Links to know

RSS feeds, Tweets, blogs and newsletters, how do you keep up?   Well here is the latest on what’s available in the SMT industry.   I subscribe to all of these newsletters and regularly pick out areas of interest related to profiling for you.   I also comb the blogs though I only know of two, not including profilingguru, which is quite remarkable considering other industries have hundreds if not thousands.   The SMTA group forum on LinkedIn yields on occasion a nugget, but you need to build a profile to join.  SMTnet has always been a jewel.  Lastly, Twitter is a new phenomenon for many of us.   I am still trying to get the knack of it myself but it does have some value no doubt and will continue to grow.

On-line Newsletters:


Electronics Production World



PCB Update

SMT Week


Circuits Assembly


SMTA on LinkedIn



Circuit Assembly

Global SMT

SMT Magazine


Four Ways to Reduce your Reflow Oven’s Power Consumption

What are you paying annually in electricity to run your reflow oven?  Not taking into account indirect costs, surcharges, taxes and added wear and tear of running your oven hotter and harder, you might be paying anywhere from $6-8K per line.   This number is based off a study conducted at Flextronics Poland, where they pay close to the US national average of $.072 kWh.

Pop Quiz: Can you rank the following in order of impact on lowering your utility bill for your reflow oven?

  • Taking Oven Control Measures
  • Peak-time Power Up Minimization
  • Off-Peak Savings
  • Profiling for Energy Savings

Well if you are savvy with your utility bill, you probably identified Peak-time Power up Surcharges as the biggest money drain.  You probably did not guess Profiling for Energy Savings as the #2 energy savings technique.

Before I take you through all four techniques, keep in mind there are dozens of variables that come into play.  The numbers I use for one municipality and/or manufacturer may be vary by location, but the point should not be lost that you can save money and not sacrifice quality production in the process.  As an added bonus many of these techniques may also prolong the life of your oven and have other hidden benefits that may impact your operation.

#1:  Peak time Power Up Minimization

The following represents a fairly typical energy ramp up of a reflow oven from a dead cold state.   Many manufacturers will use the default start up to quickly get your reflow oven up to temperature and stabilized for production.  Thanks to BTU for providing the following data.

Peak Power Up 1

Now compare this to an energy savings ramp up mode for the same oven.

Peak Power Up 2

By extending your oven warm up time by only ~15 mins, there is a 15 KW difference in the peak energy output.   Many municipalities will charge a monthly surcharge based off of whatever happen to be your peak electricity use over typically a 5-15 min period.   So if you happen to turn on all your reflow ovens at the same time, AC, coffee machine, PCs, etc., you are in for a big added surcharge on your utility bill that month.

Potential Savings:

Let’s say you are in South Carolina, Duke Energy charges $13.16  KW as a peak surcharge.  Your monthly savings would be  $198 per month.  Of course if you have more than one oven this savings will be even more significant.


Many smaller manufacturers that perhaps have a single reflow oven, may be close to maxing out on their service.  I’ve seen more than one case of a 100 amp facility paying anywhere from $15K – 25K to upgrade to 200 amps.  As an example, a 9 zone Heller oven will run at 100 amps at full throttle when heating up, but you can set the oven to heat up in an energy savings mode, knocking your power down to about 63 amps.  Suddenly you don’t have to go out and install more service by just making a software change.  I know that all the major oven manufacturers that sell to about 80% of the US market (BTU, Heller, Speedline, Vitronics Soltec) have this feature, so check it out.

#2:  Profiling for Energy Savings

After 5 years,  evidence is pretty conclusive that smart profiling optimization tools can reduce reflow oven energy consumption by as much as 15%.  The following three studies demonstrate where power meters were used to measure  a “before” profile to an optimized “after” profile, using KIC Navigator-Power or KIC Auto-Focus Power.

There are basically three steps that should not take more than 15 mins to complete:

Step 1: Audit your SMT line speed.  You want to determine where is your bottleneck.  It is not uncommon to find the reflow oven running faster by 20% or more to the slowest system on your line such as the pick and place or screen printer.


