• What is a PCB (Printed Circuit Board) and interesting facts about PCBs

    03-03-2012-09Although most people may have heard the term “printed circuit board,” many people do not know what they are, how they are used or why they are so important. These are the most basic facts to know.

    What Are PCBs?

    Used in most electronic products, PCBs provide support and connect the often-tiny electronic components that power or run electronic products/devices; in essence, they create electronic circuits. Some of the most basic components found on PCBs include:

    1. Capacitors (store energy)
    2. Resistors (protect devices from excessive energy flows)
    3. Relays
    4. Integrated circuits
    5. Diodes (make sure energy flows in one direction only)
    6. CHIP Holders

    How PCBs have been made has included hand-created designs but, most recently, they involve computer-developed models (which allow for on-screen testing before the use of actual components). Models have included copper tracked plastic with glass reinforcement; the tracks replace wiring and connect components through the use of holes on the board. The board, in essence, provides a map for the placement of electronic components atop the board.

    Related Terms

    You may also run into terms like printed wiring board (PWB), a board with no electronic components but, rather, just copper connections. If electronic components are added, the terms printed circuit assembly (PCA) or PCB assembly (PCBA) are sometimes used. You may even see circuit card assembly (CCA) for completed boards. The important thing to remember is that PCB is used interchangeably and is accurate to use in most cases.

    How PCB Technology is changing

    Although PCBs may still be created using time-consuming, error-prone tools like breadboards, most PCBs today are created/tested using computer software like Crocodile Technology (Yenka Electronics). This process allows circuits to be tested both to look for operational errors and to cut down on the use of materials and time.

    PCBs may be considered the heart of electronic devices and their parts must function exactly as diagrammed or expected. If one component malfunctions, the whole circuitry may be affected and, ultimately, the whole device powered/directed by the PCB. Because of its reliability, most PCB designs, production, and function are computer directed.


  • Safely Cleaning PCBs -- Most Important Considerations

    Cleaning printed circuit boards is always fraught with some risk; consequently, you need to weigh the need for such cleaning with the possibility of damaging the board. Naturally, if you suspect that the messiness of the PCB may be the reason behind or may lead to malfunction, then, by all means, clean away.

    If you must clean a PCB, then you need to follow certain precautions. Other considerations that should apply include:

    • What type of debris are you dealing with?

    The easiest PCB debris to get rid of is, of course, free-flowing dust—especially if you remove socketed components from the board before proceeding. Dust and particles can easily be removed with pressured air (preferably from a low-power vacuum cleaner) and a gentle brush. Grime, on the other hand, presents a more serious, albeit manageable problem. Removal thereof (especially if wax or oil is involved) may require some scrubbing and, possibly, the use of water and liquid cleaners.

    • Does the board have components that may be especially vulnerable to liquids?

    Things like cardboard-contained components, carbon film/open-frame potentiometers and older-version, water-vulnerable crystals may be especially vulnerable to liquids (including water); that goes for paper stickers. Some such items might be de-soldered/removed to make the cleaning process more feasible/easier. By all means, properly dry out the board after such cleanings—possibly with the use of the oven set at a low temperature (i.e., 170 degrees).

    • Should you consider using professional cleaning supplies, equipment and techniques?

    In addition to special cleaning agents (i.e., “Brasso”), there are special techniques/services that you can employ, including media blasting, ultrasonic cleaning, and media tumbling. You can also hire people who specialize in such services or avail yourself of the literature on PCB cleaning fundamentals.


    Dealing with unclean PCBs is not just a matter of aesthetics. Debris and gunk in PCBs can hamper performance and, in the long run, lead to malfunction. By following strict protocols and cleaning PCBs only when absolutely necessary, though, you can avoid unnecessary, possibly expensive trouble.

    If the board is tainted with left-over solder flux, then you may use either flux remover or rubbing or anhydrous alcohol, making sure to dry the surface with lint-free towels/tissueThinkingEngineer

  • 10 Common Hand Soldering Mistakes

    ThinkingIdeas-150x150Proper hand soldering is an art which you can excel at only after much practice. By knowing what mistakes to avoid, though, you may make the learning/practice phases of soldering much easier. Some very common mistakes, for example, include using improper tip sizes, using a higher temperature than recommended in order to finish sooner, and not using proper ESD precautions.

