The commercial and economic benefits of research at Loughborough into the process simulation, monitoring and control of industrial electronic soldering
Submitting InstitutionLoughborough University
Unit of AssessmentAeronautical, Mechanical, Chemical and Manufacturing Engineering
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Information and Computing Sciences: Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing, Information Systems
Engineering: Manufacturing Engineering
Summary of the impact
Publically and industrially funded research at Loughborough University into
the simulation, monitoring and control of electronics soldering has had
significant impact in the development of new software and hardware
technologies, which have delivered substantial commercial and economic
benefits, with examples cited for at least two leading companies. One key
commercial product is a modelling tool that optimizes reflow oven settings
quickly, easily and accurately. It optimises oven settings each time a new
product or solder paste is introduced, reducing set up times and scrap
levels. More than 700 systems per year continue to be sold, with 90%
The research originated in 1993 within the Interconnection Research Group
at Loughborough University and was initially focused on the modelling and
experimental investigation of reflow soldering [G3.1]. Funded by
the EPSRC, the research achieved the highest rating of Alpha 5- Excellent
(a letter to this effect can be provided if required).
Subsequent research and commercial activities focused on process
simulation for product and process optimization, including the following
- Understanding the process physics interacting with electronics
assemblies during reflow soldering [3.1, 3.2], including ratios
of heat transfer mechanisms provided by the various classes of reflow
- Experimental protocols to characterize processes for representation
within simulations [3.1].
- Techniques to capture physics in a simulation environment in
sufficient detail to allow process and product optimizations, including
techniques for simplification of the transient thermal process and
representations of electronics components and materials that together
allow accurate simulations with suitable analysis duration [3.2,
- Solver technology specifications to enable accurate process simulation
of complex materials and process combinations, e.g. accounting for the
non-linear thermal properties such as phase changes and physical
movement within the process [3.1].
Several research awards saw expansion to more manufacturing processes and
increased capability. For example, one project, Complex Low Volume
Electronics Simulation [G3.2], extended simulation to a wider
range of processes and a methodology for on-line process defect data
capture for root-cause-analysis of faults and associated corrective
In the project Design and Simulation of Complex Low Volume Electronics
Production (DISCOVER) [G3.3], significant development was enabled
by the creation of a standalone framework that incorporates design data
input, defects capture and integration with quality processes. The
framework allows the seamless integration of the hybrid-modelling
environment, presenting physics-based models, discrete event simulation,
stochastic and knowledge based approaches [3.3].
The modelling environment was then extended by the project Electronics
Manufacturing Process Advancement Towards High Yields [G3.4] to
incorporate an experimentally derived model for solder paste printing and
integration within the IT infrastructure of a collaborator.
Towards Commercialization of the CLOVES Toolset [G3.5] saw a
Knowledge Transfer Account support the commercialization of the software,
including improving software robustness and development of the value
proposition and business case for licensing.
With the commercial partner Datapaq Ltd [G3.6], the core
understanding of process simulation techniques for reflow soldering was
utilized to deliver a new product for the company that has seen
significant success in the industry. This project delivered a software
tool that provides a predictive capability for reflow soldering and a
methodology with a hardware validation artefact to enable automatic
creation of the process model and subsequently determination of process
settings [3.4, 3.5].
Loughborough staff and researchers involved were Paul Conway (Professor,
1989 - present), David Whalley (Senior Lecturer, 1989 - present), David
Williams (Professor, 1989-1998 and 2002-present), Andrew West (Professor,
1989 - present), Mehrdad Kalantary (Research Associate, 1993 - 1996),
Farhad Sarvar (Research Associate, 1993 - 1997), Anthony Wilson (Research
Associate, 2005 - 2008), Diana Segura (Research Associate, 2006 -
present), Lina Huertas (Research Student and then Associate, 2010 - 2011)
and Stuart Hyslop (Research Associate, 2003 - 2004).
References to the research
3.1 Sarvar, F. and Conway, P.P., ``Effective Modelling of the Reflow
Soldering Process: Basis, Construction and Operation of a Process
Model'', IEEE Transactions on Components, Packaging and Manufacturing
Technology Part C: Manufacture, 21(2), April 1998, pp 126-133, ISSN
1083-4400, DOI: 10.1109/3476.681389.
3.2 Sarvar, F. and Conway, P.P., ``Effective Modelling of the Reflow
Soldering Process: Use of a Modelling Tool for Product and Process
Design'', IEEE Transactions on Components, Packaging and Manufacturing
Technology, Part C: Manufacturing, 21(3), July 1998, pp 165-171, ISSN
1083-4400, DOI: 10.1109/3476.720413
3.3 Huertas Quintero, L.A.M., West, A.A., Segura-Velandia, D.M., Conway,
P.P. and Wilson, A.R., ``Integrated simulation tool for quality support in
low-volume high-complexity electronics manufacturing domain'',
International Journal of Production Research, 48(1), Sept. 2008, pp 45-68,
ISSN 0020-7543, DOI 10.1080/00207540802427886
3.4 Whalley, D. C. "A Simplified Reflow Soldering Process Model",
Journal of Materials Processing Technology, Vol. 150, 1 July 2004, pp
134-144, DOI: 10.1016/j.jmatprotec.2004.01.029
3.5 Whalley, D. C. "Reflow Soldering Process Simulation: A Simplified
Model", Proceedings of the 25th IEEE ISSE Conference, Prague, May 2002, pp
323-328, ISBN 0-7803-9824-6 (Winner of the conference Excellent Paper
Award for Scientists). Available at
or at request from Loughborough University.
