Soldering robots: What they are and how they work

April 17, 2024
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What are soldering robots?

Soldering robots are automated systems that can (as their name suggests) solder components onto printed circuit boards (PCBs) with superhuman precision and speed. 

To do so, they use robotic arms fitted with soldering irons to complete their tasks according to programmed instructions.

How do these robotic soldering machines work? 

The robots work based on 3D models that show where each component should be placed. Specialized software then controls the robotic arm to pick up components and solder them accurately onto the PCBs. 

The robotic arm can rotate and move in multiple directions to access any part of the PCB.

The main features of soldering robots

Soldering machines — and soldering robots, in particular — work with an array of complex electronics and high-end artificial intelligence (AI) systems. 

Let’s take a closer look: 

  • Flexible manipulators. Multi-axis robot arms allow soldering robots to access hard-to-reach areas. The arms can rotate, extend, and bend to maneuver the soldering iron.
  • Super-high degree of control. Soldering robots are programmed to precisely control the amount of heat and solder applied. They can consistently produce high-quality solder joints.
  • High-end automated vision. Built-in cameras and sensors help the robot to identify solder points and properly align the soldering iron. Vision systems guide the robot to the correct location and detect when the soldering is complete.
  • Flexible and programmable. Soldering robots can be programmed to perform repetitive tasks, freeing up human workers. Once programmed, the robot can complete the same soldering operations over and over with a high degree of accuracy and consistency.

Applications of automated soldering

Soldering robots have a wide range of applications across diverse industries: 

  • Electronics manufacturing: Automated soldering is the “glue” that keeps electronics assembly together. Soldering robots are used for soldering surface-mount and through-hole components on printed circuit boards (PCBs) common in smartphones, computers, and other electronic devices.
  • Auto industry: Automated soldering is necessary for reliable connections in automotive electronics, sensors, and control systems found in modern vehicles.
  • Aerospace and defense: Automated soldering guarantees the precision and quality required for critical electronics in aircraft, satellites, and defense systems.
  • Medical devices: Automated soldering has the accuracy and consistency needed for the delicate components and complex circuit boards found in medical devices.
  • Consumer goods: Automated soldering streamlines the production of a wide range of consumer products, from home appliances to wearable technology, where reliable electrics are de rigueur.

Advantages of using a soldering robot

Soldering robots have plenty of benefits over plain old manual soldering:

  • Robots can solder components much faster and more precisely than humans. Their mechanical arms have a high degree of dexterity and accuracy, allowing them to swiftly and reliably solder even the smallest components.
  • Robots also produce higher quality, more consistent solder joints. They apply the perfect amount of heat for the optimal duration to achieve secure solder connections each and every time. This results in stronger, longer-lasting products with fewer flaws.
  • In addition, soldering robots improve workplace safety by removing people from noxious fumes and high heat. Operators can control and monitor the robots from a safe distance. Robots also reduce waste by precisely dispensing solder and flux.
  • For high-volume production, soldering robots are really the only viable option. They can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with zero breaks, cutting labor costs and improving productivity. They also pay for themselves, typically, in just 1-3 years.
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Challenges & considerations of an automated soldering machine

Even though soldering robots offer so many benefits, there are a few drawbacks to keep in mind before investing in one. 

  • These automated soldering machines require a significant upfront cost. The initial purchase price can be quite high, depending on the complexity and features. You’ll also need to invest in ongoing maintenance, repairs, and part replacements to keep the robot in working order.
  • Most soldering robots require a learning curve to program and operate. It can take time to properly train staff and get the robot calibrated and optimized for your specific soldering applications. Production may be impacted during the initial setup and transition process.
  • Space requirements are another factor. Soldering robots typically have a large footprint and need ample room for the robot itself as well as material inputs and outputs. You’ll need to ensure you have enough space allocated in your facility for efficient operation.

Is a soldering robot right for you?

Before you pull the trigger on that soldering robot investment, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you regularly perform high-volume soldering? If you’re soldering thousands of connections a day, a robot can handle the repetitive work efficiently and precisely. For lower volumes, the costs may outweigh the benefits.
  • Are your soldering tasks complex or require high precision? Robots excel at precise, intricate soldering work where accuracy and consistency are key. If your soldering needs are fairly simple, human technicians may be sufficient.
  • Can you afford the initial capital investment? Although soldering robots can save money in the long run, they do require a substantial upfront cost. Make sure the ROI makes sense for your business.
  • Do you have in-house robotics expertise? To implement and maintain a soldering robot, you’ll need staff with knowledge of robotics, programming, and automation. If you lack these skills, you'll need to invest in training or hire new talent.

    Caveat, though:
    The newest high-end robots don’t need as much in-house programming expertise, as they tend to have easier frameworks that don’t require coding. 

Summing up

So that's the soldering robot scoop. As you can see, these automated machines can be a huge help in manufacturing and prototyping by speeding up tedious soldering tasks.

But they do come with a hefty price tag and learning curve. Give some thought to your specific needs and production volumes to decide if the investment is worth it! 

Next steps 

Meet RO1 from Standard Bots, your soldering automation solution, a high-end, affordable solution fit for both SMEs and industrial titans. 

  • Optimize your soldering process without the investment strain: RO1 brings automation essentials at 50% of similar offerings, streamlining operations and boosting your bottom line. 
  • Precision and speed redefined: RO1's 6-axis arm and 18 kg payload deliver the accuracy and efficiency your soldering tasks demand.  Minimize errors, maximize output.
  • Safe and collaborative workspace: Advanced safety features like vision systems allow RO1 to work alongside your team, creating a harmonious and productive environment.
  • Adapts and evolves as you do: Powered by AI at the same level to GPT-4, RO1 learns and grows right along with you.
  • Built for soldering excellence: RO1 handles intricate soldering tasks, from delicate components to complex boards, delivering consistent quality.

Our experts partner with you through implementation, helping you unlock the full potential of RO1 in your fab shop. Experience the difference – try RO1 risk-free for 30 days!

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