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September 13, 2018

Soldering Multilayer Ceramic Chip Capacitors

We are conducting rework that includes soldering a wire to one end of a heat sensitive multilayer ceramic chip capacitor (MLCC). We need to solder the wire to one end of a ceramic chip cap while the other end is soldered to a PCB land. Since ceramic capacitors are sensitive to thermal shock, how should we proceed? Which end should be soldered first?

E.C.

Expert Panel Responses

You need a controlled thermal environment to avoid cracking theceramic for both soldering operations. Use reflow with a controlled ramp temperature to secure thepart. Then, you can use a hot air soldering station to install the jumperwire. Adding the jumper tothe land and drilling out the trace connected to it might be a safer processwith less chance to create a thermal gradient within the MLCC which would crackit.

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Mike Green
Design Engineering
Lockheed Martin Space Systems
Mike Green is co-chairman of the IPC Terms and Definitions Committee. He has been working with board design and manufacturing for 33 years.

MLCCsare prone to cracking due to thermal shock. Therefore, pre-heating is extremelyimportant before touching the cap terminations using a soldering iron.Soldering the wire to the PCB land first may be advantageous, since the wirecan sink some amount of the heat from the MLCC end to the PCB pad, whensoldering the other end of the wire to the MLCC. This in addition topre-heating may reduce the potential cracking of the MLCC.

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Bjorn Dahle
President
KIC
Bjorn Dahle is the President of KIC. He has 20 years experience in the electronic manufacturing industry with various manufacturing equipment companies covering pick & place, screen printers and thermal process management.

The answerisn't so much which end to solder first, the answer is going to be removing thethermal shock. Thermal shockis the rapid change of temperature on an assembly or component. Chip capacitorscan be relatively robust as far as what temperature (maximum) they canwithstand. The problem is when the chip is rapidly heated from room temperatureit tends to crack. Contact the componentmanufacturer to determine the ramp rate that the component can handle. Then Isuggest using an auxiliary heater of some kind. Either an under-board heater orother controlled heat source to slowly bring the component and surrounding structureclose to the reflow temperature no faster than the component ramp limits. Oncethe component is heated you should be able to solder either end of thecomponent without damage.

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Kris Roberson
Manager of Assembly Technology
IPC
Kris Roberson has experience as a machine operator, machine and engineering technician and process engineer for companies including Motorola, and US Robotics. Kris is certified as an Master Instructor in IPC-7711 / 7721, IPC A-610 and IPC J-STD 001.

It would be best if you could solder both ends of the cap at thesame time, using a hot air reflow rework station. If this is not possible, I'dsolder the PCB land end first, since the land is not likely to move as yousolder the wire end, second. To make sure you arenot stressing the cap, make sure you run a couple of test runs to measure yourprocess with a good Temperature Profiler (logger) to prove that you did notsubject cap to a temperature ramp rates or peak value beyond the specificationsfor the part.

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Paul Austen
Senior Project Engineer
Electronic Controls Design Inc
Paul been with Electronic Controls Design Inc. (ECD) in Milwaukie, Oregon for over 39 years as a Senior Project Engineer. He has seen and worked with the electronic manufacturing industry from many points of view, including: technician, engineer, manufacture, and customer. His focus has been the design and application of measurement tools used to improve manufacturing thermal processes and well as moisture sensitive component storage solutions.

The degree of sensitivity of the ceramic cap depends on severalthings, including the body size and the type of dielectric. If you take aconservative approach, you can look to what has been done in the wave solderingprocess for some guidance. The rule of thumb there is that we preheat at lessthan 2 C/second to a temperature within about 110 C of the wave temperature.The 110 C "shock" is considered acceptable for all but the largest body sizes(larger than 1812). If we design a process around this, we would envision preheatingthe entire assembly, then soldering the jumper using controlled heat. Theprocess might look something like this:
  • Install and route the jumper; bond the jumper to the board asrequired
  • Solder the jumper at the unoccupied land. The end to be solderedat the capacitor location is laid against the existing joint, but not solderedat this time.
  • Pre-heat the assembly in a box oven to 110 C, or the highesttemperature allowed as a "storage temperature" for the installed components,whichever is lower
  • Remove the assembly and immediately solder the jumper using aniron set to a conservative, controlled temperature. The minimum usable irontemperature will be determined by the heat transfer characteristics of theboard and jumper.
  • While soldering the jumper, the "heat bridge" should be formedbetween the iron and jumper; the iron should not touch the capacitor body.
The above process will minimize the thermal shock to thecomponent. I'd suggest that thermal profiling will be useful to understand theactual thermal shock seen by the component.An alternative to theabove process is to solder using hot air (after preheat). This process willresult in a little more heat being transferred to the capacitor, but at asomewhat slower rate.

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Fritz Byle
Process Engineer
Astronautics
Fritz's career in electronics manufacturing has included diverse engineering roles including PWB fabrication, thick film print & fire, SMT and wave/selective solder process engineering, and electronics materials development and marketing. Fritz's educational background is in mechanical engineering with an emphasis on materials science. Design of Experiments (DoE) techniques have been an area of independent study. Fritz has published over a dozen papers at various industry conferences.

Ideally,solder both sides at the same time by heating the entire component uniformly toavoid unnecessary thermal stress. One option is to dispense solder pasteat both terminations and heat with hot air or a larger, lower temperaturesoldering iron tip. If you must solder one side at a time, the PCB can beused as the heat transmission vehicle for the pad joint to slow heat transferand minimize shock. The wire-to-component joint will produce more shock,unless the component is uniformly preheated in some way.

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John Vivari
Application Engineering Supervisor
Nordson EFD
Mr. Vivari has more than 15 years of electronic engineering design and assembly experience. His expertise in fluid dispensing and solder paste technology assists others in identifying the most cost effective method for assembling products.

Preheating the assembly is a must (local to the area beingworked is okay ... the entire assembly need not be preheated if the preheatingsystem cannot accommodate the size of the assembly). It would also bebeneficial to use a non-contact soldering system such as a hot air pencilrather than a conventional iron. As far as "which endfirst?" - depending on the size of the capacitor, both ends may melt whenapplying heat to either end, so I would recommend soldering the end with thewire last so it doesn't reflow and possibly come out of the connection. I wouldsolder the wire to the land last - using a heat sink on the wire if it is shortenough to transfer the heat to the solder connection at the capacitor.

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Garry McGuire
Sr. Engineer
NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center
Garry McGuire is a manufacturing process engineer and Chair of the IPC J-STD-001 and IPC/WHMA A-620 Space Addendum committees.

Reader Comment
This may be the purist's approach so bare with me and rest assured I won't be mad if you disagree. My experience is to avoid touching or even worst soldering to a SMCC of any size after it has gone through reflow or wave soldering. If there is a problem, invest in correcting the PWB layout interconnect. Doing this you will prevent undetectable induced latent defects due to "mistreating" the SMCC during rework to show up after the product has been delivered. For me this falls into the category of pay me little now to correct the design issue or pay me big time later.
Juergen Flamm, Northrop Grumman, USA


Reader Comment
The method I use is to preform the jumper wire to the shape required for connection between the cap and land. I then would tin the end of the jumper that will be soldered to the cap. This jumper would then be laid into position on the PCB. I would apply flux to the cap/jumper junction and solder paste to the land/jumper junction. I then gently pre-heat the PCB to just below the reflow temperature of the solder. I then use 2 hot air pencils to reflow the joints at either ends of the jumper simultaneously. The surface tension of the solder will hold the wire in position during reflow.
Alan Christmas, Ultra Electronics