John VanMeter of DG Marketing timing the line

Step 2: Run a profile


KIC Explorer 7 CH

Step 3: Run KIC’s power optimization feature in KIC Navigator.   As an process engineer I would set up your minimum allowable conveyor speed in the software above your bottleneck speed.   For example, if your current line speed is 30 in/min and an audit reveals your screen printer is running at 20 in/min, set your tolerance in the software to 23 inches.  You don’t need to make your reflow oven a possible bottleneck!   Lastly, you have the freedom to set the maximum allowable process window index (PWI).  In other words, if you know your oven can handle using up to 70% of your available spec, without any drift/variability causing you to go at times out of spec, you know your limit.   It really depends on the personality of your reflow oven.


Potential Savings:

Based off the Flextronics Poland study cited above which was conducted on a Heller 1912 EXL  manufactured in 2005 and using a kWh rate of $.076 which is practically dead on to the US national average, results in $1062 in annual savings.  Which depending on the state of manufacturing can be as high as $2472 annually per oven.   15% savings which was the case at Flex Poland, is not unusual as you will see similar results in the Delta study in Arkansas to be released in October’s issue of  Global SMT.


Added features to having KIC’s optimization software Navigator-Power or Auto-Focus-Power are the additional tools you now have for decreasing defects.   It is hard for me to know what it costs you each time you send a PCB to rework, the cost of time spent profiling when you should be making on-time deliveries and the stress and aggravation of trying to produce a run of a 100 boards when your customer wants all 100 back!  Auto-Focus power allows you to make a very good first guess profile of new board before you even profile!  You can find discussions on these tools throughout this blog.

#3:  Off-Peak

Off-peak hours vary widely per locale.   Also depending on the time of year it can vary.   Nevertheless, if it is possible to run even a portion of reflow production in off-peak hours your costs kWh can sometimes be half of on-peak prices.   I like to use the same rate chart example give above for S. Carolina where Duke Energy charges between 2pm – 6 am, $.0297 kWh vs. $.0563 kWh.  Many of us logistically may not have in place a night shift, but most of us can certaintly take advantage of production after 2pm.   This is more an issue of smart planning, an exercise in management.

Potential Savings:

If you can schedule a quarter of your production off-peak, and by doing so are able to reduce your rate per kWh by half  which is possible in some municipalities your savings could be on the order of $62-74 per month per reflow oven.  I came up with this number by again using the Flextronics study as a guide, where they are paying a kWh rate similar to the US national average and shelling out between $5.8K – 7K per year per reflow oven.

#4:  Oven Control Measures

By buddy Bob Powledge of DG Marketing out of San Antonio, Texas likes to say, “sure the heck cheaper to blow air than to heat it up!”  I agree and there are studies to prove it.   Basic physics comes into play.  It you can move more heated air over a surface, it will heat up more efficiently and faster.   This is why squirrel cages have by and large gotten bigger over the years and other technologies such as static pressure have come about.   In one study conducted by BTU who plays around with the idea of static pressure another approach at improving heat transfer rates, the same set-points could increase temperatures by as much as 5C  by only changing static pressure.   Take this to the next step in our discussion, you can thus REDUCE your oven set-points by that same amount thus reducing electricity usage.  Just a word of caution.  If you use blowers, you don’t want to crank them up too much unless you like moving components across your PCBs.  Many ovens have precision controls for this reason while others offer this as an add on option.

Static Pressure

Potential Savings:

I have to take a wild guess in what this translates into dollars since there has not been a study specifically addressing what this means in terms of electricity savings.  Considering we have so far been able to build cost models from the profiling studies we can extrapolate some reasonable numbers.   In the Delta study, the cumulative setpoint change across their 8 zone Vitronics Soltec oven was 198 C.  If you run through each zone, some zones like Z1 there was no change, but when you get to Z5 the delta was 50C!  So how do you compare both?  If you achieve a 5C reduction across 8 zones or cummulatively 40C and you compare this to our 198C study, this would represent 20% difference.  So take our numbers from our profiling study and cut them down to 20%.  Remember in the national average example, you could expect $88 in mountly savings per reflow oven, therefore for this example we might see about 20% of that number or $17 per month per reflow oven.   I please welcome any oven manufacturer to share the results of a study that questions these assumptions since some guesswork is involved.