Ask the Experts
February 9, 2009 - Updated
February 9, 2009 - Originally Posted

Set up for lead-free wave soldering

What is the best set up for a lead-free wave soldering machine? Concerns include temperature for top and bottom pre-heaters, settings for conveyor speed, pressure for the flux, and most importantly temperature for the solder pot.

S. A.

Expert Panel Responses

Wave soldering setup is dependent upon the materials used, and the configuration of the PCBA.

Considerations for Leadfree Soldering:
* Flux Type : RMA/Low VOC/ NoClean or WaterSoluable
* Flux Delivery System: Foam/Ultrasonic/Pnuematic Spray
* Solder Alloy: SAC 304, 305, Sn100C etc
* PCB Laminate : Td Temperature
* PCBA Type :Single Side PTH, PTH/SMT Mixed Technology
* PCBA Component Limits : Validate Processing Temperatures of Top and bottom side components
* PCBA Handling ; PCB Edge, Palletized, Selective Palletized
* PCBA Mass or Loading and Thermal Properties : Artwork Design and Heat Dissapation
* PCBA Lead/Hole Ratio and Contact Patch : Duration in Solder, and Alloy Selection
* Conveyor Angle and Machine Options: Angle of approach coupled with Wave Type and Atmosphere

All the above are factors to be considered in Wave Soldering Process development.

For a standard PTH technology, 305SAC RoHS, Water Soluable Flux Configuration, we approach the wave soldering below;

Coverage of the Fluxshould be controlled to minimize overspray to enhance this drying requirement, we generally reduce pressure to just allow the PCB coverage, and minimize any pooling on topside.

General guidelines are to get a topside or preheat temperature of the assembly to approximately 140-160 C for the topside of the assembly, ramping linearly the preheat settings are commonly set at 200-210C. This is done in conjunction with the amount of Flux applied to ensure the flux used is fully evaporated, especially on RMA or Low VOC types of No Clean.

At a 3 degree slope our PCBA is checked for entry depth into the lambda wave. A calibration plate is used to determine the solder contact patch or size. From this patch, we can determine the solder time used. No Lead wetting is best at 7-10 seconds, allowing the flux to work.

Solder Temperature is set on our machine to approximately 275C, for SAC 305 Alloy with conveyor speed of 30-35M/Min pending PCBA size and Contact patch above.

The combination of the component leads, annular rings, thermal relief and Lead:Hole Ratio should be considered when designing the PCB for Wave soldering. If SMT devices are also added to the mix, Wave settings and the use of Nitrogen might be considerations to carefully monitor their effect on solder finish and yield.

Rodney Miller
Capital Equipment Operations Manager
Specialty Coating Systems
Rodney is currently Operations manager at SCS coatings, Global Leader in Parylene and Liquid Coating equipment. Rodney applies his BS in Computer Integrated Manufacturing from Purdue University, along with 20+ years of Electronic manufacturing and Equipment Assembly, to direct the Equipment business at SCS Coatings. "We provide unique, value added coating equipment solutions for our customers". Including conformal, spin and Parylene coating expertise.

