How to Reflow Solder

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What is Reflow Soldering?

Reflow soldering is a process used in the manufacturing of electronic circuits, where components are attached to a printed circuit board (PCB) using solder paste. The process involves applying solder paste to the PCB, placing components onto the solder paste, and then heating the entire assembly in a reflow oven to melt the solder and create a permanent connection between the components and the PCB.

Reflow soldering is widely used in the electronics industry due to its efficiency, reliability, and ability to handle high-volume production. It is particularly useful for Surface Mount Technology (SMT) components, which are smaller and have closely spaced leads compared to through-hole components.

Advantages of Reflow Soldering

Reflow soldering offers several advantages over other soldering methods, such as wave soldering or hand soldering:

  1. Efficiency: Reflow soldering allows for the simultaneous soldering of multiple components on a PCB, making it much faster than hand soldering each component individually.

  2. Consistency: The automated nature of reflow soldering ensures consistent solder joint quality across the entire PCB, reducing the risk of human error.

  3. Compatibility with SMT components: Reflow soldering is well-suited for surface mount components, which are increasingly popular in modern electronics due to their small size and high density.

  4. Reduced thermal stress: Compared to wave soldering, reflow soldering subjects components to less thermal stress, as the entire PCB is heated uniformly.

  5. Flexibility: Reflow soldering can be used with a variety of solder paste formulations and PCB Materials, making it adaptable to different manufacturing requirements.

The Reflow Soldering Process

The reflow soldering process consists of several key steps:

1. PCB Preparation

Before the soldering process begins, the PCB must be properly designed and manufactured. This includes ensuring that the PCB has the correct pad sizes, spacing, and solder mask openings for the components that will be used.

2. Solder Paste Application

Solder paste, a mixture of tiny solder particles and flux, is applied to the PCB pads using a stencil or syringe. The stencil is a thin metal sheet with openings that correspond to the PCB pads, allowing for precise solder paste deposition.

3. Component Placement

Surface mount components are placed onto the solder paste-covered pads using a pick-and-place machine or by hand. The adhesive properties of the solder paste help to hold the components in place during the reflow process.

4. Reflow Soldering

The PCB with the placed components is then loaded into a reflow oven. The oven follows a specific temperature profile, which typically includes the following stages:

a. Preheat: The PCB is gradually heated to a temperature that activates the flux in the solder paste, which helps to remove oxides and improve solder wetting.

b. Soak: The PCB is held at a stable temperature to allow the components and the board to reach a uniform temperature, minimizing thermal stress.

c. Reflow: The temperature is rapidly increased to a peak temperature above the melting point of the solder. This causes the solder particles to melt and form a connection between the component leads and the PCB pads.

d. Cooling: The PCB is cooled at a controlled rate to allow the solder joints to solidify and prevent thermal shock to the components.

5. Inspection and Testing

After the reflow soldering process is complete, the PCB undergoes visual inspection and electrical testing to ensure that all solder joints are properly formed and that the circuit functions as intended. Automated optical inspection (AOI) systems and in-circuit testing (ICT) are commonly used for this purpose.

Factors Affecting Reflow Soldering Quality

Several factors can impact the quality of solder joints formed during the reflow soldering process:

  1. Solder paste quality: The solder paste must have the correct composition, particle size, and viscosity to ensure proper melting and wetting of the component leads and PCB pads.

  2. Stencil design: The stencil aperture size, shape, and thickness must be optimized for the specific PCB and components being used to ensure the correct amount of solder paste is deposited.

  3. Component placement accuracy: Proper alignment of components on the PCB pads is critical for forming reliable solder joints. Misaligned components can lead to open circuits, shorts, or poor mechanical strength.

  4. Reflow temperature profile: The temperature profile used during the reflow process must be carefully controlled to ensure that the solder melts completely, wets the surfaces properly, and forms a strong intermetallic bond. An incorrect temperature profile can result in incomplete melting, cold solder joints, or damage to the components or PCB.

  5. PCB and component cleanliness: Contaminants such as dirt, grease, or oxidation on the PCB or component surfaces can interfere with solder wetting and lead to poor joint quality. Proper cleaning and handling procedures must be followed to minimize contamination.

Common Reflow Soldering Defects

Despite the advantages of reflow soldering, several types of defects can occur during the process:

  1. Bridging: Solder bridges form when excess solder creates an unintended connection between two or more pads or component leads.

  2. Tombstoning: Also known as “drawbridging,” tombstoning occurs when a component stands up on one end due to uneven heating or surface tension forces during the reflow process.

  3. Voiding: Voids are small pockets of air or gas that can form within a solder joint, weakening its mechanical and electrical properties.

