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An Arduino-compatible smart outlet designed to instantly turn your toaster oven into a reflow soldering station. Read more

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Funded!

This project was successfully funded on April 30, 2014.

An Arduino-compatible smart outlet designed to instantly turn your toaster oven into a reflow soldering station.

About this project

If you've missed the Kickstarter, don't worry! Visit us at www.reflowster.com or follow us on Twitter at @Reflowster so that you'll know when our next batch is open for orders!

Reflow soldering

Advances in technology continue to shrink the size of components. Hobbyists, who have traditionally worked with through-hole parts, are finding these parts harder and harder to come by as more parts become unavailable in through-hole variants. 

They just keep getting smaller and smaller!
They just keep getting smaller and smaller!

Soldering surface mount components with a soldering iron, while possible, can be a rather tedious task. In particular, when you’re working with densely packed pins like those of a microcontroller, hand soldering a board quickly becomes a daunting task. 

Reflow soldering is an easier way of soldering these surface mount parts. Solder paste is applied to the PCB where the component pads will make contact. The components are then placed in the solder paste. Because of the viscosity of the paste, these components stick. When placed in the oven and heated, the solder paste melts, binding the component to the pad and aligning the part with the pads.

A typical soldering profile
A typical soldering profile

The reflow process itself requires that the oven be heated to a soak temperature, allowed to soak for a minute or so, and then brought up to the peak temperature for a moment before being allowed to cool. While you can do this manually in a toaster oven, the process is prone to error. Commercial solutions are expensive and provide little over a standard toaster oven.

Reflowster to the rescue!

Enter Reflowster, a simple reflow controller to make soldering with a standard toaster oven easy and painless. Reflowster simply plugs in between your toaster oven and your power outlet. A thermocouple (included with Reflowster) plugs into Reflowster and is placed inside the toaster oven to measure the temperature. The final step of set up is to put the toaster oven into "always on" mode which is typically available by turning the timer backwards a few degrees.

Reflowster's encoder and LED display allow you to navigate menus and use either a standard soldering profile or your own custom profile. Once the reflow process is started, Reflowster turns the power to the toaster oven on until a soak temperature is reached. Reflowster waits for the configured soak duration and then turns the oven back on until the peak temperature is reached.

Features

  • Pre-programmed with lead and lead-free soldering profiles
  • Supports custom soldering profiles
  • Doesn't require modifying your toaster, simply plug and play 
  • Stand-alone operation, doesn't require a PC
  • Fully Arduino-compatible, upload custom code using the Arduino IDE 
  • Micro USB port allows for two way communication with Reflowster
  • Reflowster sends serial temperature data and status over Micro USB
  • Accepts commands via Micro USB when a PC is connected

What kind of toaster oven is required?

Reflowster does need to be paired with a toaster oven to work, but unlike many DIY solutions Reflowster requires NO toaster modification.  No need to cut cables or risk electrocution!  

Simply plug your toaster oven into Reflowster
Simply plug your toaster oven into Reflowster

Reflowster may not work perfectly with every toaster oven, but we've found that smaller, cheaper ovens typically work great because they allow for faster changes in temperature. Most simple toaster ovens without digital controls will work. In particular, a toaster that can be stuck in the "on" position is required. This state needs to persist through a power cycle. Most toasters do this by turning the timer knob backwards.

Basic $25 Toaster Oven which we've been using
Basic $25 Toaster Oven which we've been using

We probably don't need to tell you that you should really buy a toaster oven specifically for use with solder, since you don't want to contaminate your food with lead and other metals/chemicals.

The toaster oven that we are using is pretty much the cheapest one we could order on Amazon: Proctor Silex 31111 (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004O0ANH2)

Hackability

Because Reflowster is fully compatible with the Arduino IDE, new code can easily be uploaded to re-purpose Reflowster to do anything you can think of. The thermocouple, relay, LED display, and encoder make Reflowster a perfect platform for a variety of alternative projects. We only provide the firmware for performing a reflow soldering job, but with a little imagination and some programming, a variety of projects are possible. Here are some ideas:

  • A temperature controlled fan
  • A circadian light timer
  • An outlet with an automatic shutoff
  • An easy bake oven
  • An incubator
  • A sous-vide machine

Backing Levels

Visual guide to the backing levels
Visual guide to the backing levels

While having a Reflowster in hand has you well on your way to performing your own complete reflow of your custom PCBs, we've added a few backing levels to help you get started right away.

If you have never done any reflow soldering yet and are looking for a kit that contains everything you need, we highly recommend backing at the "Hacker's Kit" level or above.

If you've already have solder paste, soldering tools, and a toaster (or plan on getting these) the Reflowster itself will be sufficient.

Progress so far

Over the past 4 months, we've designed the PCBs and enclosure for the first version of Reflowster and today we have the fully functional result of this design.

