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.

turkey-in-Spec_SM01

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

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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).

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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.

Mean

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.

Conclusion:

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.

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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?

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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:

Circuitnet

Electronics Production World

EMS Now

GlobalSMT

PCB Update

SMT Week

Blogs:

Circuits Assembly

Forums:

SMTA on LinkedIn

SMTnet

Twitter:

Circuit Assembly

Global SMT

SMT Magazine

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