On November 18, 2021, Ersa will celebrate its 100th anniversary at Productronica ‐ there is no better time for this than at the world’s leading trade fair for electronics production in Munich. With the first electric soldering iron, Ernst Sachs introduced industrial soldering and thus founded an industry without which today’s digital world would be unthinkable. Under the motto “Yesterday, Tomorrow and Beyond!” Ersa looks back on a full century…
On November 18, 2021, Ersa will celebrate its 100th anniversary at Productronica ‐ there is no better time for this than at the world’s leading trade fair for electronics production in Munich. With the first electric soldering iron, Ernst Sachs introduced industrial soldering and thus founded an industry without which today’s digital world would be unthinkable. Under the motto “Yesterday, Tomorrow and Beyond!” Ersa looks back on a full century in which the company has continuously revolutionized the industry with innovations. At the same time, the focus is on the future, combining tradition with progress, the successful present with a future worth living, pioneering achievements with megatrends, and values with visions. Please join us on a journey through time from yesterday to today and tomorrow.
Jump back to 1921, to the beginning of the age of electrical engineering: When Ernst Sachs applied for a patent for the first electric soldering iron on July 8, 1921 and founded his company Ersa in Berlin on November 18, 1921. He was in good company – major electrical pioneers such as Siemens and Bosch had already been active for years, and the “electrification of the world” was making great strides. In the same year, Bosch founded his car repair shops, and Max Braun started his eponymous electrical appliance company in Frankfurt am Main, which still has a decisive influence on technology and design in today’s industry. In the first years after the patent application, Ernst Sachs did good business with the H1 soldering iron. Fundamental inventions from this time, such as the protective contact plug (“Schuko plug”), promoted the international distribution of the new Ersa standard soldering irons. After the new start in Wertheim with the end of the Second World War, the pace of innovation picked up: in 1947, the initial version of the Ersa 30 soldering iron was presented at the first export trade fair in Hanover, followed in the 1950s by the first power regulated Ersa soldering irons, which achieved good soldering results without defects in processing the new components and circuits using variable temperatures.
The economic upswing of the postwar period was linked to an increasing demand for consumer electronics such as radio receivers, tape recorders and television sets. With the beginning of the 1950s, demand and quantities increased rapidly, and the manual assembly of electronic devices reached its economic limits. In this situation, the industry remembered Paul Eisler, who had already applied the printed circuit board for patent in 1943 (GB639178). To this day, state-of-the-art printed circuit boards are based on his invention. The introduction of the printed circuit board into electronics production in the early 1950s enabled the rapid, reproducible manufacturing of electronic assemblies in high volumes. The soldering of wired components was initially performed manually. However, as the number of components on the assemblies increased, the manual soldering process turned out to be a time-consuming bottleneck in production.
Revolution in electronics manufacturing
The English company Fry’s Metals Ltd solved this challenge with the invention of the solder wave in 1955, which was granted a patent in 1958 (GB798701) – and launched a revolution in electronics manufacturing by enabling efficient, economical mass production of PCBs. To this day, this approach is the foundation of all wave soldering systems: a pump is used to circulate liquid soft solder in a pot so that a nozzle creates a long narrow stream of solder in the shape of a wave. The nozzle is positioned a few centimeters above the solder level of the pot. When the assemblies are transported over this solder wave, it wets the underside of the circuit board and the solder joints are formed automatically. Based on this technology, up-and-coming companies such as Grundig, Saba and Nordmende designed their equipment in such a way that it could be manufactured in large quantities on the assembly line. Ersa quickly recognized the potential of this development and in 1961 began selling Flowsolder soldering systems from Fry’s Metals. In 1968, the development of Ersa’s own soldering systems began, a decisive milestone in the company’s history. The first EST series was followed by other well-known wave soldering systems such as MODULINE, ETS, EWS, N‐WAVE and finally the current generation of POWERFLOW, which allows highest flexibility and throughput under nitrogen atmosphere.
