SMD soldering refers to the process of soldering surface mount electronic components to printed circuit boards. As electronic devices and PCBs have gotten progressively smaller, the use of SMD components has skyrocketed in circuit design. The tiny size of SMD components enables far greater component density on circuit boards and allows for the miniaturization of modern electronics. However, their small footprint also creates some unique challenges for assembly and soldering. In this guide, we’ll walk through the key tools, the step-by-step process for properly soldering SMD components, and the best practice of SMD soldering rework.
SMD Soldering Tools
Surface mount device soldering requires some specialized tools in order to handle tiny components and make precision solder joints. Here are some of the essential items you’ll need:
Soldering Iron – A fine-tipped soldering iron in the 15-30W power range is ideal for SMD work. Tips as small as 0.5mm can be used. Temperature control features help avoid overheating.
Solder paste– Solder paste consists of a mixture of powdered solder alloy and flux cream. It allows solder to be precisely applied to SMD pads before components are placed.
Microscope – A stereo microscope or magnifying glasses are indispensable for inspecting small solder joints and component placement. A microscope with 20x to 40x magnification is typical.
Tweezers – Fine-tip tweezers allow precise handling and placement of SMD components as small as 0201 or 01005 sizes (0.25mm x 0.125mm). Anti-static tweezers are preferred.
Soldering Helping Hands – Helping hands tools with magnifying lenses allow hands-free positioning of PCBs under a microscope during soldering.
Stencil–PCB stencils are thin metal sheets laser-cut with a pattern of openings matching the PCB’s solder pad layout. To apply solder paste, the stencil is aligned to the PCB and the paste is screened onto the pads through the stencil’s openings. Using a stencil allows precise and efficient solder paste application prior to SMD component placement.
Jigs – Jigs help position boards at an angle which improves visibility and access to solder joints underneath components during hand soldering.
Solder Sucker/Desoldering Tools – Specialized vacuum tools are used to remove or rework solder joints and desolder components for repair work.
The Process of SMD Soldering
Now let’s walk through the complete process step-by-step to see SMD soldering in action:
- Prepare the PCB by thoroughly cleaning it to remove any debris or oxidation that may be present. Also, apply flux to allSMD pads using a flux pen before soldering. Pre-tinning the pads is another good option worth considering before getting started.
- Position and securely fix the PCB under/over the microscope on a helping hands tool, being sure to secure the board with alligator clips to keep it stable and prevent movement. And adjust the angle of the board as needed to get the best view and access.
- Carefully select the required component using tweezers, double checking that its orientation is correct, and apply flux to the component pads/leads before placement if needed.
- Place the component in alignment with the corresponding PCB pads under the microscope’s magnification, taking care to precisely align the component, and realign if necessary.
- With the component aligned, tack solder one of its leads first to anchor the component in place and allow repositioning if needed.
- Once the first lead is tacked, solder the remaining leads by working out from the tacked lead, and applying the soldering iron to form a good joint on each lead.
- When finished soldering all leads, thoroughly inspect each solder joint under magnification to check for any shorts or poor wetting that require rework, reflowing or reheating any questionable joints.
- After soldering is complete, use isopropyl alcohol and a brush or cotton swabs to clean away any remaining flux residues.
Tips to Follow During the Soldering Process
- Use the lowest effective soldering iron temperature to avoid damaging sensitive components.
- Keep the soldering tip clean between joints to ensure optimal heat transfer to the joint.
- Apply just enough solder to form a proper fillet on each joint.Insufficient or excess solder can lead to unreliable connections.
- Watch solder flow and wetting and reapply flux or pre-tin pads if needed.
- Avoid touching or bumping the PCB until all solder joints have cooled and hardened.
- Visually inspect underneath components like BGAs and QFNsif possible.
- Take ESD prevention steps like grounding wrist straps and mats.
- Work systematically from the center outwards or from small components to larger ones.
- Keep pads cool by avoiding prolonged heat in one spot to prevent pad lifting or PCB damage.
The Best Practice of SMD Soldering Rework
Reworking surface mount device soldering is a delicate process but an essential skill for PCB repair and modification. While great care must be taken, it is possible to successfully desolder and replace SMD components without causing board damage. Here are some best practices for reworking SMD soldering:
- Use a quality rework station with precision temperature control and airflow to avoid overheating.
- Thoroughly clean the board area and apply flux before desoldering.
- Carefully preheat surrounding components before attempting to remove the SMD.
- Employ proper desoldering tools like solder wick and vacuum pumps to safely remove solder.
- Completely clean pads and confirm no residue remains before re-soldering.
- Precisely align the new component and triple check orientation.
- Solder pins individually with minimal heat to avoid lifting pads.
- Inspect all joints under magnification for proper wetting and no bridges.
- Functionally test boards after work to confirm repairs are complete.
- Maintain ESD safe procedures throughout and allow time for cooling.
- Keep detailed rework process documentation for future reference.
- Follow manufacturer guidelines and seek advice when needed.
SMD soldering can seem daunting at first due to working with ridiculously small components and joints. But with some practice, the right tools, and by following solid technique, you can successfully solder components of nearly any size. With surface mount components only getting smaller and boards more densely packed, learning SMD soldering skills is becoming a must for any PCB beginners and electronics hobbyists.