Computing stuff tied to the physical world

My first reflow

In Hardware on Jul 13, 2009 at 00:01

Here’s my new super duper reflow setup:


I decided to use a JeeNode as reflow controller. This is all about hammers, nails, and dog food, after all :)

The grill is turned on and off via an FS20 remote power switch, which is controlled by the on-board RFM12B. No need to get into relays and high-voltage stuff. Total cost including grill, LCD, and remote switch is under € 100.

The whole setup can be battery powered. I used the new plug breadboarding approach for prototyping it all:


The “P” at the lower left indicates it’s currently in the pre-heat phase, now at 110° with a target of 140°.

The port assignments on the JeeNode are:

  • Port 1: serial 4×20 LCD display, based on the Modern Device LCD117
  • Port 2: NTC on AIO with 1 KΩ pull-up to 3.3V, piezo buzzer on DIO
  • Port 3: two leds: green is running, red is grill power on
  • Port 4: two switches: white is run/stop, black is select profile 0..9

I’m not using PID control. Merely did a manual test to determine the overshoot, and am compensating for that by turning off a bit earlier. It turns out that this grill has a huge overshoot: some 65°C ! … so I removed both Teflon-covered metal plates and am now using a 0.5 mm aluminium panel instead. Overshoot is now around 30°.

The system can be configured through FTDI / USB. Once set up, it can be operated without computer. The LCD display is optional but a great convenience.

Here’s the first test board (using some scrap boards from SparkFun):


This is the cool-down phase, i.e. with the grill open. The temperature sensor is taped to a separate board to track things under similar conditions. The tape needs to be heat resistant, of course… I got it from DealExtreme:


And here’s the final result:


Only used a few resistors for this trial, and spread some paste on the TQFP pads to see how that comes out.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the leftmost resistor under header pin 13 is “tomb-stoned” – it’s standing straight up as the capillary pull of one pad took over. I probably put too much paste on one pad and not enough on the other.

But the rest looks good… f a s c i n a t i n g !

I seem to be getting a decent temperature profile. Things heat up nicely, stay in soaking ramp-up mode for a while, and then go up to a few degrees over 220°C. When the grill has to be opened up for cooling down after reflow, the system beeps to draw my attention.

FWIW, the source code for this setup is available here.

There’s still an intermittent problem with the NTC hookup – I’m getting occasional flakey connections on the enamel wires, which are simply wound tightly around each end of the NTC. Can’t use solder there, and I haven’t found another solution for that. For now, the controller just powers off when the NTC reading is bad, but that’s a pretty horrible approach.

Conclusion so far: reflow is absolutely doable for hobbyists (my second try went perfectly!), with the paste being the most tricky bit. Stencils are probably very useful to apply paste quickly and evenly.

See also Stephen Eaton’s recent post, where he describes his latest results with SMD reflow.