In the history of wave development, Ersa has set many benchmarks – automatic transport systems, double wave soldering units, program-controlled soldering systems, soldering in a nitrogen atmosphere and developments for flux-free soldering such as So-No-Clean are just some of the innovations in wave soldering technology that can be traced back to Ersa. The PCB sizes demanded by the market today, which Ersa wave soldering systems must process, range up to 600 x 850 mm such sizes are required, e.g., for assemblies needed in the construction of the 5G mobile communications infrastructure. A comparison with the first soldering systems from 1968 and their working width of 100 mm common at that time shows the rapid development of electronic assembly production. Development also continued in hand soldering technology: in the early 1970s, products such as the Ersa TC 70, a soldering iron with adjustable temperature, and the Ersa TE 50, the first Ersa soldering station with electronic temperature control followed. Electronics production demanded reliable, long-lasting soldering stations with precise temperatures, as the increasing prevalence of integrated circuits (IC) replaced discrete components and were even finer and more temperature-sensitive in the size of their connections.
SMT heralds electronics miniaturization
Another upheaval in global electronics manufacturing was the establishment of surface mount technology (SMT) in the early to mid-1980s. This technology dispensed the classic holes in circuit boards through which the wired components are inserted and soldered from below. In SMT, placement and soldering are done on the same PCB side, which allows the top and bottom of the PCB to be used to build the circuit. This marked the beginning of the successful miniaturization of electronic devices that we encounter today in all areas of daily life. With the dynamic development in the field of SMDs (Surface Mount Devices), wave soldering quickly reached its limits, so Ersa turned to new SMT manufacturing technologies and the development of reflow soldering systems. Initially the distribution of reflow soldering systems was based on infrared radiation from an American partner, but from 1986 onwards the company developed its own first reflow generation with the Ersa ERS series. It used a combined radiation and convection heating that enabled soldering in a nitrogen atmosphere in the Ersa ERS 506. Continuous further innovations and increasing market demands led to the introduction of the HOTFLOW full-convection soldering systems in 1993, the next generation of which Ersa is presenting at its 100th anniversary. The EXOS rounds off the product range in the reflow sector – it is based on the successful HOTFLOW series, but also features a vacuum chamber. The interaction of the molten solder joints with the vacuum causes possible inhomogeneities in the solder joint in the form of gas inclusions to escape. Virtually void-free solder joints are the result of this process step – a mandatory requirement in power electronics, for example, to ensure the necessary heat dissipation of power semiconductors.
Technology boost for soldering tools through lead-free solders
In the soldering tools sector, further soldering stations were developed at this time with internally heated, replaceable soldering tips, sensor-based temperature measurement and control – with functions to reduce wear and energy consumption. The range of applications for hand soldering tools was increasingly expanded – from pure production tools to tools for development and prototype construction, which also were used in rework and service. Around the turn of the millennium, two new product branches emerged at Ersa: on the one hand, the optical inspection of hidden solder joints in the then still young Ball Grid Arrays (BGA) with the novel video endoscope ERSASCOPE, and on the other hand, the rework technology based on contactless heat transfer with infrared radiation, which is indispensable for BGA repair. Today’s Ersa hybrid rework systems of the HR series take everything under the microscope and reliably achieve reproducible quality – whether processing the smallest chips such as 01005 or automatic repair of complex assemblies up to 625 x 625 mm is required. The top model here is the HR 600/3P, which uses a high-precision axis system, high-resolution cameras and large-area 3-zone infrared bottom-side heating to automate high-precision rework for extremely fine and small components up to 01005.
Europe experienced a technology boost with soldering stations due to the introduction of lead-free solders from 2006: Ersa responded to the increasing heat requirements of solder joints with the i-CON soldering station and the 150 Watt i-TOOL soldering iron including a connectable heating plate to heat the assembly.
