What Is a SMT Operator?

Soldering is one skill SMT operators need.
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Surface mount technology, which got its start in aerospace and military industries in the 1960s, is the practice of attaching very tiny surface mount devices to circuit boards to create compact components used in electronics. SMT operators employ a variety of skills and tools to create and maintain these components in manual and automated manufacturing settings. An SMT operator needs speed, accuracy and excellent communication skills combined with SMT training to perform her required duties.

Follow the Manual

An SMT operator, in a manual production facility, use assembly prints, like blueprints, to collect the required components, including diodes, resistors, transistors and integrated circuits, some of which are no larger than the head of a pencil. She places components on the board, following the designated pattern and then permanently attaches each piece with solder. Each board is individually inspected and tested for accuracy and then sealed to protect the fragile components from dust, debris and water.

Faster Than the Speed of Humans

Many facilities now use automated placement equipment, which increases production speed and accuracy, to construct the complex circuit board designs. An SMT operator in an automated facility must know how to load and operate the automated equipment, including stencil machines, pick and place machines and reflow ovens. Automated facilities also use automated optical inspection equipment and assorted computer programs for final testing and automated coating machines to apply protective sealants.

Level Up

Depending on the manufacturer, SMT operators are employed at different levels, based on knowledge, education, training and experience. SMT trainees learn all the basics of manual and automated SMT construction, equipment operation, soldering techniques and reading and understanding assembly prints. A SMT Level One operator uses her experience and takes additional training courses to learn about automated equipment setup. In a Level Two or Three position, she also learns inspection techniques for completed circuit boards, adjusts and troubleshoots automated equipment and learns how to repair equipment. An employer looks to an experienced SMT operator for her ideas and solutions regarding SMT manufacturing processes.

Book Smarts

Most SMT manufacturers require a high school diploma or GED and some general electronics knowledge or experience for SMT trainee positions. Once employed, SMT trainees must take the training necessary to complete the specific duties. Many SMT companies offer in-house training, including company-specific and nationally recognized quality and safety programs and solder training. College degree programs for electronics engineering, SMT-related workshops, webinars and online training programs are also available to provide more in-depth SMT education.

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