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Wave Soldering is Here to Stay


Patty was just getting ready to leave her office for a bi-weekly luncheon with the Professor, Pete, and Rob.  They had regular meetings like this to discuss new technical topics or to review books.  It was Patty’s turn to take the lead in discussing the new book, Rust: The Longest War.

As Patty arrived at the faculty dining room, everyone else was already seated.  After ordering, she began the discussion.

“I thought that, overall, the book rated 4 out of 5 stars,” Patty stated.

Figure 1.  Rust: The Longest War

“It had many interesting stories and brought home that fighting rust is the ‘longest war,’” she went on.

“But shouldn’t the book really be called ‘Corrosion’?” Pete interjected.

“I agree. After all, the best story was about the work that was done to refurbish the statue of liberty, and most of that is copper.  By definition, only iron rusts; copper corrodes. We try to be very specific about the differences in our undergraduate materials classes,” Rob chimed in.

“Rob, I remember you telling us that one student wrote a paper that referred to wood corroding,” the Professor said.

At that comment everyone chuckled.

“We can all agree that corrosion is a big challenge to civilization. But, can anyone think of a big downside if iron didn’t rust?” the Professor asked.

Patty, Rob, and Pete looked at each other and then the Professor as they shrugged their shoulders.

“Think biological processes,” the Professor encouraged.

It hit them all at once, but Pete was the first to comment.

“Blood!” he cried out.

“Precisely! Without ‘rust’ we wouldn’t be here.  Iron’s unique ability to combine with oxygen in the hemoglobin of our blood makes ‘rust’ a requirement for human life,” the Professor explained.

None of them recalled seeing this point in the book.

“So, the conclusion is that rust costs the US over $400 billion per year. But, without it we wouldn’t be here,” Pete summarized as he chuckled.

“Patty, I understand that you had to fill in for Professor Croft as he recovers from a broken leg. The course was Everyday Technology as I recall. How did it work out?” the professor asked.

“Well, first of all, Pete agreed to help. And, it was only for the last two weeks of the term.  The final assignment for the students was to perform a teardown analysis on some electronic product, such as a DVD player, blender, hair dryer, etc.  They had to write a report and give a presentation on their findings.  They worked in teams of 2 or 3,” Patty summarized.

“It’s important to remember that the students that take this course are not engineering or science majors.  The course fulfills a technology requirement for non-technical students.  Most of them had never taken anything apart before,” Pete chimed in.

“Hey! Don’t forget that Patty made me sit in on all of the presentations,” Rob added teasingly.

“So, what were your impressions?” the Professor asked.

“I was impressed by how professional their presentations were and what a thorough job they did,” Pete responded.

Their work was especially impressive considering that almost all of them had never done anything like this this before,” Rob added.

“Anything else?” the Professor asked.

“I was surprised that all of the photos that the students took were taken with a smartphone, even macro shots of small components.  I remember photos from smartphones of 6 or 7 years ago were almost unusable. Those that the students took this semester looked high definition to my eyes,” Patty added.

There was a little more discussion and, finally, the Professor had one last question.

“You all had a chance to see many teardowns. How did it impact your understanding of the state of technology?” the Professor asked.

Patty began, “Pete, Rob, and I discussed this topic quite a bit.  We had to admit that the thing that surprised us the most was that, of the 18 devices that the students analyzed, almost all had a wave soldered PCB with through-hole technology.”

“I agree, we noticed that every power supply board was a through-hole wave soldered board.  I think we only saw a PCB or two that was all SMT.  If the boards weren’t pure through hole, they were mixed technology.  Through-hole and wave soldering are here to stay,” Pete added.

Figure 2. A Typical Wave Soldered Through-Hole Power Supply Board

“We have to consider that most of the devices were lower tech: blenders, toasters, and one hair dryer,” Rob pointed out.

“But, the DVD player struck me the most. It had a mixed technology board in which one side was wave soldered, and a power supply board that was all through hole and wave soldered,” Pete added.

“I think those of us in the electronics assembly field become so enamored with smart phones and other high tech devices that have SMT-only PCBs that we forget that there are billions of lower tech devices that still use wave soldered through-hole boards.  The technology is cheap and it works, so why change?” the Professor summarized.

“So, wave soldering will likely be around for my grand kids!” Patty chuckled.