The value of extraction in automated electronics production

Since the 1990s and the exponential growth in mobile phones, the need for automation in the electronics industry has become fundamental in meeting demand for an ever-growing range of products.

This drive for automation has advanced the march of technology, but has also increased the need for more sophisticated fume extraction systems to remove airborne emissions from the working environment and keep equipment free from contaminants that might otherwise impact product quality. This is particularly critical for electronic components.

Some manufacturers choose to extract emissions using vent-to-air systems, characterized by a labyrinth of internal pipework and ducting via a fan at roof height. Such fixed systems can impact on regulating building heating, adding energy costs, and by their nature offer limited flexibility to reconfigure production lines. In addition, growing Environmental, Social and Governance concerns over venting directly into the environment are leading more manufacturers to turn to portable extraction systems.

Portable systems, such as those manufactured by BOFA, will help filter and clean process airflow before returning it to the workplace. Indeed, portable systems are increasingly a feature of automated electronics production processes, including for wave and reflow soldering in factories producing high-volume, high-quality PCBs.

Portable systems are also more agile, enabling extraction units to be moved easily when production lines need to be reconfigured to meet fluctuating customer demand.

So why is extraction technology essential for wave and reflow soldering processes?

In wave soldering, PCB components are placed on the board and passed over a continuous wave of molten solder. Areas not to be soldered are covered with a protective ‘mask’.

While this process doesn’t usually involve the potentially harmful resin/colophony present in hand soldering, which can present health risks, it can require the use of an alcohol-based solvent such as Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) and a small amount of organic acid, fume from which needs to be extracted and filtered.

Before soldering, the boards are ‘spray fluxed’, using either a general spray process, which can generate an airborne dispersion of the flux, or a targeted jet from a robotic nozzle. Either way, the airborne contaminants created need to be controlled through effective atmosphere management, which will mean investment in either portable fume extraction technology or an alternative, fixed method.

With reflow soldering, solder paste is applied to the PCB and components are ‘picked and placed’. The board moves through various heating, stabilizing and cooling zones, during which the solder metal ‘reflows’ or melts and solidifies around the component connection.  During this process, the solvent which makes the paste liquify will evaporate and this airborne emission then needs to be filtered through an extraction unit.

BOFA’s Temperature Control Unit (TCU) can also help maintain optimal PCB print area temperatures within a programmable 19-30ºC parameter in automated production lines. It is accurate to within 1ºC thanks to smart airflow management and integrated sensor-driven heaters and refrigerated cooling.

BOFA solutions contribute to optimal automated performance through effective air management and multi-stage filtration technology that includes specialist activated carbon filters designed to capture specific chemical emissions. At the same time, BOFA’s onboard iQ operating platform provides independent filter status monitoring to enable the timely exchange of filters and reduce the risk of downtime, thereby lowering the overall cost of system ownership.