    Other glaring mistakes can include:

    1. Insufficient wetting (of pad): This usually involves not properly bonding with the pad after soldering, possibly prompted by dirty circuit boards. This can be avoided by applying heat evenly both to the pad and to the pin.
    2. Insufficient wetting (of pin): This happens when not enough (if any) heat is applied to the pin, thus not allowing the solder to flow properly, creating an uneven wetting of the pad but not the pin.
    3. Inadequate wetting for surface-mounted components: The mistake involves not providing enough solder to flow unto the pad, but only unto the pin. Both the pad and pin need to be heated evenly to avoid this; the pad needs to be heated first.
    4. Disturbed joints (not same as “cold joints”): This may come about if the work is not put in a vise (when necessary)—i.e., failing to stabilize the board or immobilize the joint(s).
    5. Cold joints: This happens when the solder does not melt completely, creating a lumpy/rough surface and the use of too much solder. This can be repaired with a hot iron—i.e., by removing excess solder.
    6. Overheating of the joints: This comes about by applying the hot iron before the solder is ready to flow properly, leading to burned flux (usually causing nasty messes).
    7. Solder-starved joints: This usually involves not applying enough solder to joints, thus forming weak joints that may in time give in to stress cracks and, ultimately, malfunction.
    8. Excessive soldering: This usually leads to rounded globs over the tip and pad, often leading to lack of proper connection/adhesion. These mistakes don’t have the concave look of a properly soldered joint.
    9. Untrimmed leads: Leaving excessively long “tails” may bring about short circuits if the leads ever touch nearby traces. These leads should be trimmed at the solder joint tops.
    10. Solder bridges: This mistake involves putting so much excessive solder as to allow 2 joints to melt together (creating a “bridge). Obviously, these connections need to be fixed.


    Hand soldering isn’t easy but you can identify mistakes that you can easily avoid simply by knowing what they are and what precautions you need to take.ThinkingEngineer

  • 15 Surprising ESD Static Electricity Facts

    esd_symbol_lAlthough many people have heard or know about electrostatic discharge (ESD), there are still many facts about it that may surprise them. The reasons for this can include the many ESD myths/misconceptions still hanging around; another is the fact that ESD is a much more common effect than most people realize.


    Some of those rather interesting (if not bizarre) facts about ESD include:


    1. High humidity environments increase the chances for ESD trouble/activity.


    1. Engaging in simple everyday acts can be considered “risky behavior” in the world of ESD susceptibility. Some of those acts (and the charges they can produce) include:


    1. Walking across a carpet (1,500V to 35,000V)
    2. Walking across a vinyl floor (250V to 12,000V)
    3. Utilizing vinyl envelopes (600V to 7,000V)
    4. Working on a polyurethane chair (1500V to 18,000V)

    1. All electronic components/parts have different relative sensitivities to ESD—why they cannot all be treated the same. Some electronic components (and their electronic susceptibilities) to watch out for include:


    1. CMOS (250 to 3000)
    2. SAW (150 to 500)
    3. VMOS (30 to 1800)
    4. EPROM (100 plus)
    5. Schottky Diodes (300 to 2500)
    1. Parts degraded/damaged by ESD may pass operational tests only to malfunction in the field when subjected to stresses. In other words, ESD damage is often difficult to diagnose/pinpoint.
    2. ESD protection devices should not be optional. ESD will cause damage most of the time unless managed properly.
    3. ESD is not a modern phenomenon; people have known about it for hundreds of years. For example, people in the 1800s took measures to make sure that black powder was safe from ESD.
    4. There are still many myths surrounding ESD. Touching metal objects to discharge oneself, for example, does not make one ready/safe to work on ESD-sensitive material. Body charges tend to rebuild right away.
    5. Inserting components into printed wiring boards (PWBs) do not make them ESD-proof.
    6. Different, especially-tailored ESD management strategies are necessary for different settings/needs.
    7. ESD problems can come from seemingly unlikely sources (e.g., charged plastic faceplates).
    8. ESD precautions are not taken by all manufacturers at all times. Because of costs involved, some manufacturers cut corners and, thus, see their products fail in the field.
    9. Everything is not presently known about ESD. Every once in a while something new is learned about ESD.
    10. ESD solutions don’t always come in neat, clearly-predictable “packages.” Periodically, creative solutions have to be found for previously un-encountered dilemmas.
    11. ESD management doesn’t always require expensive equipment and techniques. Sometimes what is required is avoiding simple errors of operation.
    12. Contact does not have to take place for ESD to be a problem. Sometimes just getting near an electric field can impart ESD effects.



