Solder mask or solder stop mask or solder resist is a thin lacquer-like layer of polymer that is usually applied to the copper traces of a printed circuit board (PCB) for protection against oxidation and to prevent solder bridges from forming between closely spaced solder pads. A solder bridge is an unintended electrical connection between two conductors by means of a small blob of solder. PCBs use solder masks to prevent this from happening. Solder mask is not always used for hand soldered assemblies, but is essential for mass-produced boards that are soldered automatically using reflow or solder bath techniques. Once applied, openings must be made in the solder mask wherever components are soldered, which is accomplished using photolithography.Solder mask is traditionally green but is now available in many colors.
The term lacquer is used for a number of hard and potentially shiny finishes applied to materials such as wood. These fall into a number of very different groups.
Copper is a chemical element with symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a soft, malleable, and ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. A freshly exposed surface of pure copper has a pinkish-orange color. Copper is used as a conductor of heat and electricity, as a building material, and as a constituent of various metal alloys, such as sterling silver used in jewelry, cupronickel used to make marine hardware and coins, and constantan used in strain gauges and thermocouples for temperature measurement.
A printed circuit board (PCB) mechanically supports and electrically connects electronic components or electrical components using conductive tracks, pads and other features etched from one or more sheet layers of copper laminated onto and/or between sheet layers of a non-conductive substrate. Components are generally soldered onto the PCB to both electrically connect and mechanically fasten them to it.
Solder mask comes in different media depending upon the demands of the application. The lowest-cost solder mask is epoxy liquid that is silkscreened through the pattern onto the PCB. Other types are the liquid photoimageable solder mask (LPSM or LPI) inks and dry-film photoimageable solder mask (DFSM). LPSM can be silkscreened or sprayed on the PCB, exposed to the pattern and developed to provide openings in the pattern for parts to be soldered to the copper pads. DFSM is vacuum-laminated on the PCB then exposed and developed. All three processes typically go through a thermal cure of some type after the pattern is defined although LPI solder masks are also available in ultra violet (UV) cure.
Epoxy is either any of the basic components or the cured end products of epoxy resins, as well as a colloquial name for the epoxide functional group. Epoxy resins, also known as polyepoxides, are a class of reactive prepolymers and polymers which contain epoxide groups. Epoxy resins may be reacted (cross-linked) either with themselves through catalytic homopolymerisation, or with a wide range of co-reactants including polyfunctional amines, acids, phenols, alcohols and thiols. These co-reactants are often referred to as hardeners or curatives, and the cross-linking reaction is commonly referred to as curing. Reaction of polyepoxides with themselves or with polyfunctional hardeners forms a thermosetting polymer, often with favorable mechanical properties and high thermal and chemical resistance. Epoxy has a wide range of applications, including metal coatings, use in electronics/electrical components/LEDs, high tension electrical insulators, paint brush manufacturing, fiber-reinforced plastic materials and structural adhesives. Epoxy is sometimes used as a glue.
Curing is a chemical process employed in polymer chemistry and process engineering that produces the toughening or hardening of a polymer material by cross-linking of polymer chains. It is strongly associated with the production of thermosetting polymers. Curing can be effected by heat, radiation, electron beams, or chemical additives. Characteristically curing entails an increase in viscosity or hardness.
In electronic design automation, the solder mask is treated as a layer of the printed circuit board, and is described as a Gerber file like any other layer, such as the copper and silkscreen layers.
Electronic design automation (EDA), also referred to as electronic computer-aided design (ECAD), is a category of software tools for designing electronic systems such as integrated circuits and printed circuit boards. The tools work together in a design flow that chip designers use to design and analyze entire semiconductor chips. Since a modern semiconductor chip can have billions of components, EDA tools are essential for their design.
The Gerber format is an open ASCII vector format for 2D binary images. It is the de facto standard used by printed circuit board (PCB) industry software to describe the printed circuit board images: copper layers, solder mask, legend, etc.
A photoplotter is a specialized electro-opto-mechanical machine that exposes a latent image on a medium, usually high-contrast monochromatic (black-and-white) photographic film, using a light source under computer control. Once the film has been exposed, it must be processed before it is ready for use.
Surface-mount technology (SMT) is a method for producing electronic circuits in which the components are mounted or placed directly onto the surface of printed circuit boards (PCBs). An electronic device so made is called a surface-mount device (SMD). In industry, it has largely replaced the through-hole technology construction method of fitting components with wire leads into holes in the circuit board. Both technologies can be used on the same board, with the through-hole technology used for components not suitable for surface mounting such as large transformers and heat-sinked power semiconductors.
In electronics, desoldering is the removal of solder and components from a circuit board for troubleshooting, repair, replacement, and salvage.
Wave soldering is a bulk soldering process used in the manufacture of printed circuit boards. The circuit board is passed over a pan of molten solder in which a pump produces an upwelling of solder that looks like a standing wave. As the circuit board makes contact with this wave, the components become soldered to the board. Wave soldering is used for both through-hole printed circuit assemblies, and surface mount. In the latter case, the components are glued onto the surface of a printed circuit board (PCB) by placement equipment, before being run through the molten solder wave. Wave soldering is mainly used in soldering of through hole components.
