A few months ago I gave a tour of my soldering workbench for anyone who might find it useful. All the money I make from manufacturing Amiga parts either goes to more R&D or upgrading my workshop so I can make more complicated projects faster/easier. Since then I have invested in some upgrades and new tech, I’ll cover what I have an why in this post.

Fume Extractor

In the previous post I mentioned that I had an HEPA filter fume extractor, which whilst working well was quite noisy. I took the plunge and upgraded to a Metcal BVX-101 HEPA fume extractor which is much quieter. I don’t need ear protection any more whilst using it and it has a very good pickup of solder smoke.

It can be operated with a pipe or sit on the workbench and vacuum from underneath itself. Due to the microscope I do not have room to operate it using the latter configuration, which is fine as this way works quite well.

Ultrasonic Cleaning

Previously I was using a basic 3L generic ultrasonic cleaner with RS Safewash Super. This is OK, but for larger batches of boards it meant multiple runs, I then rinsed in a tub of deionised water and dried. I’ve very recently improved things a bit. I now have two of these 10L DK Sonic cleaners which are at a very reasonable price on Amazon.

These can sweep between different frequencies, are capable of working on many more PCBs at once and are generally better in every way to the previous tank. I can also drain them using the tap on the side.

Why two tanks? Well I now have one full of RS Safewash Super and one full of deionised water to rinse.

In addition, next to the rinse ultrasonic I have dehydrator which I run for two hours on a batch of PCBs. I talked about it before in this blog post. This works very well and I can pretty much shove many PCBs in it, turn it on and forget about it.

Pick and Place

The RAMesses board uses quite a few surface mount parts. So, I started doing a lot more manual pick and place work. First of all I acquired a used Craft Robo Lite. With some special Open Source software called gerber2graphtec this can cut high precision PCB stencils for me. I’ve had pretty good success down to about 0.5mm pads with it. But it takes a long time to cut to get the precision. Once of my PCB stencils took over an hour!

For some boards though, particularly for passive components, I’ll just manually apply the solder paste. For this I have acquired a motorised solder paste dispenser from a shop on Tindie. This comes with a foot pedal to make it very easy to control, definitely easier than manually pushing a syringe constantly. I tried a JBC DPM-B hand dispenser as well, but the ratchet mechanism slipped often and was getting damaged.

For the pick and place itself, I was using the Hakko 394 I mentioned in my last post. But this vibrates whilst in use which made it difficult to exactly place components. I now have a JBC pick and place tool which fits nicely under my JBC iron. This comes with a finger control and foot pedal, but I’ll likely just be using the finger control.

Finally for the pick and place, it is helpful to have something to hold the passive component tapes so you can easily pick from them. I found this 3D printed tray which holds the tapes down so you can pickup the components from them easily. There are likely many similar things out there.

Other Tools

Just a couple of extra things this time. Firstly there is a Hakko Omnivise, this is great for holding PCBs still, especially useful with the MHP30 hot plate. Also, some heat resistant mats. It turns out my soldering mat did not like several minutes of hot air applied to it (I wondered what the smell was). So when applying hot air to PCBs I put one of these underneath.

I’ve also switched from Amtech flux to SolderKing, which is readily available in the UK and whilst it has slightly different properties, I find it just as good.

Conclusion

There are not many more upgrades I can make to this workshop at this time beyond an automated pick and place machine, and I do not produce enough PCBs to justify that. I hope people find this useful, if you have any questions please let me know.