Enhancing industrial electronic soldering methods
- Innovative efficiencies in the design of electronic products and their manufacturing processes
Loughborough research into the simulation, monitoring and control of electronics soldering has had significant impact on the development of new software and hardware technologies, which have delivered substantial commercial and economic benefits.
The research began more than 20 years ago through the Interconnection Research Group and was focused on modelling and experimentation around reflow soldering. Reflow soldering is a process in which a solder paste is used to temporarily attach one or several electrical components to a designated area of a printed circuit board (PCB).
Subsequent research was focused on further modelling and simulation of the soldering process to achieve optimisation of both the products and their actual production process.
By developing an understanding of the physics of the soldering process and heat transfer mechanisms provided by the various classes of soldering equipment, researchers were able to develop a modelling tool for an industrial partner. The tool - Rapid Oven Setup (ROS) allows the optimisation of oven settings each time a new product or solder paste is introduced, reducing set-up times and scrap levels.
Using expertise in Electronics Computer Aided Design and modelling techniques to define the physical motion of the soldering process, Loughborough academics also supported a global software company that specialises in heat transfer technology to develop software capabilities that support effective monitoring and control of the soldering process, thereby speeding up workflows in the manufacture of complex electronics.
The technologies developed have allowed manufacturers to optimise the reflow soldering process which has provided time-saving efficiencies and a reduction in scrap levels during the production process.
PCBs vary in cost from a few pence to tens of thousands of pounds. The more expensive PCBs play safety-critical roles in, for example, aviation where these technologies have been implemented.
More than 700 ROS systems per year continue to be sold, with 90% exported. Several hundred licenses for software containing the monitoring and control capabilities have been sold via an industrial partner.
SUPPORTING THE UK ECONOMY
The technical advantage gained by one industrial partner - Datapaq Ltd - has enabled them to maintain market leadership in Europe: “In these developed markets the end users need the benefit afforded by working with a solution that maximises production efficiency to be able to compete with competitors from lower wage cost economies.”