    ESD is arguably one of the most interesting aspects of electronics. Both experts and amateurs continue to be amused by what can be learned about ESD.ThinkingEngineer

  • Why Compressed Air Dusters make electronic repairs easy and help maintain circuit boards

    As anyone who has ever looked inside electronics devices knows, they collect dust and fuzz like nobody's business. Technicians can tell you that first, electronics in use in virtually any environment from the home to the office are constantly exposed to dust (and, in the home environment, pet hair) and that secondly, the electrostatic charge that any electronics device generates attracts dust like a magnet does iron filings. It doesn't matter if the electronics device is a TV, home entertainment system component or computer, if its been in use any length of time, it'll have dust inside.ES1017

    The first thing a tech will do is use a product like Chemtronics ES1017 Duster to blow out the dust. Believe it or not, clearing the dust out of a system may actually repair a problem as some dust particles can be electrical conductors, making bad circuit connections and causing issues. Also, clearing the dust and debris out of a system with compressed air enables the technician to work in a clean environment which, in the case of computers that haven't seen a lot of maintenance can be very dirty indeed.

    In those cases, using a product like Chemtronics ES1024 Typhoon Blast Duster or Chemtronics ES1020 Ultrajet Duster with a heavier compressed air spray can make a huge difference. Dust not only can cake over chips and other components but can work its way under components and boards as well. With the higher pressure, that dust can be blown out where using a normal compressed air spray will require several tries to do it or won't do the job at all. Some dust "infestations" can actually leave a layer of fuzz on a circuit board that can literally be peeled away in a sheet before any duster can be used and in severe cases like these, having a high pressure duster is imperative.

    In normal situations, especially when a technician is doing maintenance runs, having an inexpensive duster like Chemtronics ES1217 Economy Duster is the best tool he'll have in his kit. Doing maintenance runs in an office environment is one of those necessary evils that may be boring to do, but saves time and money since keeping computers well-maintained is much easier than trying to repair them later and having a good supply of compressed air makes life a lot easier for a technician as well.

    When working on electronics, dust and debris is an unavoidable issue that any technician can tell you is simply part of the job. With compressed air to blow the dust and junk out of the device, not only can the technician get to work on the problem, using compressed air to maintain a system can actually keep problems from happening in the first place.

  • Take Care of Your Solder Tips when Lead-Free Soldering

    Lead FreeIn the mid-2000s, many electronics manufacturers were in a panic. The European Union had mandated that most electronic products be manufactured with lead-free solder by July 1, 2006, in large part because of concern about the effect of lead in discarded printed circuit boards (PCB) on the environment. This meant that anyone who wanted to do business in the EU had to "get the lead out."

    But what can be used instead of standard tin-lead solder, which was cheap and worked well? And what are the considerations to equipment lead-free solder presents?

    One of the most widely used lead-free solders has become SAC305 tin-silver-copper (Sn-Ag-Cu), in large part because of its reduced melting point. In general, however, lead-free solders are not as reliable for mission-critical applications such as military and aerospace. And one problem that's been reported with largely tin-based solders is the formation of tin "whiskers," which can cause shorts in electronics equipment.

    The generally higher melting temperatures of lead-free solders can cause soldering tip defects and premature wear when hand soldering. This, in turn, can lead to surface contamination and nonwettability. Using Sn-Ag-Cu solder, for example, can erode the iron plating on a solder tip four to five times faster than when using traditional tin-lead solder.