  4. Insufficient or excessive solder: Too little solder can result in a weak or open connection, while too much solder can lead to bridging or poor joint shape.

  5. Cold solder joints: Cold solder joints occur when the solder does not melt completely or when there is insufficient wetting of the surfaces, resulting in a dull, porous, or cracked appearance.

To minimize these defects, it is essential to optimize the reflow soldering process parameters, maintain proper process control, and follow best practices for PCB design, component selection, and material handling.

Reflow Soldering Equipment

Several types of equipment are used in the reflow soldering process:

  1. Reflow ovens: Reflow ovens are specialized ovens that heat the PCB and components according to a predetermined temperature profile. There are two main types of reflow ovens:

a. Convection ovens: Convection reflow ovens use hot air circulation to heat the PCB and components. They offer good temperature uniformity and are suitable for most reflow soldering applications.

b. Infrared (IR) ovens: IR reflow ovens use infrared radiation to heat the PCB and components. They offer faster heating rates and are useful for applications with high thermal mass components or thermally sensitive materials.

  1. Solder paste printers: Solder paste printers are used to apply solder paste to the PCB pads through a stencil. They can be manual or automated and often include features such as vision systems for alignment and inspection.

  2. Pick-and-place machines: Pick-and-place machines are used to automatically place surface mount components onto the solder paste-covered PCB pads. They are available in various sizes and configurations, from small benchtop models to large, high-speed inline systems.

  3. Inspection systems: Automated optical inspection (AOI) systems and X-ray inspection systems are used to detect soldering defects and ensure the quality of the reflow soldered PCBs.

Solder Paste Selection

Selecting the appropriate solder paste is crucial for achieving high-quality solder joints in the reflow soldering process. Solder paste consists of tiny solder particles mixed with flux and other additives, and it is available in various alloy compositions and particle sizes.

The most common solder alloys used in reflow soldering are tin-lead (SnPb) and lead-free alloys, such as tin-silver-copper (SAC) and tin-bismuth (SnBi). Lead-free alloys have become increasingly popular due to environmental and health concerns associated with lead.

Solder paste is classified by its particle size, which is typically expressed as a mesh size or type number. Common solder paste types include Type 3 (25-45 μm), Type 4 (20-38 μm), and Type 5 (15-25 μm). Smaller particle sizes are generally used for finer pitch components and more precise solder paste deposition.

When selecting a solder paste, consider the following factors:

  1. Alloy composition: Choose a solder alloy that is compatible with the PCB and component materials, and that meets the desired mechanical and electrical properties of the solder joints.

  2. Particle size: Select a solder paste particle size that is appropriate for the component pitch and PCB pad geometry, ensuring that the solder paste can be accurately deposited and will melt and wet the surfaces properly.

  3. Flux type: Solder paste flux is available in various activity levels, such as no-clean, water-soluble, and rosin-based. Choose a flux that provides adequate cleaning and oxide removal for the specific application, while also considering the post-soldering cleaning requirements.

  4. Rheology: Solder paste rheology refers to its flow and deformation characteristics, which can affect its printability, slump resistance, and tack time. Select a solder paste with the appropriate rheology for the specific printing and placement processes being used.

  5. Storage and handling: Consider the storage and handling requirements of the solder paste, such as shelf life, storage temperature, and sensitivity to humidity, to ensure that the paste remains in good condition throughout the manufacturing process.

Reflow Soldering Temperature Profile

The reflow soldering temperature profile is a critical factor in achieving high-quality solder joints. The temperature profile defines the time-temperature relationship that the PCB and components experience during the reflow soldering process.

A typical reflow soldering temperature profile consists of four main stages:

  1. Preheat: During the preheat stage, the PCB and components are gradually heated to a temperature that activates the flux in the solder paste. This stage also helps to evaporate any solvents in the paste and minimize thermal shock to the components. Typical preheat rates range from 0.5 to 2°C/second, and the preheat temperature is usually between 150 and 180°C.

  2. Soak: The soak stage is a period of steady temperature that allows the PCB and components to reach a uniform temperature before the reflow stage. This helps to minimize thermal stress and ensure that all parts of the assembly are at the same temperature when the solder melts. The soak temperature is typically just below the melting point of the solder alloy, and the soak time ranges from 60 to 120 seconds.

  3. Reflow: During the reflow stage, the temperature is rapidly increased to a peak temperature above the melting point of the solder alloy. This causes the solder paste to melt, wet the surfaces of the PCB pads and component leads, and form a metallurgical bond. The peak temperature is typically 20 to 40°C above the solder melting point, and the time above liquidus (TAL) is usually 30 to 90 seconds.

  4. Cooling: After the reflow stage, the PCB and components are cooled at a controlled rate to allow the solder joints to solidify and prevent thermal shock. Cooling rates are typically between 2 and 6°C/second, and the cooling stage continues until the assembly reaches a safe handling temperature.

