An Introduction to High Reliability Soldering and Circuit Board Repair

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So the objective is to make a good mechanical connection. When you solder, the idea is usually to to make a good electrical connection.

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Solder looks a bit like an unwrapped paperclip, though it's much softer, and it generally comes in tubes and reels. It's an alloy of different metals that has a relatively low melting point. The solder I use, which is typical, is made of Lead was once widely used in solders with tin, but has now been largely phased out for health reasons. Solders sometimes also contain fluxes to prevent the formation of oxides. Photo: Solder looks and feels like a length of paperclip that's been unwrapped and then coiled up in a plastic dispenser tube like this one.

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You pull out a short length as you need it. This is lead-free solder made mostly from tin and copper. Why do you need to solder? Electronic circuits are made of discrete components: tiny devices such as resistors , capacitors , transistors , and LEDs that do specific jobs. When you put them together in different ways, you can build all kinds of amazing electronic gadgets, from radios and televisions to calculators and computers. The components all have little metal legs—terminals that you use to connect them into the circuits.

You could just wire these legs together with electrical cables, but the wires might drop off or wriggle free and the connections wouldn't be reliable, so anything you built this way wouldn't work very well. And that's where solder comes in: it makes a much more effective electrical connection. If you want to make a good soldered joint, you don't solder straight away.

PCB Failure Analysis: Identification and Testing of Defects

First, you clean the components you want to join for example, by scraping them with a knife to remove any surface oxides. Then you make a good mechanical connection between them by wrapping the cable tightly round the component or whatever.

Only then do you make a good electrical connection by melting some solder on top. Photo: A typical soldering iron—the one I've owned since I was about A soldering iron is essentially just a heating element powered by electricity that has a robust outer case the bit designed to withstand endless heating and cooling. Bits are designed to be interchangeable and come with wider or narrower ends for work of different precision.

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The other essential component top right is a stand where you can safely rest your iron though, if you look closely, you'll notice that this iron has a curved clip on it just above the black rubber finger grip for resting or propping it up. Since I'm using a UK electrical supply, I've fitted a red indicator light to the plug top left to help me remember when the iron is switched on, for added safety.

How does it work in practice?

PCB Failure Analysis | Printed Circuit Board Tests |NTS

You melt the solder over a joint by applying a hot tool called a soldering iron essentially a hot piece of metal with a pointed tip, with the heat generated inside it by an electrically powered heating element. It's very important to note that solder is not glue: it is not designed to make a mechanical connection. If you rely on solder alone to fasten two wires together, they'll probably break apart sooner or later. It's important to make a good mechanical connection and then solder on top.

There are good and bad ways to solder, some of which make poor joints that don't conduct electricity properly. For example, if you move a soldered connection while the solder is still molten, you will generally get a badly formed or cold joint , which will be dull-colored, irregular, and pitted.

Basic Soldering Lesson 4 - "Bifurcated Terminals"

If you plan on doing your own electronic projects, the first thing to do is learn how to solder properly. You'll find a couple of handy demonstration videos in the "Find out more" section at the end of this article.

Fundamental Characteristics of a High Reliability Printed Circuit Board

Photo: Here's my soldering iron in action. You solder by holding your hot soldering iron to the joint in your circuit where you want to make an electrical connection. Then, with your other hand, you apply the solder until it melts in a blob on top of the joint, usually with a puff of "smoke" actually the metals in the solder turning into gas form.

What I've said above applies essentially to electrical and electronic work, but there are other kinds of soldering too. Plumbers use solder to join copper pipes together in a permanent but still reversible way that creates a mechanically robust and waterproof joint. The process is broadly similar to electrical soldering, although the type of solder is chemically different and generally you'll work with a handheld gas torch.

This class does NOT include any hand soldering instruction.

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However, this course does include a hands-on section as part of the inspection module training related to the inspection of wires and terminals, as well as printed circuit boards. Please see the "Assembly Courses" for hand-on training. Inspection of PCBs. Register Now. Mobile Training Center.