Reflow profiling can be broken down into several phases. I generally use the following;
Preheat Phase preconditions the PCB assembly prior to actual reflow, removes flux volatiles, and reduces thermal shock to the PCB assembly. Because the preheat phase is often the longest of phases the ramp rate (rate/rise of time vs. temperature) is often established in this phase.
Pre-reflow Phase involves flux activation to remove surface oxides (on mating surfaces as well as the solder paste particles themselves), further pre-conditions the PCB assembly before reflow, and can be utilized for the soak portion of the profile, if needed. A soak profile may be suggested to diminish any delta T between components if there are both very small and very large components or the physical size of the PCB assembly is very large in and of itself. A soak profile is also often suggested to reduce voiding in area array type packages, though with Pb-free chemistries, this is often not as effective as with SnPb.
Reflow Phase is where the mechanical/electrical connection is made through the formation of intermetallics. Peak temperature and TAL (time above liquidus) help define the actual reflow portion of the profile. Peak temperature 20-40°C above liquidus and TAL of 30-90s is common.
Cooling Phase determines the grain structure when solidified and is defined as the solder cools from the peak temperature to solidus. A fast cooling rate is desired to create a fine grain structure (most mechanically sound) but is limited by the differences in CTE (coefficient of thermal expansion) of the joining surfaces. If excessive, stress can be exerted on the solder joint or component, fracturing or tearing can occur. Cooling rate of 4°C/s is commonly suggested.
Ramp to Peak profile depicted
For more please see “Best Practices Reflow Profiling For Pb-free SMT Assembly"