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72 SMT007 MAGAZINE I NOVEMBER 2020 Poorly maintained soldering iron tips have real costs associated with their lack of care. The replacement costs associated with failing soldering tips, as well as the negative impact on outgoing quality levels, are the two great- est costs related to poor tip management prac- tices. A poorly maintained soldering tip can result in ineffective heat transfer, which means that a reliable intermetallic interconnection is difficult to ensure. To maintain the integrity of the soldering joints and prevent the tips from becoming a runaway consumable expense, there are several areas of tip care that can pro- long their life. When to Replace the Tip There are signals to the rework technician that a soldering tip is beginning to fail. If sol- der on the tip tends to "pool up" rather than flow across the tip, then surface oxidation may be going on in the tip. This will lead to a poor heat bridge and limited heat transfer. Another 5 Habits to Make Your Soldering Iron Tips Last Longer sign of oxidation buildup will be a drop in sol- dering performance. If it seems like the iron is just not getting hot enough, it could be that a thermal barrier of oxidation is preventing the tip from doing its job. Another telltale sign is in the visual appear- ance of the surface of the tip, which should have a luster and shininess to its visual appear- ance. The soldering iron tip plating material should show that it is intact by not displaying any signs of pitting, holes, or cracks in the tip plating. All of these are signs that the tip needs a replacement. Keeping the Tip Clean One of the habits that rework technicians need to nurture is keeping the soldering tip clean. Clean tips will help ensure that they last longer and work most efficiently dur- ing their lifetime. Ideally, the tip should be cleaned frequently during use and after every shift. There are multiple methods for cleaning the soldering iron tip. One technique is wiping the tip on a damp sponge wetted via distilled or DI water (to reduce any mineral buildup on the tip). Be sure to let the tip return to the set temperature between each of the wipes as the sponge will cool the tip. Change these sponges periodically so as not to re-contaminate the tip. As an alternative, brass wool can be used to gently scrub the iron plating on the tip without damaging it. Sandpaper and files should never be used to clean the tip of a soldering iron as this will damage the plating material and cause premature tip failure. Knocking Down the Bone Pile by Bob Wettermann, BEST INC. Figure 1: An example of a degraded blade tip.

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