Soldering irons have been in use for a very long time, and they do the same job today as they did in the past - they make the electrical connection between components through the use of melted solder. But just as the components have become far more advanced, the soldering iron has progressed as well. This is why you should be using a smart soldering station for your electronic work.
What is a Smart Soldering Station?
A conventional soldering station works by supplying constant power to a tip with varying temperature. Many stations will be equipped with a rotary control, allowing the operator to select the power that is applied to the heating element, thereby controlling temperature.
But the tip temperature will vary depending on its current state. When the tip makes contact with another object, it will cool as heat energy is transferred. In response, the operator will often increase the temperature to remain productive.
The smart soldering station automatically adjusts the temperature without any action required by the operator. A smart soldering station incorporates a temperature sensor or thermocouple close to the heating element. The heating element is then controlled by a circuit that responds to the reported temperature.
If the temperature is too low, more energy is applied to the heating element, warming the tip. And if it is too warm, the power is reduced, cooling the tip. In this way, the tip is held at a relatively constant temperature while the power varies.
The Smart Soldering Station Advantages
A smart soldering station offers several advantages over a conventional operator controlled soldering station. These include:
Better Tip Temperature Control
Because the tip temperature is controlled by the sensor, the tip stays at a relatively constant temperature. This allows the operator to focus on the work at hand instead of constantly tweaking the power control.
Better temperature control is also much safer for the work at hand since many electronic components can be damaged by excessive heat. It is easy for a conventional iron operator to turn up the controls because of a weak thermal contact only to have it damage susceptible components a few moments later.
Less Oxidation Buildup
Solder tips are typically built with a copper core covered with an iron plating. As you may know, iron is subject to rust. The creation of iron oxide is continuously happening, even at room temperature. But once the temperature is increased to soldering levels, the rate of oxidation is also increased. The hotter the iron, the higher the oxidation rate.
By keeping the tip at an average lower constant temperature, the rate of oxidation is also slower. This helps to preserve the tip and slow the need for oxidation removal.
Longer Lasting Tips
Because the tip is kept at a more constant temperature with a smart soldering station, the tips tend to last longer. Oxidation can be very damaging to a tip, leading to a shortened life. The need to clean a tip can be a limiting factor as well since some cleaning methods can damage the iron plating on the tip.
Once the iron plating is damaged, the copper underneath will dissolve into the solder over time. This will lead to a failed tip. Eliminating the need for frequent cleaning from oxidation will help to extend a tips life.
The SmartHeat® Advantage
Smart soldering stations are definitely the way to go for today's hand soldering and reworking needs. The advantages they offer over conventional soldering irons make it a clear choice.
But not all smart soldering stations are equal. We offer our own version of a smart soldering station that builds on all of the advantages they provide while adding even more of our own. We call it SmartHeat® Technology, and it lives up to its name through its microprocessor-driven design.
Let's look at some of the advantages SmartHeat® Technology offers over other smart soldering stations.
Soldering tip overshoot is an ongoing problem even with smart soldering stations, and it can cause weak solder joints and damaged work. The problem arises through the natural function of the sensor-driven control system in many smart soldering stations.
When a tip makes contact with solder or the work at hand, it transfers some of its heat energy to the other object. When this happens, the temperature of the tip will drop. The sensor, depending on how it is arranged in the iron, will at some point recognize this temperature drop and in turn cause more power to be applied to the heating element.
The heating element causes the tip to increase its temperature. As the tip warms, the sensor will also heat up, recording the temperature. However, there could be a delay between the tip warming up and the sensor registering the change.
The end result is that the tip could hit excessive temperatures before the sensor responds and reduces the power. During this time, critical work components could be damaged by the higher heat.
A SmartHeat® soldering station removes the delays between the tip, sensor, and power control by directly measuring the power (wattage) at the solder joint. The removal of this delay eliminates the chance of an overshoot happening.
No Calibration Required
A smart solder station is reliant on the sensor to maintain the proper temperature. The problem is that the sensor (or thermocouple) performance will degrade over time.
Once the sensor performance has degraded, the smart soldering station will require calibration to set the proper temperature. In the SmartHeat® soldering station, there is no sensor to degrade.
A SmartHeat® soldering station will continue to repeat the same temperature over time without intervention. Our SmartHeat® cartridge will be within 5 deg C of its set temperature today and six months from now.
Calibration can also be an issue when changing soldering tip sizes. Most smart soldering stations locate the temperature sensor at the element and not the tip. The settings for a small tip may not heat to the proper temperature for a large one.
Even worse, dropping down a tip size with a unit configured for a large tip can lead to potentially damaging overshoot conditions. By eliminating the need for calibration SmartHeat® soldering stations avoid this issue.
High Throughput at Lower Temperatures
Since SmartHeat® soldering stations can control the tip more effectively, it can provide a high throughput at lower temperatures. Consider how other smart soldering stations are continually going through the cycle of the tip cooling enough to register a change in the sensor, which then creates the power change required for a correction.
Because of this cycle, the tip temperature is actually going to be slightly cooler after contact is made with the work until the sensor has detected the change.
A SmartHeat® soldering station avoids the delay of the control cycle, so the energy is applied directly to the solder joint immediately. The end result is that productive throughput increases without the tip suffering the temperature spike.
A smart soldering station is definitely an improvement over conventional soldering irons, and they can help to protect your work as they preserve the tips. But you take that advantage several steps further by using our SmartHeat Technology, which we think is the future of soldering. Contact us for more information about this technology, and see how we can help you with your soldering, desoldering, and reworking needs.