Essential guide to robotic soldering stations
Soldering | 9 min read
Instead of manual soldering with human labour, you can make the soldering process faster and more efficient with a robotic soldering system. A soldering robot is a piece of equipment that uses robotic arms to move around parts, solder them together, and then repeat the process until all the parts are assembled.
Using a robot for your soldering process can make your production system more cost-effective. This article discusses why a robotic soldering system suits your company.
Introduction to robotic soldering
Robotic soldering – also known as automatic soldering or programmable soldering – is a process in which the robot moves and places the solder on the different components of a circuit board. The manufacturing technique uses robots to perform tasks such as soldering and welding.
Robotic soldering systems can manufacture, repair, and maintain electronic products. In addition, they can solder small and large-scale components, printed circuit boards, and other assemblies.
Using automated soldering stations with robots can significantly improve the accuracy of your soldering. For example, the soldering robots in Thermaltronics soldering stations can perform a designated task repeatedly with utmost precision independently.
Now, let’s look closely at the pros and cons of robotic soldering.
Problems of manual soldering
Manual soldering is tedious since components can move freely on the printed circuit board. As a result, human operators may be unable to produce consistent results when securing soldering components.
It can be challenging to keep track of all the parts you are working with, especially when trying to solder many components simultaneously. You may also need to track how long it takes to cool down between each process step.
Manual soldering can be dangerous because it involves using hot tools that can burn or injure the operator if they touch skin or clothes.
Benefits of robotic soldering
Robots can solve these problems by automating the process of manual soldering. They can take over the task of manually placing each part on a board, and they can ensure that each piece is placed correctly and firmly. This saves time in the production process since there are fewer errors. There is also less chance of accidents, which can slow down manufacturing and incurs higher costs.
The other benefits of robotic soldering are:
- It’s faster: Robotic soldering can help optimise your workforce. Instead of allocating employees to spend hours doing the same task over and over again, a robot-assisted soldering system can work independently. That way, companies can deploy staff more efficiently.
- It’s more consistent: Robots are never tired and can perform tasks more accurately than humans. This means fewer mistakes and less wasted time trying to fix botched work.
- It improves quality: With human workers, there will always be an element of imperfection in their work. However, robots are far less likely to miss things or make mistakes during the soldering process, so every component will be connected as intended when it comes to assembly.
Challenges with robotic soldering
If you’re thinking about using robotic soldering, here are some things to keep in mind before you invest in one:
- Robotic soldering requires training and troubleshooting from a human operator at the start of production. A human operator needs to recognise the robot’s needs and then provide those needs.
For example, if the robot is trying to solder something but can’t because it requires more heat, or it’s trying to solder an object that’s too small or too large. The human operator would need to recognise this problem and provide the correct solution.
However, all heat problems can be avoided when you choose a Thermaltronics soldering robot. Thermaltronic’s industrial-recognised Thermaltronics Curie Heat Technology technology adjusts the power according to the thermal demands of each joint, heating the substrate component and solder material at the right temperature.
- The robot may be unable to detect all problems arising during a soldering operation.
For example, if there’s a piece of metal in front of the soldering bit that prevents it from reaching its target, the robot may not be able to adjust its workflow and will stall. A human operator would need to be present to recognise this problem and remove it so the robot could continue working.
Modern systems, like the Thermaltronics Robot System TMT-R9900S, are equipped with technology to collect data for troubleshooting and intelligent decision-making. This means that the need for human operator intervention is lessened significantly.
- Integrating robotic soldering into existing production lines can be challenging if companies are unfamiliar with using a robot-assisted soldering system. In addition, smaller companies with less experience might find incorporating it into their production process difficult.
Ultimately, whether you choose robotic soldering or rely on manual work also depends on your company’s needs and budget. Therefore, it’s best to consider your soldering needs before you purchase a soldering system – and Scanditronic Technology can help you make an informed decision.
A Cartesian robotic soldering system uses a robotic arm that moves in 3 (X, Y, Z) dimensions. You can use it to solder together electronic components or perform other manufacturing tasks.
The system consists of an arm with a gripper that can move in any direction. There’s also a workstation where the arm is connected and operated remotely. A computer programme controls the robot’s movements, and these arms can manipulate soldering equipment, such as a soldering iron or hot plate. They can also load and unload parts from soldering stations and perform other tasks like testing and inspection.
