Will Laser Soldering Replace Selective Soldering?

Laser soldering has some inherent advantages over other soldering methods including – it would seem – selective soldering. Will traditional selective soldering methods, such as nozzle or wave soldering, be replaced by laser soldering? 

It might not be time to count selective soldering machines out just yet. While laser soldering does offer some advantages, it has drawbacks that selective soldering systems don’t have. While the utmost of precision is certainly called for at times, it may come at costs that some companies would not be willing to bear. 

Laser Soldering Attractive For Many Reasons

One of the biggest emerging technologies in soldering is laser soldering, which offers a number of advantages over almost every other soldering method to date. Unlike reflow and wave soldering, it’s capable of incredible precision. Laser soldering can also solder both SMT and through-hole components, like selective soldering. 

However, the advantage that a laser soldering system has is that there is limited heat transfer, since contact with an energy source is limited to only the sites of the solder joints. Like in reflow soldering, a solder ball is placed at the joint and a laser applies heat until the ball melts and creates the solder joint. 

Joint quality is higher, since solder joints form rapidly. Maintenance is also a lot lower, since a solder pot and nozzles are not part of the soldering machine. 

Additionally, the incredible precision makes joints requiring far more complicated soldering easier. Certain levels of precision aren’t possible with other soldering methods. 

However, there are certain drawbacks to laser soldering that would preclude selective soldering and other methods being completely replaced. 

Selective Soldering And Other Soldering Methods Retain Merit

It’s true that laser soldering would appear to offer too many benefits for many firms to ignore. It’s more that there are companies and products for which laser soldering are perfectly suited. However, there are companies and products for which selective soldering or other types of soldering are better suited. 

One of the inherent drawbacks to laser soldering is that precise calibration is required for every joint. Every solder joint has a specific requirement of thermal load. As a result, a laser soldering system must be recalibrated in order to solder anything other than the exact same design of board. If your company produces only one board, then that isn’t a concern. If not, then laser soldering is likely not the best soldering solution. 

Additionally, laser soldering systems are not the most conducive to high-volume applications. Reflow ovens are the obvious preferred soldering system, many might even falsely believe reflow could replace selective soldering, though selective soldering systems can be configured for high output if needed. 

Another consideration, of course, is the cost of laser soldering equipment, which is higher than other forms of soldering equipment. Selective soldering systems are capable of comparable precision and can be much more modestly priced. 

So, while laser soldering would appear to be the wave of the future, the fact remains that other types of selective soldering systems are going to remain more appropriate for manufacturing concerns that don’t produce low volumes of boards.

Check out our guide on how to choose a selective soldering machine if selective soldering fits your needs.