Ask the Experts
July 28, 2023 - Updated
June 24, 2015 - Originally Posted

Selective Soldering Frame Causing Cold Solder Joints

We have continual problems with our wave soldering system, especially cold solder joints. Could the cold solder joints be caused by using a selective soldering frame?


Expert Panel Responses

The selective soldering frame could be contributing to cold solder joints in your wave solder process. Frames act as heat sinks pulling heat away from the circuit board. This cooling affect could result in cold solder joints.

I suggest running a temperature profile on the wave solder process on a board with a selective soldering frame on it. Check to be sure that the proper top side temperatures are being reached to enable good soldering. If not, then the preheat, conveyor speed, and solder pot temperature settings may have to be adjusted to correct this.

I also recommend having the solder analyzed to be sure it is within recommend specifications. When elements within the solder go out of specification, this can cause a dull/grainy appearance which may look like cold solder. High levels of elemental contamination, like copper, can cause a shift in melting point of the solder increasing the temperature required for good soldering. It is best to analyze the solder composition on a regular schedule and make adjustments to keep it within specification.

Tony Lentz
Field Applications
FCT Assembly
Tony has worked in the electronics industry since 1994. He worked as a process engineer at a circuit board manufacturer for 5 years. Since 1999, Tony has worked for FCT Companies as a laboratory manager, facility manager, and most recently a field application engineer. He has extensive experience doing research and development, quality control, and technical service with products used to manufacture and assemble printed circuit boards. He holds B.S. and M.B.S. degrees in Chemistry.

It is possible given that the frame can act as a heat sink and "wick" heat away from the areas of the board near the frame.

Kay Parker
Technical Support Engineer
Indium Corporation
Kay Parker is a Technical Support Engineer based at Indium Corporation's headquarters in Clinton, N.Y. In this role she provides guidance and recommendations to customers related to process steps, equipment, techniques, and materials. She is also responsible for servicing the company's existing accounts and retaining new business.

Yes, absolutely. Most wave soldering systems are a little challenged with getting adequate preheat and maintaining it across the gap between the preheaters and the wave. The selective frame will cause areas of the board "shaded" by the frame to remain cooler, and those areas will rapidly wick heat away from the areas to be soldered.

In addition, the frame, no matter how well designed, will affect the flow of the wave, and may result in some areas not seeing as much contact time. The combination of preheat challenges and flow variation can certainly cause issues.

Now, all that said, the first thing I would expect to see if the frame is causing issues is lack of complete hole fill near the edges of the openings in the frame. If you are really seeing classic "cold" solder joints, i.e. coarse, grainy joints, then perhaps there is another cause, specifically the components getting jostled just as the joint is solidifying. What you have then is actually a disturbed joint, and the reliability of such a joint is terrible. If that is the case, look for sources of mechanical energy that may be moving components after the exit from the wave.

Fritz Byle
Process Engineer
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.

"Selective Soldering Frames" can "pull" large amounts of heat from the solder wave at the point of contact, effectively lowering the temperature of the solder at the solder joint. You should confirm the temperature of the solder joints by running a thermal profile, a time verses temperature measurement of the solder process.

Once the solder joint temperatures are measured and understood, you can determine if temperature is one of the causes of the cold solder joints. You may find you will need to reduce the thickness of, or the materials that make up the selective solder frame to reduce the amount of heat it steals from the wave solder and thus the solder joints.

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.

In my experience, cold solder joints were manually created, due to insufficient flux, insufficient heat and insufficient time to create the solder joint.

If this is happening in the selective solder system something must be happening to that particular joint is that particular location, so it reflects all the conditions previously stated.

I would check for clearances in the selective solder frame fixture for those particular solder joints and this has to also include the thickness of the fixture. If the fixture is too thick the solder will not be able to make full contact with the solder joint and the results could end up being a bad solder joint.

So, again check for flux coverage of the area to be soldered and make sure the flux penetrates the plated through holes. Check the dwell time of the solder flow to make sure the flow is long enough to create the solder joint, and this also includes the preheating of the product prior to soldering.

Leo Lambert
Vice President, Technical Director
EPTAC Corporation
At EPTAC Corporation, Mr. Lambert oversees content of course offerings, IPC Certification programs and provides customers with expert consultation in electronics manufacturing, including RoHS/WEEE and lead free issues. Leo is also the IPC General Chairman for the Assembly/Joining Process Committee.

Reader Comment
Hot nitrogen improves heat transfer to the board mass and also inerts the soldering process. Less dross at the end.
Luiz Felipe Rodrigues, Air Liquide

The selective soldering frame is one of possible root causes for cold solder joints. Other root causes might be insufficient pot temperature, insufficient flux activity, flux burn off due to excessive pre-heating, solder alloy contaminations and vibrations during the cool down period.

David Bao
Director New Product Development
Metallic Resources, Inc
David Bao has more than fifteen years of experience in developing new solder paste, wave soldering fluxes and other SMT consumables. He currently serves as the Director of New Product Development at Metallic Resources Inc. He received a Ph.D. in Chemistry at Oklahoma State University.

Ensure the Solder pot is heated to at least 275C so the Selective pallet is suitably warmed to allow heat transfer to occur and the solder will be more mobile at this Temperature. If the pallet is particularly thick you may need to increase the pot temperature to 280-285C to get sufficient heat transfer through the thick pallet. Top of the PCB should be around 100-110C just prior to the wave IF you can get a measurement on the PCB.

You may also need to increase the flux deposition a little to accommodate the additional heat. If the solder joint is right next to the pallet and you have low heat then the capillary/wicking will also be affected.

It may be be a good idea to leave the pallets on top of the preheat cover prior and during use to increase the heat contained to make this process easier.

Greg York
Technical Sales Manager
BLT Circuit Services Ltd
Greg York has over thirty two years of service in Electronics industry. York has installed over 600 Lead Free Lines in Europe with Solder and flux systems as well as Technical Support on SMT lines and trouble shooting.
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