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ControLeo2 introduced learning
Key to ControLeo2's success was "learning mode", where the oven would learn how much power each heating element needed to follow the reflow profile. The goal was to keep the temperature as stable as possible, avoiding surges of power that would create a hot spot - or a void of power that would produce a cold spot. The downside of this method was that it was next-to-impossible for users to create custom reflow profiles better suited to their needs.


Controleo3 needed something different
We had a lot of requests to support custom reflow profiles, and it was clear that we needed to support this. The obvious solution was to implement a PID (Proportional-Integral-Derivative) algorithm, but PID has some shortcomings:

  1. PID tuning is notoriously difficult to do, and is often compared to black magic!
  2. A successful reflow needs consistent temperatures throughout the oven. This is difficult to control when using PID; the elements may be on or off for extended periods of time which can create hot or cold spots.
  3. During a reflow, it is useful to be able to direct where the heat comes from.
For all of PID's limitations, this is still the best algorithm to use. It just needed to be improved and adapted ...


Intelligence starts with learning
Controleo3 spends around an hour figuring out how well your oven was built and how well it performs:

  • It learns how much power is needed to maintain a steady temperature in your oven.
    It measures the combination of all elements, as well as individual elements. In the example below, the elements are on only 13% of the time to maintain a steady 120°C. The bottom element needs to be on 32% of the time to maintain the same temperature. This gives Controleo3 a general impression of the overall power and insulation of your oven.
  • It learns how quickly your oven responds to requests for an increase in temperature.
    It also measures the over-shoot. This gives Controleo3 an idea of the thermal inertia of your elements. In the reflow phase, the ability to quickly increase the temperature is very desirable. In the example below, it took 41 seconds to raise the temperature of the oven from 120°C to 150°C.
  • Given the high temperatures required for lead-free reflow, your oven should be well insulated.
    Controleo3 times the drop in temperature from 150°C to 120°C to get an idea of how well your oven is insulated.

The results for each measurement are analyzed and the appropriate smiley-face is displayed. The oven is given an overall score to reflect how well it is able to handle high-temperature lead-free reflows!


Controleo3 is intelligent
Controleo3 uses a smart PID algorithm that uses all these data points to carefully and accurately follow the required profile. The profile is able to specify the top-bottom bias, and Controleo3 is able to adjust output power to suit.


Your oven's score
Your oven's score is based on 3 factors. You can find the formula in function "ovenScore( )" at the bottom of this file on GitHub.

  1. 40% - power required to maintain 120°C
    12% = excellent, 30% = poor
  2. 40% - time needed to increase the temperature by 30°C
    36 seconds = excellent, 60 seconds = poor
  3. 20% - insulation
    130 seconds = excellent, 80 seconds = poor


Understanding your oven's performance

  1. The grades are all given assuming the desire is for an oven capable of high-temperature lead-free reflow. If you plan to use a low-temperature lead-free paste (like Chip Quik SMDLTLFP10) or leaded paste then lower scores are acceptable.
  2. The learning cycle must be run with the PCB tray inside the oven. You can add a typical PCB load too, if you like.
  3. The numbers obtained during successive learning cycles can vary as much as 10%. This is normal, and doesn't affect PID tuning significantly. Factors affecting this are ambient temperature, initial oven temperature, PCB tray placement and more.

Obtaining debugging information
You can connect a micro-USB cable to Controleo3 and run Arduino's Serial Monitor application on a PC to view debugging information as the reflow happens.

1. Power
This number is the duty cycle needed to keep the oven at a constant 120°C. The oven in the build guide typically uses a 16% duty cycle to do this. This number is used during PID operation to provide a baseline power value to which a PID offset is added. If this number is greater than 20% consider adding additional (or larger) heating elements.

2. Inertia
This number is the time needed to raise the temperature from 120°C to 150°C using a 80% duty cycle on all elements. It represents the oven's ability to respond to a demand for a change in temperature. This number directly affects the Kd constant in the PID equation. This metric is easily the most important, as it represents the oven's ability to accurately follow a reflow profile. The oven in this guide typically requires 45 seconds to do this. A value of a minute or more indicates that your oven will struggle to follow a profile.

Most times, if this value is high it is because of the type of heating element in the oven. Quartz elements are recommended because they respond quickly to changes in power (duty cycle). Solid resistive elements are slow to heat up and also slow to cool down.

There are a few way to work around a poor inertia score:

  1. Replace solid resistive heating elements with quartz ones.
  2. Use solder paste with a lower liquidus (melting) temperature. Reflow profiles are easier to follow if the required temperature is lower in all phases.
  3. Reduce the thermal mass of the oven. If you're using the rack that came with the oven, consider removing some of the cross-members. If the PCB tray is supported by the rack, consider using a thinner (0.8mm) tray. Consider removing the shields around the bottom elements, but not the top elements. The PCB tray should be able to compensate for the more uneven heating from the bottom, but the top shields are needed to reduce IR radiation and even the temperatures. Try to insulate more of the oven walls.
  4. If the oven's insulation score is low, try to improve it.
  5. Ensure there are air gaps around the PCB tray. Air movement is needed for the thermocouple to accurately measure oven temperature.
  6. Modify the profile to increase the soak phase duration. This will help to ensure more even temperatures before the sharp increase to reflow temperatures. You can extend the duration or temperature of the reflow phase slightly, but some components may suffer damage with extended time at high temperatures. Remember that most solder paste datasheets state "use this graph as a starting point for profile optimization" - so feel to keep modifying the profile until you have something that works for your boards and oven.
  7. Knowing your oven's limitations, you can add some smarts to your profile to compensate for them. For example, at the start of the reflow phase you probably need a sharp increase in temperature so you can add commands like this to your profile:
      // Start the reflow phase
      Display "Phase: Reflow (boost)"
      // Force the elements on for a short while to get a quick increase in
      // the temperature of the elements (bottom/top/boost)
      // This will be limited by the "Maximum duty" command
      Element duty cycle 100/100/100
      Wait for 15 seconds
      // Use PID to control the rest of the phase
    You may also need to turn the elements off early to avoid overshoot.
  8. You can increase the allowable deviation in the profile. This isn't recommended, but if you've tried everything else then you may have no choice but to do this.

3. Insulation
This number is the time the oven takes to cool from 150°C to 120°C. The oven in the guide takes around 130 seconds to do this. This number has a very minor effect on the PID calculation. A good insulation score means the oven can use less power to increase or maintain temperatures, though the downside of this is the time to cool boards after a successful reflow. The recommended cool-down rate (especially at higher temperatures) is 2°C/second so make sure the door opens sufficiently wide to allow this to happen. If your oven gets a poor insulation score, take another look at the insulation you've used. Remember to seal air gaps, especially around the door.