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Myths and beliefs in modern electronic

assembly and soldering techniques – PART-1


21 February 2007

Eddy Van den Wijngaerd, engineering consultant and IPC-certified trainer - 2/21/2007

I often wondered whether in today′s modern technology, myths and fairytales still
have places at all. With the entire hullabaloo about fancy electronic design and analysis programs
getting more and more musical names by the day, who would give common soldering on the
production floor much thought?

Plain common soldering, whether by means of re-flowing, wave, hand soldering or intrusive
soldering, is often treated as the Cinderella of the assembly process in electronics.

Many companies embarking on OEM or contract manufacturing realise the importance of having
a recognised standard to work to. Where the ISOs come in handy with respect to the
administration and organisation, they lack the technical detail of the end-product. Coming to the
aid is one of the more well-known and universal standards like IPC. More about IPC later.

In the absence of affordable, technically-superior adhesives, solder will remain the major
interconnect medium between components and substrates like PCBs or alumina substrates. It is
not only amazing but basically frightening to see how many myths still exist and are being
worked with, in many reputable and sizeable companies.

What is a myth?

To avoid misunderstandings, ill-defined words and concepts, let us look at what a myth is, and
see if there are different sorts of myths. Myths are symbols that reflect a community's (electronic
manufacturers, inspection authorities, QA and end users) unspoken assumptions, beliefs and
theories of action:

'Symbols embody a community's view (or theories) about particular phenomena, which in turn
explain behaviours exhibited by members of the community' (Frost & Morgan 1983).
'Symbolism revolves around shared meanings - patterns of beliefs, rituals and myths, which
evolve through time and function as social glue, binding communities together' (Smircich 1983).

'Myths can also be defined as a dramatic narrative of imagined events, usually to explain origins
or transformations of something. It also reflects an unquestioned belief about the practical
benefits of certain techniques and behaviour that is not supported by demonstrated facts (Trice &
Beyer 1984).

'Myths are often communicated through the telling of a story. Myths are devices of mind that
have been used throughout time to provide explanations, reconcile contradictions, and help
resolve dilemmas. However, myths have also been known to distort images and misdirect
attention (Bolman & Deal 1984).

Dry joint?

This last myth mentioned above pertains, in particular, to electronic soldering techniques and the
most common myth is better known as 'the dry joint'. It in fact distorts images and misdirects
attention. The definition of 'dry joint' is nowhere to be found in the IPC-T-50G standard �Terms
and definitions for Electronics�. Where dry film can be found, the definition of a dry joint
excels in its absence.

Maybe IPC made a slip-up and forgot about this very commonly used 'term'? IPC used to be
better known some 10 years ago by the name: �The Institute for Interconnecting and Packaging
Electronic Circuits�. It is a large world-wide organisation with its base in the USA, but
stretches from Vladivostok to Los Angeles. Literally hundreds of companies with thousands of
members communicate, exchange and standardise issues in the field of electronic assembly.
Once consensus is reached with respect to a new process or terminology, it is taken up in their
manuals and standards. There is no way the popular 'dry joint' could have been forgotten or
overlooked. So what is the case? We have to accept the unthinkable: it is not defined and does
not exist.

Many operators, inspectors, trainees, engineers, CEOs, managers and others have been using it
since World War 2. It should have ended there and then but it did not. It lives on like a myth in
electronics. I have heard it everywhere in South Africa, being used by engineers, managers,
directors of companies, operators and technicians. Worse, I have seen it once in a reputable
company on their official �inspectors' fault sheets�. It read: �PCB001xxx, 5 dry joints, at
R11, C23, IC2, TR3, and R3�. How do we fix something that does not exist?

When confronted, the classical answer is: �You know what we mean by dry joint�. No, I am
afraid not, and neither does IPC know. It is a deeply-entrenched myth that has almost become a
reality. The foregoing myth could be compared with the myth of Santa Claus or Father
Christmas. Everybody talks about him, especially around Christmas time. His name is known
worldwide, some children even believe in him, yet he does not exist.
The 'dry joint' has been too long with us now and it has taken on ramifications. It is so deeply
entrenched that some engineers, technicians and operators even refuse to accept a trainer's word
that it does not really exist. Is this problem endemic to South Africa? No, fortunately not. But
this is small consolation and does not result in a positive feedback in the electronic assembly
industry.

Meaningful feedback is needed to correctly address the many problems in the soldering assembly
realm. By starting off with incorrect definitions will not help solving the problem.

A master trainer from a company previously known as 'The School of Soldering in Scotland, UK'
told us the following story based on his worldwide travelling as an engineering consultant.

