Amtech fluxes: hoax on a global scale

    Many electronic engineers, especially those working with SMD / BGA, use Amtech fluxes . The most popular brands are NC-559-ASM and RMA-223 . Some people buy them at retail radio stores, others order them by mail through the popular trading platforms DealExtreme , eBay , AliExpress , etc. The most meticulous owners of syringes / jars with these fluxes have long discovered that the market is replete with obvious fakes. For example, the text on the label is vague, the word California is printed on many labels as Coliformia, and other errors are found.







    Some proudly say that they only use the “original product”, purchased from an “American seller on eBay” and labeled “100% genuine” in the title (of course, at a noticeably higher price). In evidence of "authenticity" are holograms affixed to the packaging, printed on the label "lot numbers", the date of issue and expiration date, etc. At the same time, few people are confused, for example, by the presence in the holograms of the American manufacturer of Chinese characters next to the inscription “Made in USA”.

    We check with the manufacturer


    But the fun begins when you look at the Amtech product catalog . Products marked on the packaging as " NC-559-ASM " and " RMA-223 " are located in the "Solder Pastes" section (solder pastes - compositions of powder solder and flux). The description of RMA-223 begins as follows: “The RMA-223 solder paste is a homogeneous mixture of the highest quality pre-alloyed solder powders and mildly activated resin paste flux” (RMA-223 solder paste is a homogeneous mixture of pre-made powder solders and moderately activated paste-like rosin flux "). Datasheets on both NC-559-ASM and RMA-223undoubtedly, it is solder pastes that are described, since they contain a list of possible compositions of solder (Available Alloys) and the diameter of its balls (Powder Distribution), and the words “flux” (flux) do not contain at all.

    Products of interest to us are found in the Tacky Paste Fluxes section (sticky paste fluxes) under the markings NC-559-TF and RMA-223-TF . The general datasheet describes fluxes. A search on the site shows that the same fluxes can be marked with the suffixes " TF " (Tacky Flux) and " TPF " (Tacky Paste Flux).

    The types of packages are also indicated here: 10- and 30-milliliter syringes and 75- and 150-gram cans. Meanwhile, even though the Chinese are selling the “flux” RMA-223mainly in 10-milliliter syringes, the “flux” NC-559-ASM (including “100% original”) is offered by them almost exclusively in 100-gram cans.

    Discover America, however, failed


    A search on the net quickly finds a discussion , the instigator of which also asks the question: what exactly do the Chinese offer us under the guise of “Amtech fluxes” if Amtech itself produces ready-made pastes under such brands? Unfortunately, the discussion does not contain anything interesting, although the initiator writes that he contacted Amtech but did not receive an answer.

    There is also an article on comparing RMA-223-UV packages with DX and eBay :

    image

    The author notes the difference in the smell and consistency of the fluxes, as well as the presence of noticeable conductivity in the indelible flux, which can disrupt the operation of the circuit. Since the author ordered fluxes in batches for subsequent sale, he forced sellers to contact Amtech and find out which option is fake. It turned out that both were fake, and the original packaging received from the manufacturer looks the same as on their website:

    image

    As you can see, the original is marked " RMA-223-TPF (UV) ". The suffix "UV" means that indelible traces of flux are visible in ultraviolet rays.

    What do we offer under the guise of the original


    A search on the trading floors finds a great variety of “100% original” packages with obvious signs of fake.

    For example, allegedly "the original NC-559-ASM-UV, packaged in China . " Amtech does not add the UV suffix to the NC-559-ASM for the simple reason that this paste already contains a UV additive ( The NC-559-ASM is a modified version of the NC-559-AS that contains a UV tracer for easier flux splatter inspection ). The full list of company products does not have this designation.

    Another lot, also with a clear claim to originality ("... AMTECH NC-599-ASM flux, which is originally made in USA, NOT the fake one in the Market"), with a designation on the bank corresponding to solder paste.

    Having scanned off dozens of lots offering “ NC-559 ” and “ RMA-223 ” on eBay and AliExpress, I did not find a single one where solder paste was offered - only clean fluxes are sold everywhere. On some photos you can see the contents of the packages - the consistency is about the same, the color varies from pearl to brown, and the appearance varies from matte to translucent.

    There are even lots with a detailed analysis of signs of originality and fake ,



    but here also appears a 100-gram can instead of a 150-gram can, announced on the official website. However, on the same site it is agreed that other packages are available upon request - perhaps for some customers 100 grams are also available.

    Search for authoritative sources


    It is curious that in the English-language section of Wikipedia there is no mention of NC-559 and RMA-223 products , and the name Amtech is mentioned only for organizations of the same name that are not related to soldering products. A Google search with a restriction on the United States finds very few mentions of these products in discussions - mainly in offers from little-known online stores. It seems that they are not particularly popular in the United States.

