Some time ago I wrote a column titled What? Electronics Engineers Who Cannot Solder? This piece provoked a lot of controversy. Some readers agreed with me that soldering is a fundamental skill one would assume all electronic engineers would possess, while others were of the opinion that the days in which engineers actually needed to pick up a soldering iron are now lost deep in the mists of time.
This topic doesn't seem to go away. Just yesterday as I pen these words, Duane Benson posted a blog titled Wither My Solder? Although Duane agrees that not all electronics engineers actually need to know how to solder, his personal opinion is that they should know how to solder.
Not this person's finest hour (LOL).
The thing is that, if you did't learn how to solder as part of your engineering course, where can you go to learn? There are online resources available, with bunches of pictures and things, but a lot of people prefer to have a real teacher present to observe what they are doing and offer suggestions, along with a pat (or a slap) on the head.
And we aren't just talking about newbie engineers here. I've been chatting to a lot of people about this recently, and I've run across quite a few practicing engineers who say they would like to learn how to solder. For example, a couple of guys told me that they don't need to solder at work, but that this skill would be useful for their hobby projects.
Soooooo, I was wondering if anyone would be interested if we were to offer a swift, 45-minute, hands-on "How to Solder" training course at EE Live! 2014. Is this something that you would be interested in, for example?
But wait, there's more... in the comments to my original column, Martin Rowe (a.k.a. Measurement Blues) mentioned a hand-soldering competition that was held a few days ago at the Productronica trade fair in Munich, Germany.
As soon as I saw this, my competitive juices started to flow. I recently constructed a 4x4x4 tri-colored 3D LED cube kit that required 400-plus soldered joints... needless to say it worked the first time I powered it up (well, actually, if truth be told, this was the first project I've ever built that worked the first time, but let's not rain on my parade as it were).
We would have to think about the format of the competition. My first-pass thoughts are that it should be a combination of both speed and quality (not necessarily in that order). Maybe have say 10 or 20 soldering stations set up with each participant being started at a slightly different time (so casual observers can't tell who finished in the shortest time). Each person could be presented with a small circuit board with a number of components with which to populate the board, and then power-up the board to make sure a LED flashes a certain pattern, for example (the speed and pattern would be dependent on all the joints being soldered correctly).
As soon as you have your board working, you raise your hand and your time is recorded and your board is taken away. Then someone else takes your seat and starts on their board. At the end of the day, the judges go through all of the boards and grade them in terms of soldering quality. There could be a number of prizes for quality, plus additional "super prizes" for the best combinations of quality and speed. I'm just throwing ideas out here -- all of the nitty-gritty details would have to be tied down -- what are your thoughts on how things should be evaluated and graded?
The bottom line is that if we were to hold a soldering competition at EE Live! 2014, then I would be there, soldering iron in hand, quivering in anticipation like a fine race horse at the starting gate. I'm sure that we could organize some sort of cool prize, like a state-of-the soldering station, but the real reward would be the bragging rights (along the lines of "I came in second place, just after Max"). So, what say you? If such a competition were to take place, would you be interested in taking part?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting