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Electronic manufacturing industry
Reflow Soldering vs Wave Soldering – An In-depth Guide

If you are in the electronics manufacturing industry, chances are you are familiar with both Reflow Soldering vs Wave Soldering

Both of these processes have unique advantages and disadvantages, so it is essential to understand their differences. 

By the end of this post, you’ll better understand Reflow Soldering vs Wave Soldering. Also, you can choose the best option for your specific project.

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

What Is Reflow Soldering?

Reflow soldering is joining two or more components with a solder joint. 

This process is done by heating a melted solder paste, forming an electrical and mechanical bond between the components. 

Reflow Soldering
Reflow Soldering

Reflow soldering is often used in electronics manufacturing as it is a faster, more efficient, and cost-effective process than wave soldering. 

The reflow soldering process is well suited to the mass production of circuit boards and can be easily automated.

Also read: Top 10 Best solder paste manufacturers in the World

What Is Wave Soldering?

Wave soldering is a soldering process in which electrical components are soldered onto a printed circuit board. 

Wave Soldering
Wave Soldering

It utilizes a wave of molten solder to form the solder joint. The wave is generated by a pump that circulates the solder in a reservoir. 

The printed circuit board is submerged into the wave, and heated components and leads are soldered simultaneously. 

The whole process is automated, faster, and more efficient than manual soldering. It makes wave soldering an ideal choice for mass production. 

Wave soldering also produces solid and reliable joints and can be used on lead-free and leaded solders.

What Is the Difference Between Wave Soldering and Reflow Soldering?

Here is the difference between Reflow Soldering vs Wave Soldering:

Aspect

Wave Soldering

Reflow Soldering

Soldering method

Solder is applied to the entire board using a wave of molten solder

Solder paste is applied to individual components before being melted

Components

Best suited for through-hole components

Best suited for surface-mount components

Solder joint

Creates a strong, reliable solder joint with good wetting

Can result in weaker solder joints due to limited wetting

Board quality

Can cause thermal shock and damage to delicate components

More gentle on the board and less likely to cause damage

Equipment cost

Requires more expensive equipment such as a wave soldering machine

Generally less expensive equipment such as a reflow oven is needed

Pros and Cons of Reflow Soldering

Here are the Pros and Cons of Reflow Soldering:

Pros: 

  • The process is faster than hand soldering, saving time and resources.
  • It allows for better surface mount technology and higher pin counts.
  • It can quickly fix solder bridges without reworking the board.

Cons:

  • The process can be expensive due to the need to buy special equipment.
  • Inspecting boards during reflow can be complex due to rapid heating and cooling times.
  • It may require additional steps, such as fluxing, before reflowing.

Pros and Cons of Wave Soldering

Here are the Pros and Cons of Wave Soldering:

Pros:

  • It is relatively inexpensive and low maintenance.
  • It can easily solder a variety of components with different lead lengths.
  • Automation is available for larger-scale production.

Cons:

  • Wave soldering takes longer than reflow soldering as it involves multiple stages of preheating, flux application, and cooling down.
  • Not ideal for boards that have closely spaced or small components, as the lack of precise control may result in bridging or poor-quality joints.
What is wave soldering mechine

Reflow Soldering vs Wave Soldering

The critical difference between reflow and wave soldering is the heat transfer method.

Reflow soldering uses heat transferred directly to the components, while wave soldering applies heat indirectly to the board.

Reflow soldering is often used in small-scale applications, while wave soldering can handle large-scale assembly jobs.

Reflow soldering typically yields better results than wave soldering, but wave soldering is faster and easier to set up.

Reflow Soldering vs Wave Soldering Process

Reflow Soldering vs Wave Soldering Process
Reflow Soldering vs Wave Soldering Process

Here is the process of the Reflow and Wave soldering:

Reflow Soldering Process
The reflow soldering process is relatively simple. It starts with the printed circuit board being loaded into an oven, heated to a pre-determined temperature, and then cooled back down.

During this process, the solder paste on the board melts and connects the components. After the oven temperature drops below a certain point, the components are soldered together.

This process is highly automated, making it ideal for the mass production of printed circuit boards.

This method also allows for greater precision than wave soldering. It can be used for surface-mounted components and those that require through-hole technology.

Wave Soldering Process
Wave soldering is a process that combines metal parts by heating them up with molten solder. The process begins with the parts being placed in a tank filled with molten solder.

Then it passes through a conveyor belt over a nozzle that sprays a fine mist of flux.

As the parts travel over the nozzle, the heat from the molten solder causes the flux to react and adhere to the metal parts.

As the parts move past the nozzle, they are exposed to an infrared lamp that further heats them. It helps the solder to flow and bond with the metal.

Once all the parts have been soldered, they are removed from the tank and checked for quality control.

Reflow Soldering vs Wave Soldering Machine

Reflow Soldering vs Wave Soldering Machine
Reflow Soldering vs Wave Soldering Machine

Here is Reflow Soldering vs Wave Soldering Machine:

Reflow Soldering Machine
Reflow soldering machines are typically used for automated electronics production. They are designed to heat PCBs to a specific temperature profile, usually with hot air convection. This process enables the solder paste to melt and form a permanent joint between the components and PCBs.

Wave Soldering Machine
Wave soldering machines are used for the soldering of through-hole components. A flux-coated solder wave is passed over the component leads and solder pad to create a thermal bridge.

Component leads are heated by the wave, melting the solder and creating an electrical connection.

Also read: Comparison of soldering iron, reflow soldering, wave soldering and laser soldering

Conclusion

Regarding reflow soldering and wave soldering, there is no clear-cut answer on which is the best method.

Reflow soldering vs wave soldering has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the application and the components you use. 

The decision between these two soldering methods ultimately comes down to the specific application and the components used. Be sure to research both methods carefully and understand their differences before deciding. Ultimately, understanding the pros and cons of each method will help you choose the right one for your project.

FAQ
  • The process is faster than hand soldering, saving time and resources.
  • It allows for better surface mount technology and higher pin counts.
  • It can quickly fix solder bridges without reworking the board.
  • It is relatively inexpensive and low maintenance.
  • It can easily solder a variety of components with different lead lengths.
  • Automation is available for larger-scale production.
  • Wave soldering

Solder is applied to the entire board using a wave of molten solder

  • Reflow soldering

Solder paste is applied to individual components before being melted

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