    The Russian-language site Amtech, apparently, is quite official, because it refers to the company DarsCom , listed in the list of representatives on the American site. Product Catalogdoes not contain anything new compared to the American site. On the page with the description of flux-gels there is a warning about fakes, the image of the label on the “native” flux packaging is also shown there. In addition to the designation itself, which should include the abbreviations TF or TPF , and the product code, the production date and expiration date should be indicated on the label. The company does not use any holograms supposedly confirming authenticity. It is also noted there that the company did not produce flux marked " RMA-223-UV ", which appears in the above comparison.

    It is significant that on the American site Amtechthere is no such warning, as there is no mention of the mass distribution of counterfeit fluxes. Neither the website nor the product catalog has clear packaging images. It seems that the company is not particularly concerned about its reputation in the world, even with very high popularity outside the United States.

    Unfortunately, on both sites there are neither photographs of the flux material itself nor its exact description (consistency, color, transparency, smell, smokiness, etc.). Because of this, it is impossible to distinguish any fake from the original independently.

    For China and Hong Kong, the list of representatives shows two companies with their own sites: Advan Electronics (Shenzhen) Company and Shenzhen Kingfull Electronics Shop; the first domain seems to be expired, and the second does not exist at all. Also indicated is the company the SMT International,, LLC , the company site but has not.

    Excursion into the past


    Assuming that the types and labels of Amtech products were different in the past, and old packaging is still sold around the world, I looked at a few snapshots of the Amtech website through the Internet Archive . Images of the site have been available since February 2005, here is one of the first descriptions of the solder paste NC-559AS . In the complete product catalog at that time , only liquid fluxes were offered, thick were completely absent.

    For 2006, the archive contains only one snapshot of the site, in appearance and composition it has not changed.

    But the first snapshot of the site for 2007 looks almost the same as it is now. The section "Tacky Paste Fluxes" appears , in which all fluxes without exception have the suffix "TF . "The packaging also did not change - only 10/30-ml syringes and 75/150 cans. No 100-gram cans were produced.

    It follows that Amtech never produced pure fluxes without the suffix" TF "or" TPF "in labeling.

    Disappointing conclusions


    From all the information found, at least three conclusions can be drawn:

    • Any packaging containing pure flux but not having the abbreviation " TF / TPF " in the marking is fake.
    • In the packaging with incorrect labeling, original products may occur if some companies (for example, the same Chinese) buy fluxes in bulk packaging (for example, tens or hundreds of liters), then pack them on their own in a container similar to the original, sticking their own labels on it. This is doubtful, since there is no mention of packaging in large containers on the company's website, while, for example, companies producing oils and lubricants always offer packaging from a tube / cartridge / canister to a 200-liter barrel. In addition, it is not clear why a company purchasing products legally should use deliberately incorrect labeling on the label, while creating the appearance of the origin of the final packaging from the United States.
    • At first, Amtech itself was not too strict about labeling its products, allowing designations like " Flux type: NC-559-ASM " to mean "flux included in the paste NC-559-ASM ." However, even if such a situation did occur, by the end of the first decade of the 2000s it should have come to naught, which so far has not even been closely observed.


    It seems that the first option is still the most likely conclusion. In this case, the only way to verify the authenticity of the purchased flux is to buy it directly from an official representative (of the same DarsCom in Russia). All other sources are a lottery.

    User opinions


    A targeted search for user reviews leaves the impression that almost everyone who used Amtech products (including most who discussed the “originality” of the product) are convinced that the RMA-223 and NC-559-ASM were always (and should be) pure fluxes not solder pastes. This is not surprising, since most people buy these products either on DX / eBay / AliExpress or in small radio stores, which usually buy goods in China.

    Among the reviews on the use of fluxes, the prevailing ratings are “excellent”, “excellent”, “amazing”; Grades such as “so-so” and “garbage” are quite rare, which indicates a generally decent quality of fakes. Most users agree that fluxes are very convenient for soldering, with the NC-559 praising more than the RMA-223 . This is not surprising since the 2004 NC-559 solder paste description says it was developed to replace RMA-223 . The opinions on smell (from “almost no smell” to “stink”) and the smokiness of fluxes differ most strongly.

    Health safety


    Many of those who read English are worried about the warning on the standard label: “May contain lead. This product contains chemicals known to the state of California and other states to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Consult MSDS "(May contain lead. This product contains chemicals known in California and other states as causing cancer, birth defects, and other reproductive problems. See MSDS.")

