Guide to buying Soldering Stations for Startups & Makerspaces

Tanmay Dasgupta is an Electronics hobbyist and freelance cartoonist & technical writer. He is Diploma in IT Infrastructure Management from CMC Ltd. (A TATA Enterprise).

2028
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With large number of Hardware Startups, Makerspaces & Atal Tinkering Labs being setup across the country, the demand for soldering stations witnessed a massive growth. To keep the buying hassles at bay you need a proper step by step guide which not only discusses the basics but also points out the latest that is available in the market. Here is such a guide.

Why you need such a guide?

Electronic Projects have their own requirements when it comes to soldering. While you can get your work done by a cheap unregulated 230V 25 Watt iron that plugs directly into the mains & heats up to uncontrolled high temperatures, only in some scenarios, you would be unable to produce desired results in most cases. Cheap soldering irons or even stations won’t last long & you will regret buying such a cheap iron if you are into serious professional work involved in startups, makerspaces or business establishments like R&D Labs. After knowing your project requirements you can use this guide to find the most appropriate soldering stations for your work area.

What is soldering?

Soldering is an art by which electronic components are connected with each other so that they can communicate in a circuit & perform a specific task. Electronic components are held by a board called PCB (Printed Circuit Board). The leads of Electronic components are joined to the PCB by melting Solder wire & then waiting for it to cool & solidify. PCBs then either have external copper wires (in General PCBs/ Perfboards) or printed copper tracks (Advanced FR4 Grade PCBs) that help in establishing the required connections.

Some basics about soldering stations

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Prior to selecting the right soldering station as per your need, you should first know about the basic terms associated with soldering. These are described below:

1.Solder alloy:

It is an alloy made by combining two or more elements. The type of elements used decides the melting point of the solder alloy. These are supplied in various forms such as wires, bars & balls as per requirement. One thing to note is that almost all forms of solder alloys now-a-days comes with electronic grade flux inside them. Different type of solder alloys are:

(a)60Sn-40Pb (This is the most popular & widely used solder alloy which melts over a range of temperature from 183OC to 190OC. This is a lead based solder alloy which is prohibited in European Union countries. However, this is the one which is most easily recognizable in case of good solder joints due to its shiny appearance.)

(b)63Sn-37Pb (This is used where more professional results are required. Rather than melting over a range of temperatures, this type melts at a specific temperature of 183OC and solidifies at specific temperature too.)

(c)99.3Sn-0.7Cu (This is a lead-free solder alloy composition that melts at a high temperature of about 227 OC but is allowed in EU Countries. This type of solder alloy is very difficult to work with as the good solder joints formed using this type are not shiny.)

2.Flux:

It is available in various types such as liquid, paste, gel or even in form of flux pens. Flux pens are indispensable if you are into soldering of SMD (Surface Mount Device) components. In case of through-hole components no additional flux is required as the flux contained in the solder wire is enough for the purpose. The action of flux is simple – it is corrosive at soldering temperature & thus cleans the surfaces to be soldered while being non-corrosive at room temperatures.

3.SMD:

It is a short term for Surface Mount Device components – the technology towards which the world is gearing up now-a-days. These components are extremely small compared to their big counterparts, i.e. through-hole components.
4.Power plane: The copper area on a PCB through which transmission of high voltage & current takes place is termed as power plane. Generally pads in these areas suck a lot of heat from the tip of soldering iron.

5.Dry joint:

The solder joint which is formed as a result of improper heating is called dry solder joint. The electronic product with a dry joint may function perfectly initially but start giving problems very soon. These joints are highly unreliable & very difficult to trace during troubleshooting.

6.Copper Pads with/without thermal relief:

If there is no thermal relief provided to a copper pad (that is on a power plane) then that joint will absorb & dissipate more heat from the soldering iron tip. If the soldering iron lack to fulfill the required thermal demand the joint will start cooling down & there would be formation of a dry joint.

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