Research and knowledge transfer grants:
G3.1 04/93-05/96, EPSRC GR/J 07167, "Modelling and experimental
investigation of reflow soldering", (£296k), P. P. Conway, D. C. Whalley
and D. J. Williams.
G3.2 12/05-11/07, DTI (TSB), "Complex Low Volume Electronics Simulation
(CLOVES)" (£425k; Investigators: P. P. Conway, A. A. West, D. C. Whalley.
G3.3 03/06-01/09, EPSRC/IeMRC Under GR/T07459/01, "Design and simulation
of complex low volume electronics production", £253k, A. A. West, P. P.
Conway, D. C. Whalley.
G3.4 02/10-01/11, TSB Project No: 100793, TP No: BD008K "Electronics
Manufacturing Process Advancement Towards High Yields (EMPATHY)", £500k,
P. P. Conway & A. A. West.
G3.5 10/11-09/12, EPSRC KTA, "Towards commercialisation of the CLOVES
toolset", £89k, P. P. Conway & A. A. West.
G3.6 Datapaq Ltd, "DATAPAQ ROS" (£17k); Investigators: D. C. Whalley;
Researcher: S M Hyslop.
Evidence on the quality of the research
The underpinning research we have cited is in all cases original and
rigorous, as exemplified by our references, especially 3.5, which was the
Winner of the Prague IEEE Excellent Paper Award. The significance of the
research is indicated by the extent to which it has since won competitive
funding awards, totalling £1.58M.
Details of the impact
We now present evidence for research cited in s2 and s3 to show impact in
the development of new software and hardware technologies that have
delivered commercial and economic benefits, with examples cited for two
companies. The first demonstrates very specific impact within the original
industrial sector; the second shows that the impact has extended beyond
the original domain.
The understanding of process simulation for reflow soldering was utilized
within a research contract with Datapaq Ltd, leading to a new product
offering that has seen significant success [5.1]. Datapaq's Rapid
Oven Setup (ROS) currently enjoys sales of around 700 units per annum, of
which 90% are exported. Datapaq is the market leader in Europe, with
substantial market shares in China, the USA and SE Asia [5.2].
Datapaq is a process data logging company, selling hardware with
associated software to visualise and analyse acquired data. This project
extended their offering with a software tool (ROS) that provides a
predictive capability for a given process and a methodology utilising a
characterisation artefact (Heat Transfer Sensor (HTS)) that enables
automatic process model creation. Loughborough developed the algorithms,
simulation techniques and methodologies for automated model creation and
calibration, along with designing the prototype HTS [3.1, 3.4 &
The reflow soldering of printed circuit boards (PCBs) is a key step in
the manufacturing of electronics. PCBs vary in cost from a few pence to
tens of thousands of pounds, with the more expensive boards playing
safety-critical roles in, for example, aviation. Improving control of the
ovens used for reflow soldering reduces failure rates, benefitting the
industry, its customers and end-users.
For each new product or solder paste introduced the reflow settings have
to be optimised. This is traditionally a time consuming process, but ROS
automates it quickly, easily and accurately by calculating the optimum
settings for any combination of oven, product and target profile. ROS also
reads CAD files, automatically producing detailed PCB thermal models. By
using Datapaq's HTS to measure the specific oven performance, the ROS tool
can ensure the optimum profile is found, thereby reducing scrap and saving
time and money. It works on all reflow ovens.
The understanding of reflow soldering derived from the research [3.1
& 3.2] enabled the derivation of control strategies to ensure
PCBs fell within specific process metrics by adjusting zone temperatures,
airflow rates and conveyor speed [3.4 & 3.5].
The understanding derived from the original project in the process
control and optimisation strand [3.1] was capitalised on allowing
Datapaq to deliver novel products to the electronics- manufacturing
sector. They state: "The technical advantage that we gained from
working in partnership with Loughborough University has enabled us to
maintain our market leadership position in Europe particularly in
Germany and France. In these developed markets the end users need the
benefit afforded by working with a solution that maximizes production
efficiency to be able to compete with competitors from lower wage cost
economies." [5.2] The impact from our research in developing
the ROS product has clearly generated both commercial benefits for the
company concerned and has been economically beneficial in terms of
contributing to its market position.
Specifications and involvement with our research partner Maya Heat
Transfer Technologies [5.3], led to new solver capabilities, based
on research in s3 [3.1 & 3.2]. These capabilities are:
(a) automated FE model building direct from electronics CAD. Maya state:
"This demonstrated the feasibility and time savings associated with
this approach. Maya then worked with its business partner (now Siemens
PLM) to incorporate this technology into the finite element pre-
processing environment as a new FE model creation method. The technology
was successfully developed and delivered to customers worldwide. It has
found application in other areas of thermal analysis including
spacecraft and automobiles. In the latest generation of software (NX
CAE) the technology has been extended to provide direct creation of an
FE mesh from the PCB definition. This has removed the need to create a
mesh for the PCB and for each component type." [5.3]
(b) a technique to define physical movement during a thermal simulation,
for which Maya state: "modeling of motion, was added to the thermal
solver with enhancements to the UI to allow definition of the motion.
Again, the technology has been delivered to customers worldwide and has
been used in other industries. As well as modeling PCB's in reflow ovens
the technology has been used to model other manufacturing processes, sun
tracking antennas and various spacecraft mechanisms." [5.3]
Maya's business partner has several hundred active licenses for software
containing these capabilities.
Sources to corroborate the impact
The following sources can be made available at request:
[5.2] Supporting Letter, Datapaq Ltd, UK
[5.3] Supporting Letter, Vice-President, Maya Heat Transfer Technologies,