Sometimes All You Need Is a Little More Solder

DN Staff

July 6, 2015

2 Min Read
Sometimes All You Need Is a Little More Solder

I installed a solar array on my standing seam metal roof almost three years ago. It uses a "gateway" communications device to check and report on the health of the micro-inverters, as well as to give statistics on daily solar production and lifetime production. This is all done through a virtual dash panel that is Web-based. The manufacturer of the inverters and communication gateway provides the Web hosting for free. Last week the communications device stopped functioning and only a few faint row of pixels illuminated when powered. Must be dead, I thought, but no lightning strike or power surge seemed to have occurred. I have my house on whole-house protection, which I had installed myself. The power company charges too much for "rental" of surge protection and you can do it for $120. But I digress.

I called the manufacturer of the device to see about diagnosis of the failure and sending it back for repair. I was told there is no troubleshooting/repair option ... just buy a new one for $300. Now I see why they can Web host for free! I told the technician I would see what I could do with this unit and got the proverbial, "good luck."

After removing a few screws and slowly opening the case -- no easy matter as there are very fragile molded plastic clips located throughout the unit -- I was able to remove the main motherboard for closer inspection. There was no obvious damage. I have no test equipment, no schematics, no signal generator or anything of the sort to troubleshoot a complex array of electrical components. I was stumped. One thing I noticed under magnification was that there were numerous thru board solder joints that looked very light on solder and some were a bit cloudy. This was especially true for the components that obviously see higher current(s), as (after nearly three years of service) the PCB had a slight discoloration in the area of these components.

I took out my trusty soldering iron and started reflowing all these connections, adding a little more solder. The job took about five minutes. I plugged the unit in and it booted right up! It is reporting & working as I type.

After many years as an electrical engineer and one who reads trade journals for fun, I think the soldering specification(s) for this board (possibly wave soldered?) was not set properly. The manufacturer has no interest in setting it correctly or understanding the mode of failure. These units sell all day on auction sites for $300-plus and the manufacturer will keep pressing out defective units that last a few years and have customers lining up to buy new ones!

Tell us your experiences with Monkey-designed products. Send stories to Jennifer Campbell for Made by Monkeys.

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