While optimal process settings will be determined by the alloy, flux, equipment type and individual assembly being processed, some good rules of thumb are: Lead-free processes respond and perform better when you approach them with patience. Lower conveyor speeds and slightly longer contact times will benefit hole fill, reduce bridging and provide overall greater wetting and spread to components and pads. Slower conveyor speeds therefore are preferred over faster. Surface tension of lead-free alloys is higher than tin/lead, so their "peel" characteristics; which affect shorts/bridging, react better to lower conveyor speeds. Lead-free alloys also tend to wet slower, so again, lower conveyor speeds allow a compensation for this inherent characteristic. It is recommended to begin process setup by adjusting contact time in the wave. This can be accomplished in a number of ways such as adjusting the laminar flow duct, or through software settings such as pump speed and lead-clearance. The simplest and most common approach would be to lower the speed of the conveyor. Most leaded applications will run between 3 feet ~ 5 feet/minute with emphasis on the latter, but it is rare that lead-free applications ever see 5 feet/minute. For lead-free applications, normal speeds are in the 2.5 feet to 3.5 feet/minute range, but let your contact time dictate this - a target contact time in the wave for lead-free is 4 seconds ~ 6 seconds. Follow up with optimizing your pre-heat settings, which are normally dictated by the product application and flux requirements; however, a typical starting temperature will usually be in the 100C /212F (top-side) prior to contacting the wave. The actual process window again will be flux and product dependent, but may be in the 85C to 130C range. Flux volume, pressure settings, etc. will vary widely between chemistry types and activator packages. Do not get hung up on what the actual equipment settings are. Optimize your flux application last by reducing the amount applied until you induce a failure - noticed through spider webbing, bridging, poor hole fill, etc. Increase the amount slowly until you have achieved the desirable results. Remember that the flux application is also dependent on your pre-heat temperatures. Hotter pre-heat temperatures generally require a larger volume of flux to be applied, inversely cooler pre-heat temperatures generally require a lower amount of flux, which also results in lower post-process residues. Alloy temperatures for lead-free tend to hover around the same as tin/lead, but will perform better if kept slightly higher. Most commonly we recommend a temperature in the 510F to 515F range. A common concern in lead-free alloys is copper dissolution, and not all lead-free alloys are equal in this regard. The amount of copper dissolution you experience will be a function of the lead-free alloy you select, the process temperature of your solder pot, and the exposure, or contact time an assembly experiences during manufacture. Do not be afraid to think outside the box!. Datasheets are good starting points, but they cannot take into account every variable which will affect the overall process. Experiment will flux volume and pre-heat temperatures on both ends of the spectrum to achieve the best possible/most optimal results, and work closely with your solder and flux supplier. By approaching each new process in this manner, you will learn much more about the products you are using, and the true process window of a each application.

Mike Scimeca
FCT Assembly
Mike Scimeca created FCT Assembly after the purchase of Fine Line Stencil, Inc., and consists of two major operations: stencil manufacturing and the manufacturing of electronic assembly products such as solder paste, flux and solder bar.

This is somewhat a difficult question to answer. With wave soldering the process parameters are more related to the assembly and application then they are to machine settings.
  1. Preheat settings. The temperature setpoints you are seeking are referring to equipment settings. There are too many systems, preheat configurations to provide proper setpoints with any liability. However, the information you really seek is not the machine setting, but the actual topside board temperature as it exits the preheat section of the wave. Depending on the application bottomside temperatures could also be needed. There are many methods to obtain this data, Thermal profiler are readily available in the market place. Temperature labels that change colors at a given temperature, you can even use a Fluke meter with a thermal contact probe to check. Point being, you want to know the board temperature, the machine setpoints are just a correlation of the board temperature. On average you want the topside laminate at the exit point of preheat to be 220 deg F - 240 deg F.
  2. Solder pot temperature. Depends on alloy type but for the most part the solder pot temperature will be 255 deg C to 265 deg C. There are applications that require the temperature of the pot to operate at 270 C - 275 C but these is not the main stream.
  3. Conveyor speed, Typical range is 2-4 FPM. this is dependent on board thickness, assembly finish material and so on.
  4. Flux pressure settings, Same as preheaters. You need to have enough flux to accomplish the task. Many flux suppliers will outline the actual amount of flux needed on an assembly in mg/sq". This would be the method by weight, You would need a sensitive scale to measure this. Average amount is 900-1300 mg/ sq". Another method (visual only) would be to spray the flux onto a glass plate or if alcohol based flux is being used thermal fax machine paper will give you a flux pattern. Again this is only visual.

John Norton
Eastern Manager
Vitronics Soltec
John Norton started his soldering career in 1983 for Hollis Engineering. He has also worked with Electrovert as a technical training manager and Vitronics Soltec for the last ten years. He has held various technical development and sales positions.
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