    To ensure longer life of your soldering tip when hand soldering, proper care of the tip is required. Tip temperature plays a big role in durability. Using a lower temperature, when possible, can mean increased solder tip longevity. Temperature modulation tools (Auto Turn Off) within the soldering station can help you keep the heat off as much as possible.

    It's also important to clean your solder tip regularly, especially when using rosin-based flux, which is highly corrosive. Cleaning should be done with a wet sponge or brass wire sponge to remove as much flux and oxides as possible after soldering.  If conventional cleaning methods do not work, consider using a tip polisher like the Hakko FT700.  ThinkingEngineer

  • Even more holiday gift ideas from GoKimco.com

    You can see our first two gift guides here and here.

    Do not wait any longer to get gifts for the hobbyist on your list, time is flying by!

    Under $50:

    Panavise 210
    Panavise 201 PV Jr Mini Vise Head and Base
    - Kimco Price: $26.99

    The Panavise 201 features a single knob control system and is perfect for arts and crafts, jewelry and model making, electronics, and other small projects! Any hobbyist or crafter would be delighted to find one of these under the tree.


    Aven Helping Hands
    Aven 26000 Helping Hands with Magnifier
    -Kimco Price: $7.90

    Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes. The Aven 2600 features two small clamps that can be used to hold components for soldering, flies for tying, or other crafty projects, and also includes a small magnifier.


    Under $100:

    Panavise 350
    Panavise 350 Multi-Purpose Vise Work Center
    - Kimco Price: Price: $89.99

    For those needing a more substantial vise, there is the Panavise 350. The weighted base may be bolted down to a work bench, and features a handy parts tray. The jaws open to a full 9", and can hold large, heavy parts. This is a top of the line vise!


    Eclipse Soldering Station
    Eclipse Pro's Kit SS-206E ESD-Safe Analog Soldering Station
    - Kimco Price: $59.63

    This affordable station is perfect for simple soldering needs, or as a first station for someone learning to solder. It features a temperature range of  200- 480°C (392-896°F).


    Under $200:

    Akro-Mils Bin Rack
    Akro-Mils 30016 2-Sided Bin Rail Hanging System
    - Kimco Price: $181.27

    This bin rail hanging rack from Akro-Mils is perfect for organizing a messy workshop. It is compatible with most Akro-Mils hanging bins and is easy to assemble. Different sized bins hang on the powder coated rails to make a customize-able organization system.


    Master Appliance Heat Gun Kit
    Master Appliance HG-751BK 750-1000°F Heat Gun Kit
    - Kimco Price: $184.16

    Heat guns are very versatile, check out the many uses for them in Master Appliance's excellent blog post. The hobbyist, crafter, or tinkerer on your list will find many more uses for this high quality heat gun kit from Master Appliance. It features several accessory attachments and a storage case.


    Visit our gift page for more great holiday gift ideas, and get your orders in now!

  • More Holiday Gift Ideas at Kimco!

    Last week, we presented several gift ideas for the hobbyist on your list. This week we follow up with some more suggestions, again in three price ranges. Get your holiday shopping done now, don't wait any longer!

    Under $50:

    Weller WLC100
    Weller WLC100 40 watt Hobbyist Solder Station
    - Kimco Price: $44.99

    The WLC100 is a nice, affordable, entry level soldering station perfect for casual hobbyists or students. It features adjustable power from 5 to 40 watts, a built in iron stand, and tip cleaning pad. A soldering station is a great addition to anyone's tool bench.

    Suggested add-on:
    Extra ST3 Tip


    X-Acto 13pc. Knife Kit
    Xacto X5082 13pc. Knife Set in Wood Case
    -Kimco Price: $19.97

    Every self respecting hobbyist and crafter needs a good set of Xactos! This kit features many different blades and handles to tackle nearly any project, all packed in a handsome wooden case.


    Aven 20 Piece Precision Screwdriver Set
    Aven 13714 20-Piece Precision Screwdriver Set w/ Interchangeable Blades
    -Kimco Price: $22.79

    This precision screwdriver set from Aven is great for working on electronics, servicing computers, and repairing small items like eye glasses. Many interchangeable blades are included in slotted, Philips, Hex, and Nutdriver configurations.


