What is the Life Span of a Profile Board?

What is the Life Span of a Profile Board?
What is the life span of a profile board? How many times can I use one test board to profile a reflow oven before throwing it away and why?
Board Talk
Board Talk is presented by Phil Zarrow and Jim Hall of ITM Consulting.
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Phil Zarrow
Phil Zarrow
With over 50 years experience in PCB assembly, Phil is one of the leading experts in SMT process failure analysis. He has vast experience in SMT equipment, materials and processes.
Jim Hall
Jim Hall
A Lean Six-Sigma Master Blackbelt, Jim has a wealth of knowledge in soldering, thermal technology, equipment and process basics. He is a pioneer in the science of reflow.


And welcome to Board Talk, this is Phil Zarrow and Jim Hall, the Assembly Brothers, Pick and Place coming to you from Board Talk headquarters from high above Mount Rialto.

The question today comes from PV.
What is the life span of a profile board? How many times can I use one test board to profile our reflow oven before throwing it away and why?

Now, you talking about a normal person or me? I had this one board, it was an old ugly looking -- it originally was some Alcatel board and originally we were using it, we were at Vitronics, and it was properly -- thermocouples were properly applied, thanks to Al Cabral at the time, using conductive epoxy and that board has seen -- because we use to use it benchmark all kinds of things.

It had seen over a hundred thermal reflow profiles. Some extreme, because we were testing ovens on the old radiant machines and stuff like that, the board itself, well you know it's still there, all the thermocouples were intact.

On the other hand, most of the components were gone, parts of the board were charred, crumbling into dust. So the answer to your question is long before it turns to dust, the reality is that if it's going to be ongoing program that you are going to want to profile, audit the profile from time to time, there are tools for doing that.

Most of the people who manufacture, profile data loggers, also will supply you with what they call a calibration vehicle which is a large board-shaped piece of usually delmat, high temperature material with some variety of thermocouples attached to it, suspended from it, giving you a high mass, low mass and so forth. These are used for a calibration; it's a very durable piece of hardware, very repeatable. And you can get a new one that is calibrated.

So, in the ideal, or the theoretical, or the best case world what is the best practice we like, we'd like to talk about that. You sacrifice a real assembly to the profile gods. You take a fully loaded board with all the components on it, attach thermocouples to the key locations using light gauge thermocouples with tiny amounts of either high temperature solder or high temperature epoxy, so that you don't add too much thermal mass to what you are trying to measure.

And that is very important, adding too much mass would really throw off your readings.

And then you use it to develop your profile and hopefully you do that, you are using predictors, and so forth, it doesn't take you too many runs, maybe it's gone through two or three or four runs, that is certainly safe. Then you have that recipe established in the oven, then you run your calibration vehicle through the oven using the same recipe.

Now you can use your calibration for set up confirmation whenever you run that board again, you reenter that profile in the oven, want to confirm that you are getting the same thermal processing, you run your calibration. You now have a calibration profile which may not be the same temperatures as you got in the board, but it's directly correlated to it up front.

So then you keep that golden actual profile board carefully stored in a closet so it doesn't get destroyed. So if you really have a critical issue, maybe you have some defects, you want to change the recipe to create a slightly different profile board. You can then pull that out, but you don't use it over and over again daily or weekly or whatever your calibration -- validation protocol is and you don't get like Phil's board where components have fallen off and it's so charred and burned and there's been so much juice cooked out it.

Yes, but the bottom line is you question whether it is responding thermally to the oven in the same way that the original board when it was virgin.

So there is a solution in hand and that's our free advice today, money back guarantee on that, and you have been listening to Board Talk with Jim and Phil, the assembly brothers. And whatever you are doing, however you profile that oven, whatever you do --

Don't solder like my brother.

And don't solder like my brother.


The typical lifespan of a profile board, which is used to characterize the thermal profile of a reflow oven, can vary depending on the specific board and its application, but generally it can be used multiple times before needing to be replaced. For a standard profile board used for reflow oven profiling, it is common to be able to use the same board for 20-30 profiling runs before the board needs to be replaced. The reason for this is that the repeated exposure to the high temperatures during the reflow process can gradually degrade the board materials and components, affecting the accuracy of the temperature measurements.

Some key factors that can impact the lifespan of a profile board include: Temperature exposure: The higher the peak temperatures experienced by the board during profiling, the faster the board will degrade. Number of profiling runs: More frequent profiling runs will shorten the board's lifespan compared to less frequent use. Board construction: Boards with more robust materials and design can generally withstand more thermal cycles before needing replacement. It's recommended to monitor the profile board's performance and accuracy over time, and replace it when the measurements start to deviate significantly from the expected thermal profile.

Using the same board for 20-30 profiling cycles is a generally accepted guideline, but the actual lifespan can vary based on the specific usage conditions. Replacing the profile board is important to maintain the accuracy and reliability of the oven profiling process, which is crucial for ensuring proper soldering and product quality during electronics manufacturing.
Mohammed Imtiaz uddin, napino auto and electronics ltd.
Very good advice Jim about storing the profiler in some safe place for potential use in the future and not using the real profiler board to calibrate the oven. We do need to keep in mind that profiling the board is not the same as calibrating the oven. There is a lot of confusion about that. IPC 7801 is a good example of that confusion and I hope that gets settled soon. For calibration you dont have to buy delmat if you have access to a thin aluminum or copper plate on shop floor (go by cost options). The metal plates will last for a long time if thermocouples are attached properly. Also for calibration, most ovens have built in monitors too but there is nothing like having your own physical oven calibration board (delmat or metal). For more details about profiling get a copy of the latest revision of IPC 7530 Profiling Standard that I currently chair (No, I dont get a commission on sale of IPC docs).
Ray Prasad, Ray Prasad Consultancy Group

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