The advantage of using this system over others is that it allows for more precise movements, which improves product quality and reduces defects. However, it falls short in applications that require detailed, angled movements of the soldering head to work at angles.
The Thermaltronics soldering robot TMT-R9900S is an example of a Cartesian robot with a unique feature. Instead of rigidly pre-programmed instructions, it comes equipped with decision-making capability so the robot can manipulate obstacles in the production process.
A SCARA robotic soldering system is a robot that can perform complex tasks such as soldering and welding. SCARA stands for Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm, which refers to these robots operating on a parallel-axis joint layout. That means the arm moves only in the X-Y direction but is rigid in the Z direction.
The SCARA is often used for assembly operations that do not require binding. For example, inserting a round pin in a round hole. The arm layout only has multiple joints, which lets them reach into smaller spaces and then bend up or retract. This function helps the robot to perform exact tasks, such as transferring parts to enclosed areas without damaging anything.
The SCARA is typically faster than the Cartesian and the Six-Axis, although it may struggle with more complex movements. It is also less scalable compared to the other robots. However, the SCARA robotic soldering system is generally considered a cost-effective, high-quality solution for small to mid-sized manufacturers.
The six-axis is considered a jack of all trades since it can be deployed in many applications. It is used for various tasks, such as welding, soldering, and other operations, such as surface finishing, deburring, and polishing.
The 6 axes of movement on this robot include the three axes that we see in most other robots (X, Y, and Z), as well as an additional 3 axes that allow it to move up and down (yaw), side to side (pitch), and back and forth (roll).
A soldering robot like the Thermaltronics TMT R9800S or the Thermaltronics TMT R8000S can perform various tasks, such as soldering components onto circuit boards or welding pieces of metal together. You can use it on multiple materials and components, including plastic, metal, glass and ceramic.
The six-axis robotic soldering system is a highly specialised equipment that performs high-precision soldering. This makes it highly popular with many industries, including automotive, electronics, electrical engineering, and aerospace.
Considerations when purchasing a soldering robot
When purchasing a soldering robot, here are 4 things to consider:
The board size of the soldering robot is important to consider because it will determine the workpiece that your robot can handle. If you have a large circuit board that needs to be repaired, for example, but your soldering robot only has a small board, it will not be able to complete the job.
The robot should be able to handle both the boards you have currently and the future ones. A feature you can then look for is a soldering robot with a double-drawer capacity. The robot can work on large boards or separately on smaller boards.
Easy to use
You want to save time teaching your soldering robot what to do. Look for a system with an easy-to-use, intuitive user interface for fast programming.
Some systems, such as the standard soldering robot from Thermaltronics, include a camera with dynamic mapping and matching capability. This feature allows the programmer to teach the robot the process once for repeatability. Once the robot is programmed, anyone can run it efficiently, regardless of skill level. The TMT R8000s camera also inspects for post-production inconsistencies.
Consider the range of current and future applications your soldering robots can accomplish and the cost they can incur. Then, look at how much it will cost to replace or upgrade the various applications.
The core component of the robot is the soldering iron, which you need to check if it is suitable for your current and future needs. Further, opting to use soldering robots more means creating solder joints and using more soldering tips. Suppose the robot uses an expensive soldering tip series. In that case, it becomes a prohibitive operating cost for your system.
Know your tasks before you select your robot
There are several types of soldering. Different soldering jobs require specific solders based on the part. In addition, you may need a specific flux and soldering method for your assembly line. Therefore, you should look for tooling to add to your soldering robot that supports production. Soldering robots also have different options for soldering heads.
Your choice should include the proper tools and flux for the soldering process. A wrong choice can change your final component, leading to undesired results or part failure.
As the demand and use of smart devices and consumer electronics grow, the need to create high-quality soldered components will also increase. Using soldering robots in a production line will allow companies to meet this demand quickly and efficiently. While manual soldering may be a faster option for small-medium companies that deal with smaller parts, choosing a robotic soldering system has clear benefits.
If companies want to invest in a system that will improve production processes, doing their research is vital before purchasing.
If you rely only on manual soldering, it may be time to rethink your process. Moreover, a comprehensive soldering robot system like the Thermaltronics range can be a worthwhile long-term investment.
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