On the Ersa machine side, the product range grew in 2007 with VERSAPRINT, the first generation of the stencil printers, which was succeeded by the next edition ten years later: the VERSAPRINT 2,the only printer in the industry with integrated 100% inspection in 2D or 3D (on the ULTRA³ type). With “features on demand”, VERSAPRINT users can individually adapt their printer to their requirements.
The latest i-CON soldering stations are gradually giving up their pure stand-alone existence by the integration into soldering robots such as the SOLDER SMART and represent the industry standard for many electronics manufacturers. With the i-CON VARIO 4, Ersa offers a four-channel soldering station that simultaneously provides the user with one ready-to-use hot-air soldering iron, one soldering iron as well as a pair of SMD desoldering tweezers and one THT desoldering iron. The station leads the way for the next generation of IoT-enabled soldering stations with outstanding soldering performance, particularly intuitive operation and full data connectivity.
Selective innovation push
But let’s go back to the 1990s: Parallel to the SMT mainstream, it was still necessary to solder wired components onto already reflow-soldered assemblies. This resulted in the VERSAFLOW technology, the development of which was started in 1996. Ersa thus entered new territory, because soldering units now had to be positioned underneath the assemblies at the soldering points and had to be individually processed by CNC program. The VERSAFLOW “expedition” has paid off all along the line: The success of the VERSAFLOW 3 generation, which has been manufactured since 2009, can be seen in the number of systems installed worldwide – in September 2021, the 1,500th system was ready for delivery to the customer. In the field of selective soldering, Ersa is the undisputed technology and world market leader with its modular VERSAFLOW platform. Whether small systems such as the ultra-compact SMARTFLOW and ECOSELECT for flexible production islands, or high-end systems of the VERSAFLOW 3/66 XL for the production of 3.0 m long 5G mobile antenna units: With its selective soldering systems, Ersa covers a wide range of applications in modern electronics manufacturing, from new forms of mobility and smart environments for home, office and factory up to automation. The technological superiority is reflected in solutions such as integrated AOI systems for quality assurance or the VERSAFLEX modules, in which two soldering units work independently on separate axis systems in one solder module. With the innovative Industry 4.0 approach “Kurtz Ersa Connect”, Ersa offers its customers a smart solution via which services, machines and production can be centrally networked and controlled.
As a system provider, Ersa increasingly realizes integrated automation solutions from a single source in addition to pure systems and production lines. Together with the group’s sister company Kurtz Ersa Automation GmbH, innovative projects are implemented in close, perfectly coordinated cooperation that sustainably increase efficiency and productivity.
Kurtz Ersa as a globally operating group with nine demo centers, twelve sales and service subsidiaries as well as partners in more than 70 countries to guarantee Ersa customers short distances and fast response times. The available soldering systems each offer the highest degree of flexibility, process reliability and quality. The spirit of Ersa – with a sworn team acting as “ONE FAMILY” and putting the customer at the center of all actions – creates the basis for a sustainable future driven by innovation and technology.
With a view to megatrends such as electrification, digitization and automation, which will determine the coming decade and certainly have an even greater impact, enormous quantities of perfectly functioning storage media are needed on a broad front as the basis for smart applications in the office, factory and, of course, also at home! The spiral of miniaturization of electronic components and assemblies is turning faster and faster. This is the only way to develop the tiny sensors that make our lives easier. Ersa provides the appropriate manufacturing equipment for this purpose, which is already geared to sustainability during development, among other things due to significantly minimized maintenance cycles as well as maximum machine availability and holistic, self-optimizing processes. Whether Ersa Tools, or Ersa Machines – the next generation is already in the starting blocks and will be presented to the expert audience at Productronica in Munich in November, just in time for its 100th birthday. Ersa is always close to the customer with its global sales and service network, which is constantly on the move and growing sustainably – for example, by opening new representative subsidiaries in future markets, such as most recently in Vietnam and India.
With the claim “GLOBAL. AHEAD. SUSTAINABLE.”, the No. 1 system supplier to the electronics manufacturing industry is tackling the next hundred years – please get on board, we’re leaving!
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