    Under $100:

    Hakko Omnivise
    Hakko C1390 PCB Omnivise
    Kimco Price: Price: $59.57

    This unique product from Hakko holds a printed circuit board firmly in place and level so heat and solder may be applied. However, it can be used to hold many other items. It features height adjustment for maximum versatility.



    Eclipse Pro Drill Driver
    Eclipse Pro's Kit PT-1441A Cordless Drill Driver
    Kimco Price: $51.51

    The Eclipse Pro's Kit 14.4V Drill Driver is a powerful cordless drill for a great price. It features many different torque settings, forward and reverse control, and a 3/8in keyless chuck. Every household needs a good cordless drill!


    Steinel Heat Gun
    Steinel SV803K Variable Temperature Heat Gun Kit
    Kimco Price: $69.42

    A heat gun is a handy thing to own, and has many uses: shrink wrapping, thawing frozen pipes, desoldering, plastic welding, dent removal, even roasting coffee! This Steinel heat gun features 3 airflow settings, a soft grip handle, and includes two add-on nozzles for various applications. Surprise the tool geek in your life (that thinks they have everything)  with a tool that is likely missing from their quiver!


    Under $200:

    Luxo LFM Magnifier
    Luxo 18345LG LFM LED 3 Diopter Edge Clamp 45" Arm Magnifier
    Kimco Price: $145.70

    This Luxo magnifier is perfect for hobbyists who work on small projects. It clamps to nearly any work space and has a 9.5W LED light source. Luxo is known for quality magnifiers, and this unit is no exception, featuring a die-cast aluminum housing and crystal clear glass lens.


    Branson Ultrasonic Cleaner
    Branson B200 Compact Ultrasonic Cleaner
    Kimco Price: $119.95

    Ultrasonic cleaners are used to clean a multitude of small parts, optical pieces and even jewelry. The Branson B200 is a small 15 oz. utrasonic unit suitable for home use. Just add the correct cleaning solution for your application (listed below) and you are ready to clean.

    Suggested add-on:
    Branson General Purpose Solution
    Branson Jewelry Cleaner Solution


    Visit our gift page for more great holiday gift ideas.

  • Holiday Gift Ideas at Kimco

    The holiday shopping season is upon us. To help you pick out the best gifts for the hobbyist on your list, we've made a list of great ideas for every budget. In this article, we’ll highlight some of the gifts we have selected in three different price ranges. Get your shopping done NOW!

    Under $50:

    PanaVise 301
    Panavise 301 Standard Vise Kit with Head and Base
    - Kimco Price: $49.99

    Every workshop needs a PanaVise, and the 301 is a perfect choice. Like having an extra set of hands, the 301 standard vise will hold household repair projects, printed circuit boards, automotive parts and more. Its jaws open to 2.25” and has a heat tolerance of up to 200°F. This unit is compatible with other PanaVise accessories and the base can be screw-mounted to a workbench or shop counter.


    Dremel 7300
    Dremel 7300-N/8 MiniMite 4.8v Cordless Rotary Tool Kit
    -Kimco Price: $32.82

    The Dremel MiniMite is a versatile tool for a variety of light-duty projects, including drilling, sanding, shaping and detailing. This portable tool can be used nearly anywhere, making it a perfect addition to any household. This MiniMite kit comes with a variety of accessories and is compatible with Dremel bits with up to a ⅛” shank.

    Suggested add-on:
    Dremel 531 ½” Stainless Steel Brush


    Eclipse Pro's Kit Driver
    Eclipse Pro's Kit PT-1136A LI-ion Cordless ScrewDriver, 3.6V with Light
    -Kimco Price: $17.18

    A handy cordless screwdriver that won’t break the bank, the Eclipse Pro’s Kit PT-1136A has a directional head that can be adjusted into three different configurations, making it perfect for hard to reach spaces. The built in LED light makes using the driver in low light situations a snap, and included in the kit are a variety of driver bits.


