The HASL process consists of a pre-clean, fluxing, hot air leveling, and a post-clean. Pre-cleaning is usually done with a micro-etch. However, the usual persulfate or peroxide micro-etch is not common in the process. Dilute ferric chloride or a hydrochloric-based chemistry is favored for compatibility with the fluxes that are applied in the next step. Fluxes perform the following functions:
- Provide oxidation protection to the precleaned surface.
- Affect heat transfer during solder immersion.
- Provide oxidation protection during HASL.
Higher viscosity fluxes provide better oxidation protection and more uniform solder leveling, but reduce overall heat transfer and require a longer dwell time or higher temperature. A balance in flux use must be struck between better protection with high viscosity fluxes and superior heat transfer with lower viscosity fluxes (ref. 38).
Hot air level machines consist of a transport mechanism that carries the panel into a reservoir of molten solder (460°F, 237°C), then rapidly past jets of hot air. All areas of exposed copper are coated with solder and masked areas remain solder-free. Boards are then cleaned in hot water, the only step in the SMOBC process where lead may enter the wastewater stream, albeit in very small quantities. Once cleaned, the panels may again enter the screening area for optional nomenclature screening, or proceed directly to the routing process.
Copper, flux and other impurities build in concentration in the solder pot as panels are processed through the hot air leveler. These impurities can be removed to some degree by performing a procedure known as drossing. From the hot operating temperature, the temperature is reduced to 385°F (196°C) and the machine sits idle for 8 to 12 hours. The impurities will float to the surface of the solder where they are scooped out and placed in a dross bucket. This material can be returned to the vendor for reclamation of the metals. Some manufacturers go for years without changing the solder, they dross and make additions. When the time comes to change over the solder, vendors will issue credit on the purchase of new solder as long as the old solder is returned to them for processing.
The acid pre-clean will have some copper in solution and can be treated conventionally. The waste flux is collected and is sent off-site for treatment.