many years ago I worked for a company that built custom circuit boards and I can never remember having to change the tip on my soldering iron. Many days I turned the iron on in the morning and it ran all day.
Now ive tried a few soldering irons (the latest being a 15w miller) and after 5 hours of use the tip lost its coating and soon afterwards it melted the tip so its un-usable.
Is this the nature of the beast and I need a temp controlled solder station or is this low quality tips?
That,s probably because the company had decent soldering stations.
Cheaper soldering irons have poor quality tips.
a decent tip will have an iron coat to prevent the solder from dissolving the tip.
Temperature controlled irons are important for circuit board work to prevent over stressing components.
Cheap uncontrolled irons [fire sticks] even low wattage ones can reach 500 deg easily, useful in the field on frame rooms perhaps but no use on modern pcb electronics (except possibly with a lot of experience).
Most circuit board these days use lead free solder and that can be tricky compared to the old stuff.
Minor changes in composition can cause major changes in solderabilty.
A temperature controlled iron is essential in that case.
With this solder , using external flux application can help considerably, but a lot of it is down to soldering experience.