Sketchup model of Reflowster used for spatial planning
Sketchup model of Reflowster used for spatial planning

 With the functional prototype in our hands, we were able to make a number of small, one-off improvements to Reflowster and have compounded those into a mostly-complete design for the next version of Reflowster.

A peek inside
A peek inside

The plastic case you see in these photos is a little rough around the edges because we cut holes in it manually, but rest assured that the final case will be cleanly machined by our enclosure supplier. The setup for this machining is very pricey for small quantities, so a part of your contribution will go towards a large batch of these custom cases.

Hand-machined enclosure. The real one will be cleanly machined!
Hand-machined enclosure. The real one will be cleanly machined!

What's next?

Our plan going forward is to finalize another version of the board, get it certified, manufactured, and to your mailbox. We need your support to get the final few pieces of polish in place. Once backed, we can start the steps to take this prototype into production. 

This is the plan
This is the plan

We all know that plans don't always work out perfectly, so we've built some extra time into our schedule.  The above schedule is designed around the worst case scenario.  Once we kick off, we'll issue frequent updates to let you know where we stand.

About us

Julian and Tony
Julian and Tony

Julian (on the left) has a Degree in Computer Science and has been programming for 17 years, 5 of which have been in the industry. He specializes in designing and building robust APIs and sleek and intuitive user interfaces. He's been heavily involved in the hardware and PCB design scene for the last 2 years as a hobbyist.

Tony (on the right) has a degree in Electrical Engineering and a professional background in research and defense technologies.  His expertise includes circuit level design and high voltage systems.  He's been letting the smoke out of ICs at home for over 10 years, so his real world experience will be invaluable.

Check out our bio for more information!

Risks and challenges

As with many Kickstarters, if we get funded, we face the risk of over-backing. We're well equipped to produce up to 300 units. However, if we get backed above that level, we might experience delays.

Another risk lies in the FCC certification process. This is a new thing for us, and while we hope that it will go without hitch, it is possible that we'll need to redesign the PCB or implement some other workaround.

The most unique component in our product is probably the case itself. In the unlikely event that our supplier falls through somehow, we will need to redesign the case and perhaps the PCBs inside. This could add perhaps two months to the project, but wouldn't be a showstopper.

If something terribly catastrophic and unpredictable happens like our lab gets obliterated by a meteorite, we'll deliver whatever we have ready and release all our technical data and designs so that the community can finish the project.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

FAQ

  • We have discussed an international version of Reflowster and while we don't want to make any promises yet, we are still considering one. Over the next month of our Kickstarter campaign we will be doing some more research to help us figure out the cost/effort associated with an international version.

    IMPORTANT: If you are potentially interested in an international version please back us at our international level ($2) or send us a message. We're gauging your interest to help us decide!

    Last updated:
  • Due to prohibitively high costs of certification, Reflowster will not be UL certified. However, we are very conscious about the safety concerns associated with our power supply and relay. Instead of going through a formal certification process, we will be performing an informal safety audit of Reflowster throughout the process. We'll be taking the list of UL items and making sure that all safety recommendations are followed. Reflowster will be well insulated and will include safety capacitors and a fuse mechanism. In addition, we plan on undergoing a round of stress testing to convince ourselves that Reflowster will behave properly in sub-optimal condition.

    Last updated:

Rewards

  • You selected
    Pledge $2 or more

    13 backers

    Our heartfelt thanks for your contribution, and email updates on the status of the project.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $2 or more

    23 backers

    I want one, but I'm international and Reflowster isn't compatible with my outlets! (we will be using this to gauge interest for an international version in the future)

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $15 or more

    17 backers

    An unpopulated PCB, a few Reflowster stickers, and hard copies of the Open Source design documents and Bill of Materials. (Note: gathering the parts and assembling from PCB is not easy. This level is primarily for inspecting the board)

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $80 or more

    20 backers All gone!

    Early backer special! One complete Reflowster including a thermocouple probe, and a cool sticker! (provide your own toaster oven)

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $100 or more

    62 backers

    One complete Reflowster including a thermocouple probe, and a cool sticker! (provide your own toaster oven)

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $120 or more

    11 backers

    International shipping option! Due to popular demand, we're now offering international shipping. (note: Reflowster is not physically compatible with international outlets)

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $140 or more

    11 backers

    Reflow soldering and hacker's kit; just add your own toaster oven! Everything from the above reward, plus a USB cable for programming and PC interface, a tube of solder paste, and some tools we've found useful such as tweezers and molding picks. (provide your own toaster oven)

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $190 or more

    22 backers

    Special Edition Reflowster, with all the accessories and tools we can think of! This kit comes with everything from the above reward, plus an additional stainless steel thermocouple probe, a heavy extension cord, and a compatible toaster oven.

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States

Funding period

- (28 days)