Intro: Testing a 3 in 1 Soldering Workstation
We were fortunate to get this SMD soldering station from http://thediyoutlet.com and I almost think we wish we had gotten this station from the start instead of having three separate tools that were more expensive and take up more space! We ran it through its paces by working on some SMD (surface mount device) soldering and rework as necessary.
So here I'll go through what all this station has and how we tested it! I'll also try to incorporate some tips on solder SMD sized items. I am most comfortable with 0805 sized SMD components and think it's a good starting place for those already comfortable with normal throughhole soldering.
So this station has 3 items:
1) Soldering Iron - This comes with a stunning number (11!) of soldering tips of all different shapes and sizes - usually quite expensive for any other soldering iron.
2) Hot Air Gun - This is useful for when you don't want to have to use a toaster oven to take a single component off, it can focus an area of hot air to melt the solder on the component you're trying to fix. They also provide 4 different heads so you can focus the hot air on an even tighter area. Very useful if you're dealing with QFP/QFN chips.
3) Power Supply/Voltmeter - This useful power supply can output from 0 to 15V, 1-3A (I believe). And can read from 0 to 49.9V. Really quite a nice range.
This cost 120 bucks, which is SUPER reasonable since when we got the individual parts before discovering this, it totalled up to nearly 250 bucks.
The video shows us going through these same steps.
Step 1: Test the Power Supply Output
So the first thing we did was test the power supply. On the front there is a switch allowing you to choose either "Output Supply" or "Test Voltage". We flipped it to Output Supply, placed the red probe of our multimeter in the left lug, and the black probe in the black lug of the station.
We looked at what the display said it was giving us versus what the multimeter was reading. On the whole it was spot-on. In general, however, there was a 0.01V difference between what the station said it was outputting and what the multimeter was telling us.
To make sure this isn't the multimeter introducing some sort of resistance, touch the two probes of the multimeter together to see if you need to adjust its voltage reading. Our's showed that there wasn't any confounding factor influencing the reading of the voltage. So we just knew that the voltage may be 0.01V off of the stated output.
Step 2: Test the Voltmeter
Now, we switched the toggle to the other side to set it in "Test Voltage" mode and used an existing power supply we had made.
First step is to measure what your power supply is giving you with a known reliable meter. We connected the probes from the voltmeter to the cigar box power supply (red to red, black to black). Note the wires going to the cigar box in picture 4 :). In this example, our power supply put out 4.98V.
So now that we know it's measured output is near 5V, it's time to see if the voltmeter on the station works. Place the black probe in the black lug, red probe in the red lug and see what the meter reads. Flip the power switch on, and bam! 4.9V. *thumbs up* And if you adjust the dial that previously adjusted the voltage output, it doesn't change the voltmeter reading (which is good).
Step 3: Test the Soldering Iron
So the soldering iron, a tool many folks interested in a tool like this station probably have. We had a board that we were working on making and wanted to see if the soldering iron was able to heat up quickly. And it was! The temperature is set by the up/down arrows to the right of the display window.
I didn't manage to get a good picture of the soldering iron soldering, but it worked well :)
Step 4: Change the Soldering Iron Tips
So as said before, the soldering iron came with a whole bunch of tips - 11 to be precise, of all different shapes, sizes, edges etc. All very useful depending on what kind of items you need to solder.
- To change your tip, you'll want to unscrew the knurled knob nut (anyone know a better name for that?). We used a pair of hemostats but pliers would work too.
- Once the knurled knob has been taken off, take off the sheath.
- The tip can then be removed.
- Put the new tip in!
- Put the sheath over it
- And using your hemostats/pliers, screw the knurled knob back on!
Step 5: Test the Hot Air Gun!
This one's fun. I only recently learned how to use it and already it's been so useful. When you want to take a single chip off and not have to reflow an entire board, just use the hot air gun. It can concentrate the area in which you want the solder melted.
Again, with this, temperature that the air is set at is controlled by up/down arrow keys next to the display window. There are two really great features with this, when you pick the hot air gun up, it ramps up to your goal temperature quickly. But when the hot air gun gets closer to the station and back in the holder, it ramps down to 0 so you're not blowing hot air.
The second awesome feature is that you can control how fast the air is blowing through the hot air gun. When dealing with small 0805 components, the last thing you want is your hot air gun blowing them off the table like grains of sand! So with the dial, you can easily turn down the airflow, and when you're done with the gun, turn up the airflow so that it cools down faster!
Brilliant design. And voila! Beautifully air gun reflowed boards. It worked faster than our normal reflow toaster oven as well!
Step 6: Final Thoughts
I was pleasantly surprised at using this soldering station because not only did I learn about the tool itself, but about testing the tool. It was a good reminder that having a standard against which you compare your findings (like voltage measurements or voltage outputs), is important.
I actually (if you can believe it), have never changed a soldering iron tip. After I learned how to do it here, I'm fairly sure I'm not intimidated by it anymore.
I appreciated the small features they made for the hot air gun with decreasing the temperature once the hot air gun was in its holder, and vice versa, increasing the temperature to goal with the hot air gun off of the holder.
For 120 bucks, this is going on MY desk!
If you're interested in getting one, http://thediyoutlet.com/collections/soldering-stations/products/3in1-hot-air-iron-power-supply-smd-rework-solder-station is the link!