Over the years the hand held and inexpensive hot air rework systems have disappeared from the work bench.  Ebay and other internet auction sites have been cluttered with hand held hot air  rework systems and hand soldering tools which were modified to work on the ( then new ) smt technology.  A lesson can be learned from this, in that if the cause of the disposal of these tools is known, the knowledge can be used to avoid the purchase of rework tools that will soon be obsolete.

Companies making an evaluation of the suitability of new rework equipment often enquire when there is a new problem or the tools available do not work well for the problem at hand.  In the hay day of the hand held hot air systems selling in the $ 900 to $ 1400 dollar range, the market had available low temperature high power systems with closed loop temperature control in the $ 3500 dollar range.  Those systems, witch are now over twelve years old are still in use today and still command 60 to 80 % of their original value on the used equipment market.  The lesson here, as usual, is that cheap stuff is not always so.

The basic lesson of buying proper rework systems can reduce to solving really tough problems which have been around for a long time.   Even when considering the purchase of BGA and the new split vision systems today, plastic parts and heat sensitive parts can be the guide to buying the proper system.  These parts are as tough to do today as ever and require the most precise temperature and heat control to do successfully.  Most all hot air systems have some sort of digital control and display for temperature.  The test the purchaser should look for is not an indicator saying 210 deg C but at the indicated temperature of 210 C a plastic part that will melt at 220 C does not melt.  It is sort of a truth in the pudding.

So what does it take to rework plastic parts, glob top BGA’S, edge connectors, surface mount connectors and opto-electric parts?

Knowledge of removing and replacing plastics usually suffices to understand and successfully replace other heat sensitive parts.  To that end we will focus on the plastics to illustrate the repair of other parts which are difficult to deal with.

It takes a given amount of energy to remove and replace any part.  There are two ways to get the required energy; temperature or wattage.  The calories of energy required must also be such as not to delaminate or burn the board.  Simply being able to remove the part does not solve the problem as it usually takes a bit more energy to replace the part successfully.

The first step in solving the problem is to find the temperature at which the part to be worked will tolerate.  A good thermal tracking unit or temperature measuring device will enable the determination of this temperature.  A lot of plastic parts and glob top BGA’S will melt just above the melting pint of solder and awareness of this will give a proper starting point for any testing.  The inside walls of edge connectors should be carefully inspected around the points where there is metal contact.  The metal will absorb the heat more quickly and give the first indication of pending damage or degradation.    After the temperature has been determined for a particular part the next step it formulates a plan for repair.

The tool that is selected for repair should be checked for accuracy.  If the indicator on the unit which is going to be used is set at 210 C. put a temperature measuring device in the air flow to be sure that the unit is delivering the indicated temperature.  Even as little as a five degree error can cause failure.

With all that done, find a nozzle which is larger than the device which is going to be worked.  If one is not available you can make one from a heavy duty aluminum foil.  If the part will be a consistent concern a proper nozzle should be purchased.  Put the part under the nozzle and let her rip.  If after four and one half minuets the part cannot be removed stop the process and reevaluate the situation.  Any longer will increase the chance that the flux will be degraded and the solder joints will start degrading.

If unsuccessful the next step it to add pre heat.  The delta t   (temperature difference between the top and bottom of the board) should be very tight.  By focusing the heat source directly under the part the energy can be focused to the task at hand and not used to overcome the thermal threshold of the circuit board.  The plastics do not conduct heat well and will hinder the calorie transfer.  Using the preheat for overcoming the thermal threshold of the board will complicate the process.  In the cases of heavy ground planes and metal boards the opposite it true.  It is not likely that the plastics will carry enough energy to overcome the heat absorption of the board and the part will not come off.  The energy transfer from a pre heat source can be regulated by varying the distance for the edge of the nozzle to the surface of the board.  The distance between the depending on the wattage of the pre heater.  The only concerns are the true temperature of the air and the exhaust of the hot air.  As the pre heater gets closer the air mixing with the hot air is reduced and the temperature increases.  The calibration of the initial set up can become skewed.  If the nozzle becomes so close that proper venting is prevented the calibration is also distorted.

Hot plates and IR pre heating is not recommended for this type of work.  The thermal reaction times and energy transfer is never consistent by the nature of the devices.  I would recommend leaving them in the kitchen and not use them for rework.  They can be used, however for large metal and ground plane boards in limited applications, where the size of the board happens to match the size of the pre heater.  These devices heat only under a circuit board and have little capacity to ramp and soak to perform properly engineered repair scenarios.  They are also limited in their ability to preheat beyond the physical dimensions of the heating surface.
Hot air preheating, on the other hand can be ramped, soaked and (on some systems) tied to the reflow process.  This allows duplication of the actual manufacturing environment in which the assemblies were manufactured.  The effort to attain zero defects in repair and rework will eventually lead producers of some repair equipment to offer the advantages of hot air preheat in the future.  For now it is a cheap and easy way to offer apparent features of preheating with out the ability to actually do the job properly.  Glob top BGA’S and photoelectrical parts are very sensitive and any attempt to pre heat with hot plates is discouraged.

It is also important to ask any manufacturer that you consider buying rework equipment from what the cost of the nozzle will be.  There are some instances where a single nozzle can cost more that $ 1800.  

Replacement of these parts require a bit more time under heat then the original removal time.  Usually an operator will remove a part at the earliest possible time after it becomes free.  The replacement requires a full and complete reflow to be successful.  Duplicating the removal time will have some joints not completely reflowed.  On small connectors and parts (cell phone jacks pager glob top BGA’S) the addition of 20 to 30 seconds is generally sufficient for completion of the reflow process.  On larger sockets, and surface mounted edge connectors, the addition of one minuet and thirty seconds is not uncommon.  A visual inspection of the work completed is the best guide for this determination.

Alignment of surface mounted edge connectors can be done visually for instillation.  If the connector has exposed contact leads tacking one or two, before reflow is preferable.  Some surface mounted connectors and sockets have blind leads and require split vision units for alignment.  If only an occasional repair is required and the connections are 30 mil pitch or greater, the operator can take a fine line magic marker and outline the form of the part prior to removal.   High velocity hot air is sometimes used in low power rework systems (you can tell if components have been blowing around after reflow) If you have one of these systems, it is best to glue or tape the part into place, if required.


Plastic parts and temperature sensitive components can be reworked with a minimal effort and understanding as well as a being a good indicator of which rework system to select when replacement is necessary.