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


2011 Profiling Guide

The popular Profiling Guide is back with this second edition. I’ve added a new section on profiling for Wave with the help of two solder wave gurus Mike Young of Aligned Solutions and Dave Nixon of Ayrshire Electronics. Also a contributor is Ed Briggs of Indium who provides profiling solutions to common reflow defects such as voiding, tombstoning and solder balling. What you will certainly find particularly interesting about Ed’s work is he gives you real life examples on how you can modify your oven recipe to reduce or eliminate defects!

Also in this edition, I continue to work on what I started in the first edition the Six Sigma’s DMAIC approach to profiling. I’ve added Analyze and Control to Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve and Control. Being able to analyze and control your process are becoming the difference between whether or not a Contract Manufacturer secures a new customer (or keeps one) and a cornerstone to Black Belt manufacturing for OEMs.

You can pick and choose what is important from this guide, I purposely organized it to be read in segments and not necessarily from cover to cover. For example, perhaps a full DMAIC approach to profiling is too much to ask? You are struggling just to Define and Measure your process, am I right? Let’s face it, the majority of SMT and Wave processes worldwide are not even profiled and those that are profiled fail to go beyond the basics. Don’t feel bad, this guide will help you. You are not alone, the vast majority of process engineers still don’t realize how simple it is to improve their process. I made sure this guide helps to explain in a no nonsense easy to read fashion how this is possible, no theory, no boring one hour long technical seminars, no academic discussion, but what do I need to do to get actionable results.

Lastly, I wrap up the book with a chapter on Advanced Profiling Methodology. I focus in particular on non-destructive methods which even the novice can appreciate and implement. Included in the book you will find tools for creating offsets for components like BGAs, where drilling holes into your PCB for profiling I promise will become a thing of the past. I provide references to real science and free tools are even included. Furthermore, “virtual profiles” and other viable options to sacrificing an instrumented PCB are explored.

Just like last time I had a great time pulling this book together. I leave and breathe profiling and certainly no offense if you don’t share my passion. At the very least, I hope you have just as much fun reading it.

– Profiling Guru


Thermocouple Attachment Results are in!

The Rochester Institute of Technology under the guidance of Dr. S. Manian Ramkumar Ph.D. just conducted (October 2009) the most comprehensive study to date on thermocouple attachment methods.  Part I of II was to determine the most accurate and reliable method of thermocouple attachment.  Part II that has yet to be released is to determine the best attachment methods for BGAs, with the goal of seeing if there are reliable non-destructive methodologies, so stay tuned.

Results in a nutshell:

Aluminum Tape out performed all materials even Kapton! In an ideal word, the best attachment method of a thermocouple to a component is what I like to call a naked TC.  Aluminum double sided conductive tape was the closest thing to having nothing at all to attach the thermocouple.  Kapton tape is less responsive (deflecting and insulating heat), never mind if you have ever seen a saw-tooth TC plotted on a profile you know it has a very hard time staying in place on your PCB.   Additionally, High Temperature Solder which I have always considered the gold standard, is the least accurate or responsive.  When you get to the critical peak temperature of your profile, high temperature solder is sluggish to respond to the rapid change in temperatures, thus distorting your readings. As Phil Zarrow and Jim Hall discuss in Board Talk, “mass” on your thermocouple is not your friend.  Phil Zarrow:

any measurement method, the key element is to get the thermocouple in good contact with what you are trying to measure and to do it in a way that does not modify the area with a lot of extra mass or material that is going to give you an inaccurate reading….

Bingo!  This is actually what this study shows, now with the numbers to back it up.

Study Methodology:

The study looked at:

  1. Aluminum Tape
  2. Kapton Tape
  3. Chemtronics – CircuitWorks CW2400- Two Part Epoxy
  4. High Temperature Solder
  5. Loctite – 382 Instant Adhesive

The study used a KIC Explorer with standard type K thermocouples.  Multiple runs of a substrate coupon (62 mils thick plain copper coated with silver) was routed into 12 uniform 0.24″ isolated sections.

Test bank2Three identical test coupons were used and run multiple times.  KIC’s air-TC was utilized as the control to which each thermocouple was measured as the coupon traveled through all heated zones.

A total of three boards were used, running each board through twice, allowing the internal temperature of the KIC device to drop below 40 degrees C before rerunning the profile.

The tape attach methods were measured uniformly for each RTD connection, using a dial caliper, while the high temperature solder and epoxy quantities for attach were found to be visually uniform.


This graph indicates the mean temperature differential that was noticed within the oven for the various attach methods. The readings are based upon the complete profile starting at room temperature and ending at the peak temperature. The data from the cool down zone was eliminated from the analysis.

The graph shows the mean differential and the 95% confidence interval for each attach method. The Aluminum tape had the least differential (-0.48) followed by Kapton Tape, Loctite Adhesive, CW-2400 and then HT-Solder. The Confidence intervals among most of the attach methods do not overlap except Kapton and Loctite, indicating that the means of the attach methods are significant. Significant differences exist between the methods except between Kapton and Loctite as there is overlap. Clearly Aluminum tape outperforms all of the other methods.

Zone Differences

The thermocouples seem to behave similarly within each of the zones of the oven. Zone 6, where the soldering takes place or the peak temperature is reached, the thermocouple attach methods show a much higher temperature than the air temperature, indicating that the PCBs have attained much higher temperatures than the air. A closer examination of ZONE 6 reinforces the selection of Loctite or Aluminum Tape for Phase III of this project.


When considering accuracy, repeatability and responsiveness, Aluminum Tape is a winner.   There are of course advantages and disadvantages to each material.  For example one can argue you can re profile a PCB set up with high temperature solder, but considering that the mass of the solder distorts your readings, this study even brings into question this bedrock of thermocouple attachment.  Never mind high temp solder destroys your PCB as well as there is little control over the size of the blog from TC to TC and board to board.   Also don’t forget every time you profile the same board again it loses some mass, which will be the focus of more blogs to come.


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.


Non Destructive BGA Profiling Test #1

I am currently investigating a non destructive method of BGA profiling that is reliable.  Here are the results of my first test.

Set Up:

Four thermocouples are attached to the same BGA (TOP, SIDE, INSIDE and BOTTOM surface), as pictured below.  Conductive aluminium double sided tape is used along with Kapton.  A KIC Explorer is the profiler.

To see more on Thermocouple attachment visit my post:

A hole was drilled out to attach the INSIDE TC.




Two tests were run, the first was running the board on the belt followed by running the same board on the chain/tab conveyor.


As you can see the delta for ramp and peak is the greatest, while soak is minimal.  The inside TC runs the hottest and the underside bottom TC follows fairly closely the behavior of the inside TC.


This second profile was run on the belt with the same board but for a different BGA.   Again we see similar behavior, where the INSIDE and BOTTOM TCs exhibit similar behavior.


This third profile was running the same board and same BGA as in the second example but this time on the chain/tab.   Interestingly, all TCs were a good predictor of the INSIDE TC except when getting to the cooling zone.  The BOTTOM TC was only a good predictor of the INSIDE TC.