The specific temperature profile parameters, such as ramp rates, soak temperature, peak temperature, and TAL, depend on several factors, including:

  • The solder alloy composition and melting point
  • The PCB and component thermal mass
  • The reflow oven type and configuration
  • The desired solder joint characteristics

To develop an appropriate reflow soldering temperature profile, consider the following guidelines:

  1. Follow solder paste and component manufacturer recommendations: Solder paste and component datasheets often provide recommended temperature profiles or profile limits that should be followed to ensure optimal performance and reliability.

  2. Use a profile that minimizes thermal stress: Choose ramp rates, soak times, and peak temperatures that minimize thermal stress on the PCB and components, while still achieving complete solder melting and wetting.

  3. Monitor and control the profile: Use thermocouples or other temperature monitoring devices to measure the actual temperature profile experienced by the PCB during the reflow process. Compare the measured profile to the desired profile and make adjustments as necessary to maintain process control.

  4. Optimize the profile for specific assemblies: Different PCB assemblies may require different temperature profiles based on their specific characteristics, such as component density, thermal mass, or material sensitivity. Develop and optimize profiles for each unique assembly to ensure the best possible solder joint quality.

By carefully selecting and controlling the reflow soldering temperature profile, manufacturers can achieve consistent, high-quality solder joints and minimize the risk of defects or damage to the PCB and components.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. What is the difference between reflow soldering and wave soldering?
    Reflow soldering is a process where solder paste is applied to the PCB pads, components are placed, and the entire assembly is heated in a reflow oven to melt the solder and form the joints. Wave soldering, on the other hand, involves applying a liquid flux to the bottom side of the PCB, placing components, and then passing the assembly over a molten solder wave to form the joints. Reflow soldering is typically used for surface mount components, while wave soldering is used for through-hole components.

  2. Can reflow soldering be used for through-hole components?
    While reflow soldering is primarily used for surface mount components, it can be used for some through-hole components with certain adaptations. One method is to use pin-in-paste technology, where solder paste is applied to the through-holes, and the component leads are inserted into the paste before the reflow process. Another method is to use a Selective Soldering process after reflow soldering the surface mount components, where a localized soldering tool is used to solder the through-hole components.

  3. What is the purpose of nitrogen in reflow soldering?
    Nitrogen is sometimes used in the reflow soldering process to create an inert atmosphere inside the reflow oven. The nitrogen atmosphere helps to reduce oxidation on the solder joints and component surfaces during the high-temperature reflow stage. This can lead to improved solder joint quality, better wetting, and reduced defects such as voiding or non-wetting. However, using nitrogen in reflow soldering also increases the cost and complexity of the process, so it is typically used only in high-reliability or high-performance applications.

  4. How do I troubleshoot reflow soldering defects?
    To troubleshoot reflow soldering defects, first identify the specific type of defect, such as bridging, tombstoning, voiding, or insufficient solder. Then, review the potential causes of that defect, which may include issues with the solder paste, stencil design, component placement, reflow temperature profile, or PCB and component cleanliness. Systematically investigate and address each potential cause, making one change at a time and evaluating the results. It may also be helpful to consult with solder paste, component, or equipment suppliers for technical support and guidance.

  5. What is the shelf life of solder paste, and how should it be stored?
    The shelf life of solder paste depends on the specific formulation and manufacturer but is typically between 3 and 12 months when stored under proper conditions. Solder paste should be stored in a refrigerator at a temperature between 0 and 10°C to prevent premature aging and degradation of the flux and solder particles. Before use, the solder paste should be allowed to reach room temperature and then thoroughly mixed to ensure a homogeneous consistency. Opened solder paste containers should be resealed and stored in the refrigerator when not in use to maximize the remaining shelf life.


Reflow soldering is a critical process in the manufacturing of electronic assemblies, offering numerous advantages in terms of efficiency, consistency, and compatibility with surface mount technology. By understanding the key aspects of reflow soldering, such as the process steps, equipment, solder paste selection, and temperature profile optimization, manufacturers can achieve high-quality solder joints and minimize the risk of defects.

Proper process control, including monitoring and adjusting the reflow temperature profile, maintaining PCB and component cleanliness, and following best practices for solder paste handling and storage, is essential for consistent and reliable reflow soldering results.

As electronic devices continue to become smaller, more complex, and more widely used, the importance of reflow soldering in the electronics manufacturing industry will only continue to grow. By staying up-to-date with the latest advancements in reflow soldering technology and best practices, manufacturers can ensure that they are well-positioned to meet the evolving demands of the industry and deliver high-quality, reliable electronic products to their customers.