    This is the same confusion about clean flux packaging. a label from solder paste is applied. Of course, any tin-lead solder paste contains lead, and in a rather large mass fraction. Common to all tin-lead solder pastes is MSDS(Material Safety Data Sheet - Material Safety Data Sheet) notes that IARC classifies lead in Category 2B (potentially hazardous substances to humans). At the same time, MSDS for lead-free solder pastes does not indicate a possible carcinogenicity, although it warns of the possibility of various diseases with their prolonged / massive exposure. The latter is quite normal for products of this kind.

    The official marking of the RMA-223-LF-TF flux can also cause some confusion - this can be understood as a “lead-free flux”, which raises the question of the possible content of lead in fluxes without the “ TF ” suffix . Suspicion is eliminated by readingобщего описания: "...designed to meet the requirements of Pb-free alloys" (разработана для обеспечения требований к пайке бессвинцовыми припоями"). То есть, это не «бессвинцовый флюс», а «флюс, специально предназначенный для бессвинцовых припоев».

    Общий MSDS для всех густых флюсов не упоминает о каком-либо содержании свинца, равно как и о возможной канцерогенности или влиянии на репродуктивную функцию. Предупреждения о возможном раздражении кожи и умеренной токсичности при вдыхании совершенно уместны — многие вещества, в том числе и чистая канифоль, при возгонке и сгорании образуют соединения, классифицируемые как «умеренно вредные».

    Thus, the discussed pure fluxes do not contain lead and do not carry any pronounced health hazard compared to traditional ones (solid rosin, alcohol-rosin solution, glycerin fluxes, etc.). Of course, no one canceled the need for good ventilation of the workplace (this is also indicated in the MSDS).

    Own impressions


    In 2013, I ordered a 10-milliliter syringe with a flux labeled “ RMA-223 ” on AliExpress , and in 2014, a 100-gram bright blue jar “ NC-559-ASM ”. In both cases, I chose lots of the “100% Original” type, naively (at that time) believing that this would reduce the likelihood of a fake. Of course, both labels showed both vagueness of the text and errors in words. The sellers were given appropriate ratings, with relevant comments.

    The syringe flux - matte, light yellow - did not particularly impress me - it is probably convenient when soldering an SMD board in an oven that I don’t do. But the flux from the can - also dull, almost white - really liked it when manually soldering microcircuits with a small (about 0.8 mm) pitch of the leads. With its help, the high-speed soldering method is easily implemented, when the microcircuit is grasped to the site (with glue, adhesive tape or solder for two or four leads from different sides), the leads are covered with a thick flux layer, after which it is enough to conduct a soldering iron tip with a small recess for holding solder. This flux very well keeps the solder from spreading from the leads and the formation of jumpers. Even if jumpers are formed here and there with a soldering iron in some places, it is enough to attach the sting “sideways” to the ends of the conclusions,

    Unfortunately, the canister flux clearly does not match the brand name “completely odorless” (completely odorless) and gives more smoke than pure rosin, even with a moderately hot soldering iron. Fortunately, the smoke is not eater, and the smell is not harsh, both are similar to “pure rosin”.

    Should I strive to find the original flux?


    According to the analysis of all the information found, I believe that in amateur practice it is quite possible to use fluxes offered on popular online markets. When choosing, one should pay attention not to statements like “100% original / genuine”, holograms and other false “signs of originality”, but to the seller’s rating and the appearance of the flux shown in the photo. If the flux looks the same as in most other credible offers - most likely, in general, it will be quite similar to the original.

    In fact, in the manufacture of the fluxes under discussion, no secret substances or technologies are used, therefore, it is unlikely that it will be difficult for a specialist familiar with the composition of common brands of fluxes and having access to analysis equipment to find out the composition and recreate the original composition with satisfactory accuracy. Consequently, even obvious fakes do not necessarily have to differ markedly in properties from the originals.

    In professional work, and even more so in production, of course, one should purchase these fluxes either directly from the manufacturer or from his official representatives in the territory of his country.

    I will be glad to comments from those who had the opportunity to compare the obviously original fluxes from Amtech with those that offer "deserved" (with high ratings) sellers with AliExpress / eBay.

    Amtech products in reputable retail chains


    During the discussion of the article, it suddenly turned out that not only the products, but even the Amtech brand itself, are completely unknown to such respected electronics suppliers as DigiKey , Farnell and Mouser . At TME still found quite a wide range of products Amtech , however, and the midst of it showed obvious "unoriginal" syringe "flux" NC-559, the AS .

    Update as of September 6, 19: It was discovered that the domain of the former Russian-language site amtechsolder.ru was abandoned, and now a porn site is working on it. Hyperlinks removed from text.

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