Quote: "The most widely spread myth is the dry joint. The dry joint has plagued our industry
from the early valve days, where valves were voltage switching in the hundreds of volts at very
low currents. The non-wetted solder connections give sufficient electrical contact for short
periods and then rapidly degrade the signal performance of the circuit, commonly termed at the
time as: noise. Noise was closely associated to the phenomenon recognised at the time as the dry
joint. It should be noted that these troublesome connections were constantly being revisited by
the soldering iron to reduce the circuit noise each time, giving shorter periods of operations.

The remarkable thing is that this terminology is surviving in the environment of the modern
manufacturing facility. It is alive and well in the whole spectrum of companies, from the largest
to the smallest. I have spent mesmerising days in some of the largest companies watching
operators 'touch up' the mythical dry joints. The interesting thing when challenged was the
diverse range of dry joints. There were dull ones, bright ones, gritty ones and plain old ones the
operators did not like!" Unquote.

Does the above sound familiar in your company? I really hope not. But if it does, some basic and
intermediate training would definitely be recommended. There are more myths and beliefs, some
more subtle like the non-wetting and de-wetting. I hope to elaborate on these in later articles.

Finally, allow me to add one more experience I had last year with a reputable company in South
Africa. A technician surprised that after 20 years he had to deal with the non-existence of a dry
joint was unwilling to change to the proper IPC standards and definitions relating to real hands-
on problems in the assembly area. He fell back on his previous incorrectly-learnt dry joint saga
when he was employed by another reputable SA car manufacturer. There they really pushed the
myths further by giving flying reindeer to Santa Claus and came up with the DRY JOINT as
follows: D = Defective, R = repairable and Y stands for yield.

This is absolute nonsense. It is high time we dedicate some time to proper training in this
industry.

About the author: Eddy Van den Wijngaerd, Pr.(Tech) Eng SA, Ind. Eng. (Belgium), CIT (IPC),
has a 36-year background in the electronics industry and is currently a consulting engineer and
IPC certified trainer for South Africa.
For more information contact Eddy Van den Wijngaerd, +27 (0)21 7125964,
evdwijng@xsinet.co.za
Myths and beliefs in modern electronic
assembly and soldering techniques – PART 2
25 July 2007

Eddy Van den Wijngaerd, engineering consultant and IPC-certified trainer - 2/21/2007

I often wondered whether in today′s modern technology, myths and

Continued from previous article, 21 February 2007

It all began in 2006 with Bob Willis and his team’s visit to SA and, in particular, the Lead-Free
seminar I attended in Stellenbosch. My first article was published in January 2007 and was
inspired by all the activities and efforts brought about by the overseas and local experts. I thought
it appropriate to add a small contribution myself.

After a period of silence and coincidentally - or is it really coincidence? - a follow-up visit by


Keith Bryant of the UK SMART Group, I was prompted again to carry on with a follow-up
article on myths and beliefs. Those curious enough and having the time could perhaps have a
look at the Dataweek article in the 21 February issue.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for all of us to start talking the same language when it
comes to electronic assembly and soldering. It prevents misunderstandings and eliminates or
reduces the misdirection of expensive funding required in a modern electronics assembly plant.

Not long after the article on myths was published, I came across 'experienced' assembly staff and
operators merrily chatting about a 'dry-joint' here and a 'dry-joint' there. Did the technicians,
engineers or in-house trainers not explain to them that the 'dry-joint' should have died 45 years
ago? If it had been close to Christmas I would have excused them as having been submitted to
Santa Claus and other myths. However, these were operators and assemblers with 20 to 30 years
of 'experience'. They should know better by now. Let me briefly refresh the subject and share one
of the definitions I really like: according to Trice and Beyer (1984), I quote: "Myths can also be
defined as a dramatic narrative of imagined events, usually to explain origins or transformations
of something. It also reflects an unquestioned belief about the practical benefits of certain
techniques and behaviour that is not supported by demonstrated facts".
If in doubt, do not mumble but go to the -'good book'. In our case a good book would be the IPC-
T-50G 'Terms and Definitions for Interconnecting and Packaging Electronic Circuits'. This book
also contains most of the commonly used acronyms like RwoH (reliability without hermeticity),
SMOGB (solder mask over gold body) and many others. Its main purpose is to enlighten us on
the terms and definitions per se. One could argue that the mythical 'dry-joint' should be found
between drag soldering and dry glass (clad laminate). But no, it is not there. If you ever attended
an IPC course like IPC-A-610D, J-STD-001D, IPC-7711 or IPC-7721, a trainer worth his salt
should have given you the 133 page IPC-T-50G manual either in print or on electronic format. If
it is available in your company, do me a favour, and please consult it. Those who can prove the
existence of a dry joint definition in IPC literature will be personally rewarded by me.