    Under $100:

    Hakko FX888D ESD-Safe Digital Soldering Station
    Kimco Price: Price: $91.35

    The Hakko FX888D is a popular hobbyist soldering station that features an easy to use digital display. The FX888D packs a big punch for a small price, and it looks really cool too! This station is perfect for use on RC cars and airplanes, computer parts, circuit boards, and other electronics.

    Suggested add-on:
    Additional Wire Sponge


    Steinel ThermaMelt
    Steinel TM6000 ThermaMelt 6000 Butane Powered Glue Gun
    Kimco Price: $53.04

    This is one serious glue gun. Powered by butane, this gun heats up within three minutes. It is suitable for a variety of hobby and crafting applications and uses replaceable LEC fuel cells.

    Suggested add-on:
    Additional fuel cells


    Daylight U33700
    Daylight U33700 White Twist Portable Task Light
    Kimco Price: $59.99

    As the name implies, this task light folds up to be easily portable. The rotating head features a “flicker-free” ballast and a 13W energy saving tube (200W equiv). This is a quality lamp for any hobbyist.


    Under $200:

    Dremel 4000 Kit
    Dremel 4000-6/50 High Performance Variable Speed Rotary Kit with 50 pieces
    Kimco Price: $185.28

    The finest and most versatile of all of Dremel’s rotary tools, the hobbyist in your life will be thrilled with the Dremel 4000-6/50. Featuring a high-performance motor, this tool is suitable for thousands of different hobby, repair, and crafting applications. Sharpen garden tools, sand painted surfaces, cut tile, metal, wood, plastic and more using the 50 included Dremel accessories.

    Suggested add-on:
    Additional cut-off wheels


    Aven Mighty Vue Magnifier
    Aven 26505-ESD Mighty Vue ESD-Safe Magnifer with Clamp, 3 diopter, 30" Arm
    Kimco Price: $157.08

    This illuminated magnifier features a crystal clear 7 x 5.2in., 1.75x (3 diopter) lens and is the perfect addition to any workbench. The spring-balanced arm has a 30in reach, and the head is equipped with two 9 watt fluorescent bulbs.


    Visit our gift page for more great holiday gift ideas.

  • Using Branson ultrasonic cleaners for electronic circuit board repair and assembly.

    Ultrasonic Cleaner from Branson Ultrasonic Cleaner from Branson

    Imagine a gunky part with all kinds of crevices and grit embedded in those crevices. How are you going to get it clean? Toothbrush? Toothpick? Environmentally incorrect cleaner that gets you in trouble with the proper-disposal crowd? Ultrasonic cleaning to the rescue!

    In layman terms, an ultrasonic cleaner is a tank for a cleaning solution (usually water and an additive) that has a basket to lower the dirty part into the solution and let it hit all sides. The solution then is zapped with ultrasonic super-bubbles that are safely invasive, hitting all those crevices and holes with a force that loosens the gunk. Any hard surface can be ultrasonically cleaned, provided it is compatible with the solution you are using,for example: a sooty piece of fine china that's been in through a fire. Comes out like new!

    Any industry that needs to clean itty bitty crannies benefits from using some type of ultrasonic cleaning device. There are two workbench sized options that come in handy in just about any shop or workspace that needs to be able to clean smaller, delicate or intricate hard-surface items; the Branson CPX1800 and the Branson CPX1800H.

    Both units are designed to be easy to use. They have digital controls that can be adjusted to the specific thing you are cleaning and you can set the timer so you can go do something besides stand there monitoring the process. The control circuit keeps the tank's frequency at the point you set it to and adapts to changing load conditions, which means that those ultrasonic superbubbles will be working the whole time. The 40 kHz industrial strength transducers will last for years, just sitting on your bench taking care of cleaning your stuff. Both units have a tank that is 6" long, 5.5" wide and 4" deep and the solution has to move around the part so they aren't for really big things (but there are bigger units that can handle it). The CPX1800H adds heat to the solution and you need to do your homework to see if you'll need it. Some stuff just needs that added oomph, like using hot water to wash dishes.

    Branson has been careful to listen to customers and put features they've asked for in these units.

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