Three reasons to robotize soldering operations

The soldering process has remained the same since 1896 when the patent was granted for an “electric heating apparatus” automation could change all that.

By Nigel Smith September 30, 2021
Courtesy: TM Robotics

As electronics get smaller and manufacturers come under greater pressure to improve efficiency and throughput, the traditional hand soldering method is no longer up to scratch. While soldering is performed by skilled, highly trained workers, the ability to simultaneously improve speed, accuracy and consistency is an almost impossible task for humans, however, not for industrial robots.

As the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) sweeps the manufacturing industry, industrial robots are bringing a host of benefits to the factory floor, increasing productivity and profitability whether machine tending, assembling, picking and placing or even soldering.

Soldering robots for speed

A major benefit of automating the soldering process is improving speed and efficiency. Not only are soldering robots fast when completing tasks, they don’t require breaks, annual leave or slow down due to eye strain or fatigue. Soldering robots can operate 24/7 if necessary, increasing production.

Plus, it’s relatively quicker, easier and cheaper to train robot operators than highly skilled manual solderers. Combine this with the fact that one operator can load, unload and oversee several robot stations and the savings in terms of training costs and manpower begin to add up.

Soldering robots for accuracy

Not only are soldering robots faster than manual soldering, they’re also more accurate. Every year, electronics are getting smaller, and the demand for smaller, more lightweight electronics is only expected to grow. Many printed circuit boards (PCBs) are heavily populated with components, making it likely for solder joints to be incorrectly soldered or missed altogether. Errors when soldering manually are inconsistent and difficult to detect.

In contrast, once a robot has been programmed to a certain path and quality level, it will repeat it exactly, soldering each join precisely. Errors that do occur can easily be corrected through reprogramming. With human error eliminated, fewer defects will be found — decreasing the amount of rework needed and increasing throughput.

Soldering robots for versatility

The third reason to robotize soldering operations is versatility. Whatever the soldering application, from single pins to battery cables, there’s a soldering robot to match. TM Robotics and Elmotec offer a range of fully automated soldering systems, combining Shibaura Machine’s accurate and reliable SCARA and 6-axis robots, with soldering heads and peripherals designed by Elmotec.

These soldering heads are simple to mount onto SCARA robots, and cover a range of soldering types including laser soldering heads for heat-sensitive electrical components, high-frequency soldering heads for compact induction heating and flame soldering heads for maximum energy when micro-flame soldering. These heads can be combined with nozzles designed for a variety of applications.

The TVL500 from TM Robotics is a compact, lightweight six-axis robot with a maximum payload of 3 kg and a reach of 602 mm. Courtesy: TM Robotics

The TVL500 from TM Robotics is a compact, lightweight six-axis robot with a maximum payload of 3 kg and a reach of 602 mm. Courtesy: TM Robotics

Soldering robots in action

One company to take advantage of soldering robots is MIG-O-MAT, a company that makes plasma welding and micro-flame soldering machines, before this point for manual use. MIG-O-MAT approached Elmotec to find a robot that was extremely accurate, consistent, flexible and able to be installed in multiple configurations.

To satisfy these requirements, TM Robotics suggested the TVL500. This compact, lightweight six-axis robot is the smallest robot in the TVL range, offering a maximum payload of 3 kg and a reach of 602 mm (see Figure 1). Because of a standard cycle time of less than 0.4 seconds, the TVL500 offers the high speed and accuracy necessary for soldering applications.

“Integrating the TVL500 improved the overall process time of a general soldering operation, but an unexpected advantage was the increased ease in which an operator can detect possible errors during soldering,” said Burak Maltepe, sales engineer at MIG-O-MAT. “With manual soldering, any errors that do occur are inconsistent and almost impossible to detect. Using automated technology means errors — which have already been drastically reduced — can be identified easily. More importantly, end users can reprogram the robot to the correct adjustments and ensure the error does not occur again.”

The pressures of today’s electronics production lines make the accuracy, efficiency and consistency offered by industrial robots invaluable. While handheld electric soldering irons may have been the best solution for the past 125 years, soldering robots are the future.

Nigel Smith
Author Bio: Nigel Smith is managing director at TM Robotics, a Toshiba Machine partner.