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Accelerating the Selective Soldering Learning Curve

When qualifying a new manufacturing process, it is essential to review the experience and skill levels of key staff members, including factory personnel and the manufacturing engineering team. All processes should deliver repeatable results, which comes from having knowledgeable personnel and advanced high-performance process equipment. By investing in the professional development of its manufacturing and engineering staff, every company involved in electronic printed-circuit-board (PCB) assembly can increase its value-added, reduce its production costs, and improve its overall efficiency. An investment in employee training is often rewarded with a corresponding effort to excel.

Selective Soldering
Selective soldering is a relatively new technology compared to other more traditional soldering methods, such as reflow soldering, wave soldering, or hand soldering. Because it is a newer technology, many equipment operators, shop-floor technicians, process engineers, and manufacturing and quality personnel who are experienced in surface-mount and through-hole assembly may need to expand their expertise to learn more about selective soldering. With proper knowledge, many end-users can often get more out of their selective soldering machines. Equipment manufacturers such as ACE Production Technologies are also aware that we must find better ways to communicate our own knowledge about using our equipment. One solution is to conduct selective soldering workshops in our factory where the machines are built and tested, and where our process development engineers work and have process diagnostic tools and analysis equipment available for our customers.

Production technology and human resources departments go hand-in-hand to ensure good selective soldering equipment performance. Procuring advanced-technology selective soldering equipment also requires skilled and knowledgeable personnel. Developing a partnership with an equipment supplier capable of providing in-depth process training can help guarantee the utmost in quality, manufacturability, and reproducibility from their equipment. Having access to this type of training allows equipment operators and process engineers to expedite the learning curve immediately following new equipment installations. Workshops dedicated to selective soldering also enrich the understanding of how a PCB is constructed and how certain PCB manufacturing characteristics effect soldering.

Achieving high quality and first-pass yield, and eliminating defects are important aspects for all electronics assembly companies to compete globally and provide high-quality end products. Eliminating defects and increasing throughput are paramount to keeping pace in a highly competitive electronics manufacturing business. Having the latest advanced technology processing equipment in and of itself does not ensure process repeatability; such advanced equipment also requires knowledgeable and experienced factory personnel and engineering staff for optimum results. Quality assurance starts with having the best process equipment available, together with a regimented and proven process, but these tools must be combined with personnel with the expertise to deliver positive results.

Turnover can have a cost and impact on a manufacturing facility much greater than many managers might think. A recent survey indicated that 40 percent of employees who receive poor job training leave their positions within the first year. Those leaving a position cite a lack of skills training and development as principal reason for moving on. With even one less worker, a company's productivity will slip and current staff members will be required to work more hours, which can affect employee morale. Time must be spent to find a replacement for the worker who left, to screen and interview applicants. Once someone is hired there is an obvious need to train that person which causes the cost of staff turnover to further increase. Figures vary, but the cost can be as high as $2,500, depending upon position, to replace a frontline shop floor employee. By providing suitable training, turnover can be reduced.

Training Boosts Efficiency
Training can provide profound benefits for an electronics assembly company since training is essential for knowledge transfer, enables manufacturing flexibility and efficiency, and helps a business run better and more profitably. Trained employees have increased job satisfaction, higher retention rates, and improved morale. When implementing new technologies or methods within an electronics assembly operation, training is a key ingredient for achieving increased process efficiencies resulting in an improved financial picture. Properly trained employees feel more empowered to implement quality initiatives that can help the company, such as total quality management (TQM) efforts or quality circuits, and actions that lead to increased manufacturing yields, improved product quality, and increased productivity.

Type of Training
Initial training often takes place during the installation and startup of new production equipment. During this time, topics such as setup, basic operation, and preventive maintenance are usually covered. In addition, there is a significant benefit in supplementing this initial training with follow-on professional development courses since the upgrade in employee skills makes perfectly good business sense. Training can also be more effective when conducted off-site. Personnel attending an offsite workshop training program are better able to focus on the subject and come away with in-depth knowledge without the day-to-day distractions found on their shop floor. Although the return on investment may take a while to appear, the long-term gains associated with employee training can make a substantial difference in a manufacturing facility's productivity and quality. For the short-term expense of an offsite workshop training program, it is possible to maintain qualified and productive (and satisfied) workers who will help a company prosper and grow.

ACE Production Technologies, Inc. strives to bring value and quality to its customers by providing a series of selective soldering workshops. Those new to selective soldering can take part in an introductory workshop while more experienced users can participate in an advanced workshop. The curriculum is based on real-world practice and both workshops are equally divided between classroom theory and hands-on training. The introductory workshop focuses on the fundamentals of through-hole soldering, solderability, and solder alloys; flux deposition, flux activation, and thermal profiling; and design guidelines and quality measurement. This introductory workshop also features troubleshooting guidelines and process optimization procedures. The hands-on training portion covers programming, preventive maintenance practices, and developing a robust soldering process.

The advanced workshop addresses topics including PCB design manufacturability, including which PCB characteristics impact the soldering process; laminate choices, surface finishes, plating thickness, and layer count; what parameters can the selective machine adjust for; and optimal thermal transfer properties for effective soldering. The hands-on training portion covers solder joint inspection protocols, ionic contamination testing, and solderability testing.

Both two-day workshops have been highly successful and help assist end-users in defining the proper understanding of component thermal limitations, clearance restrictions, thermal requirements, and solder-joint reliability issues. For those seeking an improved comfort level when using selective soldering, these professional development workshops provide a complete overview of selective soldering as well as comprehensive, in-depth knowledge of the complete selective soldering process.

Contact: ACE Production Technologies, Inc., 3010 North First St., Spokane Valley, WA 99216; 509-924-4898, fax: 509-533-1299 E-mail: Web:

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