Electronics > Manufacturing & Assembly

Reflow Oven or IR Preheater

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I need to solder a few small to mid-sized PCBs (<100x160mm) with lead-free solder and quite expensive analog ICs on it. At the moment I'm using a modified pizza oven but the controller is unstable and the temperature profile is not as it should be. The heating is to slow and the cooling down is problematic (opening the door etc).
With a budget arround 1000€ (so everything it should be availabe in europe ;-) ) what would be the better option?
Getting a T-962A with the usual modifications? There is also the "new" T-962A+ model, but not much informations about possible or necessary modifications of this model.
The T-937 seems to have the worst possible software, so this is not really an option, or has this improved?
Or would it be an option to get a decent IR preheater (which one?) in combination with some hot air from above to solder the PCBs?

I've got a T937 and have successfully created and run my own reflow profiles.

Your description of "the worst possible software" isn't far off the mark.  :D  That said, I've got the software (downloaded from where another user here posted it) and it's a bit wonky, but functional. And, once you've built your profile and uploaded it to the oven, you don't need the software anymore until you're making new profiles.  I'd be happy to not only share the files you need but add a few pointers on how to get from zero to the profile you want as well.  I'm far from an expert, but the steepest early part of the learning curve is still vividly etched in my brain!

And, for me, getting the reflow profile set to match the recommended profile for the (GC10) paste I was using made a big difference in getting good boards out of the oven consistently.

I'm also on the Unexpected Maker Discord, and there are quite a few folks there having (apparently) good success with his Reflow Master Pro controller attached to various types of toaster ovens.  But, for me, the "active cooling" part of a "real" oven was important for consistent cycling, etc.  And, I wanted my oven to just work, not be a(nother) project.

I would rather get a small toaster oven and some PID controller for it than one of those chinese reflow ovens.

The reason behind that is that the toaster oven usually will have a heating module below the PCB.
That said I also have a 4k reflow oven for prototypes but I still prefer my 8-9L PID controlled toaster oven which cost a fraction of the professional one (but the professional one was just unpack it and it worked out of the box, while the 8-9L toaster oven needed some sourcing and assembly).
Also 8-9L is suitable for many smaller PCBs and won't require as much energy as a bigger one, you can easily get away even with a 700W toaster oven, 1000W can be considered upper class for small (again 8-9L) toaster ovens.

The chinese cash register reflow ovens do not have any bottom heating, they purely rely on transferring the heat from the top to the bottom, if you have big masses on your PCB that might turn out to a problem.

I had a chinese cash register reflow oven that worked to some extent but I dumped it relatively quick because it was also very sensitive to the ambient temperature. Any other oven worked better for me than those chinese reflow ovens.

I'm using PB-free solder only.

A replacement controller would be my first thought. Keep your modified pizza oven but go further with your own controller.
I built a very simple one for my first reflow oven. This is the code I used https://github.com/wrickert/ReflowOvenController. All it takes is an ESP32 and a couple adafruit boards.
It is not the safest route but I'm also not sure how much I would trust the code on Chinese reflow ovens either and at least this way you get to see the code thats running.

If you want to go for an off-the-shelf solution, I highly recommend taking a look at ZB25xxHL family of reflow ovens. They are the best in their price range, work well out of box with no tinkering required. I've got a ZB2520HL oven and I'm very happy with it, it does what I needed it to do, had no problems reflowing anything from super-tiny 0.6x0.2 mm ESD diodes to large-ish 27x27 mm 676 ball BGAs, large SMT connectors like ERM-5 and ERM-8, or SODIMM connectors.


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