If you've seen any of my previous post you'll know I'm in the process of making a PCB that contains a configurable LED Grid. Why? Something to do I guess. Anyway I finally got around to assembling the board I had made by BreadboardKiller. I've assembled small surface mount PCBs in the past and have always manually applied the solder paste by hand with a syringe. It's hard to get right, you might not get paste in the right place, you can use to much or too little, but when it's a only a few parts it's not too hard to fix. This board has 96 surface mount components on it, which means that doing it by hand was going to be a close to impossible.
I decided to get a laser cut Kapton stencil from OSH Stencils. At 40 dollars it looks expensive for a piece of plastic, but that includes a one off cost for set of board holders the exchange rate wasn't kind either. These are the black acrylic L shaped pieces in the image below. The stencil was only 20 dollars US which was well worth it.
There are demonstrations on how to use the stencils online but I'll show my setup. The board holders are taped down and the stencil is aligned and taped down on on side to act as a hinge. This allows a board to be put in the holder, have the stencil flipped over it, the paste applied, the board removed, and the process repeated. Application of the paste is easy. Squirt some out of the syringe where it needs to go, and use the paste spreader (basically a credit card) to swipe the paste across the stencil.
|PCB Assembly Set-Up|
The stencils are easy to use and make sure you apply the right amount to each pad. For this project I chose to use lead free solder as I assumed that I'd get it everywhere when using the stencils. I was right. I wasn't sure how to clean it but mild soapy water did the job.
|Solder Paste Stencil|
|Part of Stencil for LEDs|
|Part of Stencil for Resistors|
Once again I used my toaster oven to solder the boards. It has no automatic controls, I stand there and watch the board and time the steps by counting aloud to myself. The temperature is also set manually by turning the dial. The process is described in a previous blog post. It helps to put a little bit of solder paste on a fiducial mark so that I can see the moment the solder liquefies through the oven window.
|PCB in Oven After Reflow|
|PCB in Oven after Reflow|
After the surface mount parts were soldered the through hole parts were added by hand.
|Assembled Board with LEDs|
When I designed the board I screwed up and made the holes in the footprint for the terminal blocks too small. This means they had to be enlarged by hand, and because of the way the tracks were laid out, the positive terminal block has to go on the other side of the board. No biggie.
|Surface Mount Resistors|
The parts seem to have been soldered nicely. There isn't an excess of solder or too little, and there's that nice little fillet you expect to see as well.
|0.25 Watt 1206 Resistor|
|Osram GW JCLMS1.EC-GUHQ-5L7N-1 LED|
To show the reconfigurable nature of the board I disconnected the jumpers that power the middle section of the LED grid.
|LED Grid with Sections Turned Off|