What is the fuss? My master IPC trainer from Denmark, Finn, briefly reacted when I asked him
the question in 2004. His answer: "Eddy, it does not exist" and he carried on with more important
aspects of the course. To me it still remains a mystery why so many people are still using it. This
brings us to a second but no less important misbelief or misunderstanding: the confusion between
non-wetting and de-wetting. This strictly does not belong under the heading of 'Myths', but can
be dealt with under 'beliefs'.

It is amazing how one finds this confusion to be mostly prevalent in the electronics assembly
industry. Ask people about wetting, non-wetting and de-wetting and most will be standing and
gazing or mumbling something. I personally do not know of any industry that seems to be so ill
prepared when it comes to the hands-on practical application of electronics. My discussions with
some of the professors and academic staff at the University of Pretoria many years ago revealed
that these institutions have not the time, staff, nor the programmes available to equip the modern
engineer with sufficient hands-on experience. Technical colleges do include some of the SAQA
Unit standards in their courses, however I have been through most of these Unit Standards and
found some of them incomplete and with a few errors. Let us hope the continuous reviews by the
SGBs (standards generating bodies) pick those up and improve on this situation.

What is it with the non-wetting and de-wetting issues? Should we really care so much and not
just fix the problem and get on with the job? Would the worker be happy if we gave him or her a
shovel instead of a spade? Why bother?

Let us first have a look at what is meant by non-wetting and de-wetting, and where else would
we find a better definition than in IPC-T-50G mentioned earlier? Nonwetting - one word -
(solder) p. 61 code 75.1189 in IPC-T-50G: "The inability of molten solder to form a metallic
bond with the basis metal". How can one see the difference between good wetting and non-
wetting? Usually by the shape of the solder fillet that was formed after the soldering process has
been completed. It is a smooth unbroken fillet of a concave (hollow) shape indicating that good
wetting has taken place - see Figure 1. Non-wetting can be seen by the formation of a bulbous
joint having a convex shape. De-wetting is another issue altogether.
Figure 1

The definition of de-wetting (dewetting, one word in IPC) can be found on page 28 of IPC-T-
50G, Code 97.0370 (solder dewetting versus base materials dewetting): "A condition that results
when molten solder coats a surface and then recedes to leave irregularly-shaped mounds of
solder that are separated by areas that are covered with a thin film of solder and with the basis
metal not exposed." In almost all cases de-wetting is the result of too much heat (time above
liquidus) or too long exposure to heat (dwell time too long). Obviously the continuous working
and reworking of solder joints for no direct or relevant reason is often the cause of de-wetting.

This condition, as opposed to non-wetting, cannot be rectified or reversed. It is the end of the
rope. It is therefore important that operators, inspectors, technicians and everybody involved
with the assembly and soldering process know this crucial difference. I have seen many
overzealous solderers touching up, working and re-working again and again the same joint until
it looked 'nice' in the eyes of the inspector; little knowing that in this unnecessary rework more
damage than good was being done. Mary likes them thick and shiny, Sipho likes them just
covering the metals with evidence of wetting, Louis and Lerato will reject them all because they
had done the IPC course 12 years ago and have forgotten all about it.

A story I have heard is a true one and it happened in South Africa not so long ago.

A company lost more than a couple of hundred thousand Rands because of ignorance about de-
wetting. De-wetting is easily visible to the trained eye; unfortunately, when it exceeds certain
criteria the boards have to be rejected and can neither be reworked nor repaired. Many company
directors have called on experts after the de-wetting event, only to hear the sad answer: 'It cannot
be fixed'. No fancy flux, chemical muti or magical wand can fix this problem. While with proper
control, correct heat, time and the right flux non-wetting can be turned into good wetting, alas
when we encounter de-wetting it is (DE the END). By that point, the intermetallics needed to
form a good chemical and metallurgical bond between the parts to be soldered have been
depleted.

The depletion layer can also be identified by the chemical bond between copper from the PCB
and tin from the solder. Here the presence of the older type of leaded solders does not play a
direct role since the chemical bonding is between tin and copper. There are obviously other
chemical bonds between different types of PCB and components. The most common
intermetallic bond is the one between copper and tin. A simplified graphical representation is
given in Figure 2.
Figure 2

The Cu3Sn is called the depletion layer. When only this layer remains, such as after incorrect
soldering, de-wetting occurs and this most often results in rejects and scrapped boards.

To know more about this and how to prevent this from happening I suggest we leave it to a later
opportunity where I hope to explain the full circle of quality (and training) in electronic
assembly.

For more information contact Eddy van den Wijngaerd, +27 (0)21 712 5964,
evdwijng@xsinet.co.za