Gold plating is a method of depositing a thin layer of gold onto the surface of another metal, most often copper or silver, by chemical or electrochemical plating. This article covers plating methods used in the modern electronics industry; for more traditional methods, often used for much larger objects, see gilding.
Reflow soldering is a process in which a solder paste is used to temporarily attach one or thousands of tiny electrical components to their contact pads, after which the entire assembly is subjected to controlled heat. The solder paste reflows in a molten state, creating permanent solder joints. Heating may be accomplished by passing the assembly through a reflow oven or under an infrared lamp or by soldering individual joints [unconventionally] with a desoldering hot air pencil.
Rework is the term for the refinishing operation or repair of an electronic printed circuit board (PCB) assembly, usually involving desoldering and re-soldering of surface-mounted electronic components (SMD). Mass processing techniques are not applicable to single device repair or replacement, and specialized manual techniques by expert personnel using appropriate equipment are required to replace defective components; area array packages such as ball grid array (BGA) devices particularly require expertise and appropriate tools. A hot air gun or hot air station is used to heat devices and melt solder, and specialised tools are used to pick up and position often tiny components.
A via or VIA is an electrical connection between layers in a physical electronic circuit that goes through the plane of one or more adjacent layers. To ensure via robustness, IPC sponsored a round-robin exercise that developed a time to failure calculator.
Solder paste is a material used in the manufacture of printed circuit boards to connect surface mount components to pads on the board. It is also possible to solder through hole pin in paste components by printing solder paste in/over the holes. The paste initially adheres components in place by being sticky, it is then heated melting the paste and forming a mechanical bond as well as an electrical connection. The paste is applied to the board by jet printing, stencil printing or syringe and then the components are put in place by a pick-and-place machine or by hand.
Selective soldering is the process of selectively soldering components to printed circuit boards and molded modules that could be damaged by the heat of a reflow oven or wave soldering in a traditional surface-mount technology (SMT) or Through-hole technology assembly processes.This usually follows an SMT oven reflow process; parts to be selectively soldered are usually surrounded by parts that have been previously soldered in a surface-mount reflow process, and the selective-solder process must be sufficiently precise to avoid damaging them.
Flat no-leads packages such as quad-flat no-leads (QFN) and dual-flat no-leads (DFN) physically and electrically connect integrated circuits to printed circuit boards. Flat no-leads, also known as micro leadframe (MLF) and SON, is a surface-mount technology, one of several package technologies that connect ICs to the surfaces of PCBs without through-holes. Flat no-lead is a near chip scale plastic encapsulated package made with a planar copper lead frame substrate. Perimeter lands on the package bottom provide electrical connections to the PCB. Flat no-lead packages include an exposed thermal pad to improve heat transfer out of the IC. Heat transfer can be further facilitated by metal vias in the thermal pad. The QFN package is similar to the quad-flat package (QFP), and a ball grid array (BGA).
Perfboard is a material for prototyping electronic circuits. It is a thin, rigid sheet with holes pre-drilled at standard intervals across a grid, usually a square grid of 0.1 inches (2.54 mm) spacing. These holes are ringed by round or square copper pads, though bare boards are also available. Inexpensive perfboard may have pads on only one side of the board, while better quality perfboard can have pads on both sides. Since each pad is electrically isolated, the builder makes all connections with either wire wrap or miniature point to point wiring techniques. Discrete components are soldered to the prototype board such as resistors, capacitors, and integrated circuits. The substrate is typically made of paper laminated with phenolic resin or a fiberglass-reinforced epoxy laminate (FR-4).
A thermal relief pad, thermal pad or simply thermal, is a printed circuit board (PCB) pad connected to a copper pour using a thermal connection. It looks like a normal pad with copper "spokes" connecting it to the surrounding copper.
Bead probe technology (BPT) is technique used to provide electrical access to printed circuit board (PCB) circuitry for performing in-circuit testing (ICT). It makes use of small beads of solder placed onto the board's traces to allow measuring and controlling of the signals using a test probe. This permits test access to boards on which standard ICT test pads are not feasible due to space constraints.
Electroless nickel immersion gold (ENIG) is a type of surface plating used for printed circuit boards. It consists of an electroless nickel plating covered with a thin layer of immersion gold, which protects the nickel from oxidation.
Pad cratering is a mechanically induced fracture in the resin between copper foil and outermost layer of fiberglass of a printed circuit board (PCB). It may be within the resin or at the resin to fiberglass interface.
DipTrace is an EDA/CAD software for creating schematic diagrams and printed circuit boards. The developers provide a multi-lingual interface and tutorials. DipTrace has 4 modules: schematic capture editor, PCB layout editor with built-in shape-based autorouter and 3D-preview & export, component editor, and pattern editor.
Stencil printing is the process of depositing solder paste on the printed wiring boards (PWBs) to establish electrical connections. It is immediately followed by the component placement stage. The equipment and materials used in this stage are stencil, solder paste, and a printer.
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