Connecting the Dots – The Brains and Brawn of Soldering

Connecting the Dots – The Brains and Brawn of Soldering

    DSI_Nancy_Aloe_Soothing

Nancy Kiesow of Device Solutions’ Build and Repair Team and Her Aloe Plant

On the surface of things, soldering is a straightforward and fundamental part of how things get done in an electrical engineering firm. This is particularly true of a company like Device Solutions whose engineers spend their days designing, prototyping and iterating designs of custom devices. However, much like the circuit boards they work with, soldering at Device Solutions is a multi-layered process that is as much about the people and the environment in which they work as it is about the physical act of soldering. But let’s begin with the basics.

 
Simply put, soldering is the act of joining two (usually metal) pieces together by melting and putting a filler material in the gap between them. The filler, known as “solder,” is a metal or metallic alloy that has a lower melting point than the two pieces of metal it is connecting. In addition to the solder itself, a substance known as “flux” is used to reduce the oxides that form when hot metal comes in contact with air. Many solders (which look like spools of metal thread) come with flux in their cores. Solder is melted using a hand tool called a soldering iron – basically a hot metal tip with an insulated handle. There are different sizes and shapes of tips depending on the size of the components being soldered. Some of the parts are so small that a microscope is required to see and solder them to a board.

 

DSI_Capacitor on a dollar bill

An SMT capacitor on the end of George Washinton’s nose

This gives you an idea of how skilled and precise the person soldering needs to be. This video illustrates the basics of simple soldering:

DSI_Soldering_Nancy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uiroWBkdFY

One of Device Solutions’ resident soldering and building gurus is Nancy Kiesow. “My job is to fix or build anything that anybody brings me,” Nancy says. This includes everything from fixing a broken door to soldering components to circuit boards. Interestingly, most engineers prefer to have Nancy or her colleague Rob Zeher do their soldering for them. “I’ve been in manufacturing since I was 18, so I know circuit boards inside and out,” says Nancy. “I’ve also had A LOT of experience soldering, so it’s faster and safer for me to do it. I tell the guys that if I smell burning skin I’m going to be mad,” she adds. “But just to be safe I keep an aloe plant in the office.”

Another reason Nancy likes to be involved in the iteration process is that she knows what looks and works right. “I look at the bread boards (temporary circuit boards for testing and prototyping) and drawings the guys give me and ask questions about layout, wiring and connections. It’s my job to understand what the engineers want to accomplish and translate that into a physical set-up that looks professional and works right,” Nancy says.

Nancy refers to her collaboration with the engineers as a well-oiled machine. “The engineers have the brains and I have the brawn,” she laughs. “They’re so smart it’s scary sometimes, but on the other hand, I’m really good at making those ideas work. We’re a good team.”

Once an initial prototype has been completed, the engineers go back to testing and fine tuning their ideas, and it’s not unusual for them to come back and ask her to change things on a board several times. “You have to remember that while I’m working on the board, someone else is working on the software that will make it all run. It’s a system of checks and balances.”

How does she know when a project is finally completed? “Well, it’s funny but the guys just gradually fade away. I see them less and less until one day I realize they haven’t stopped by with a request for awhile. That’s when I know my job is done.” And the best part of being on the build and repair team? “It feels really good when a device I worked on goes into production,” Nancy says. “I’m proud of what we accomplish here.”

– Jena Ball