Internal Heating Element Makes These PCBs Self
Jul 15, 2023
Surface mount components have been a game changer for the electronics hobbyist, but doing reflow soldering right requires some way to evenly heat the board. You might need to buy a commercial reflow oven — you can cobble one together from an old toaster oven, after all — but you still need something, because it’s not like a PCB is going to solder itself. Right?
Wrong. At least if you’re [Carl Bugeja], who came up with a clever way to make his PCBs self-soldering. The idea is to use one of the internal layers on a four-layer PCB, which would normally be devoted to a ground plane, as a built-in heating element. Rather than a broad, continuous layer of copper, [Carl] made a long, twisting trace covering the entire area of the PCB. Routing the trace around vias was a bit tricky, but in the end he managed a single trace with a resistance of about 3 ohms.
When connected to a bench power supply, the PCB actually heats up quickly and pretty evenly judging by the IR camera. The quality of the soldering seems very similar to what you’d see from a reflow oven. After soldering, the now-useless heating element is converted into a ground plane for the circuit by breaking off the terminals and soldering on a couple of zero ohm resistors to short the coil to ground.
The whole thing is pretty clever, but there’s more to the story. The circuit [Carl] chose for his first self-soldering board is actually a reflow controller. So once the first board was manually reflowed with a bench supply, it was used to control the reflow process for the rest of the boards in the batch, or any board with a built-in heating element. We expect there will be some limitations on the size of the self-soldering board, though.
We really like this idea, and we’re looking forward to seeing more from [Carl] on this.
Thanks for the tip, [Tobias].