USB microscope used for soldering very small things

solder

Lasik eye surgery is pretty common these days, but there are of course easier and cheaper ways to solder SMD components. [techpawpanda] wanted a video camera to see what was going on when he placed and soldered very tiny components on his board, but commercial SMD video cameras were terribly expensive. He wound up using a USB microscope to place and solder these tiny parts, and we’re thinking his SMD soldering station is the bee’s knees.

[techpawpanda]‘s video-based SMD station is built around a USB microscope available at the usual online retailers for $40. This camera is mounted on a wooden base with a USB hub allowing the camera to be plugged in along with a few USB LED lights and a USB fan for a rudimentary form of fume extraction.

The results are impressive – even at 11x magnification, [techpawpanda] can put paste on pads and place even the smallest SMD parts. All this in a device that is small enough to fit in a shoe box, or be tucked neatly away whenever it is not needed.

Comments

  1. vonskippy says:

    Clever.

    But in a THREE PAGE write up, they don’t tell WHICH USB Microscope they picked.

    WTF?

    They lead in with “there’s a bazillion USB microscopes, most don’t have decent data sheets or omit the key factors” – i.e. magnification from a distance – so by all means after finding one that DOES meet those spec’s – lets keep it a secret.

    • Rey says:

      Yeah, and I usually do better SMD soldering than theirs without any miscroscope and hot air tools (only with my 0.5 mm iron tip and R45 soldering flux…).

    • SavannahLion says:

      Based on the picture in the article, the hints littered throughout, and the less than helpful link in the article, I would say that it’s probably the “Conrad USB Digital Microscope 10x to 200xx, 1.3 Megapixel”
      URL = http://www.amazon.co.uk/Conrad-Digital-Microscope-200xx-Megapixel/dp/B0052E7QWE/ref=sr_1_32

      Interestingly, the product only appears on UK Amazon, I can’t find hide nor hair of it. Searches turn up an $80 product that looks similar. Oh well.

    • Ralph says:

      It does seem pretty silly to have left out the details on parts that work. I thought the USB LED lights he used looked interesting, but I have not found anything else like them. From some research I started a month ago about USB microscopes, I can add one detail about finding a working one. Look for one that is UVC compatible. Most microscopes I read about have many complaints about the software included, no matter what OS you use. If you use a UVC microscope(or camera), you can find good usable software for at least the top 3 OSes(Linux, OSX, and Win). I use Linux and I finally decided upon a Celestron 302. I don’t have it yet, so this is not an endorsement. Good luck

    • signal7 says:

      Amen!

      I can’t imagine why they’d go through the effort to do the write up and not bother to supply enough information allow anyone to reproduce it. That’s useless, imo.

  2. Martyn says:

    Although it’s useful to have a microscope – what’s wrong with a MK 1 eyeball and magnifying loop? Microscopes for soldering come into their own when people spend all day soldering and eye strain is going to be a problem, but for the majority of hackers reading this its total overkill!

    Unless you have sight problems (and don’t have glasses…) you should be able to handle 0402 and 4 thou/mill spacing. If not then you need to work on your technique (and probably get some gel flux) before blaming the tools (or lack thereof).

    [rant over]

    But good one – I believe Dave on eevblog did some good work with those digital overhead projectors which would give a larger working area, not sure on their price point though.

    • Trav says:

      One reason might just be the comfort of the user. I know as I get older, scrunching over to get my eye down close enough causes neck and sholder strain. And proping the work up closer causes my arms to be higher off the bench and causes unsteady hands.

      • Martyn says:

        True true – there is always a use for this sort of thing. I watched a video a few weeks ago with someone getting a hot-plate out to solder 1206’s, its things like this which can scare would be engineers from giving it a go because they don’t have the right tools – they could get stuck on arduino and breadboard…

  3. Marc says:

    I have the same USB microscope (bought it from conrad #191233) and a handy thing to know is not using the maximum resolution as it drops the framerate to a halt. A lower resolution helps to keep a connection with your tools and see where there are going on the board.

  4. Eirinn says:

    …are those solder blobs useful? They look crystallized, but I’m no expert.

  5. limpkin says:

    isn’t there a huge lag for a usb camera, that makes placement quite annoying?

  6. Chuckt says:

    So which microscope did you use?

  7. tz2026 says:

    I use a Gemoro stereo microscope from esslinger.com (jewelry). The stereo is often useful. The Gemoro has lights above and below and an iris to adjust where. Sometimes it isn’t as good as a SMD microscope, but it costs much less.

    • Haku says:

      I once had to lift the leg of a soldered down microcontroller and solder a jumper wire to that leg, I couldn’t simply cut the track as it went under the uC, the leg was 0.33mm wide and I couldn’t have done it without the aid of a stereo microscope.

      SMD work can be quite satisfying with the right tools.

  8. fartface says:

    Epic fail on every side. That is a WORTHLESS article. and no dont use a USB camera. buy a surplus medium power scope and call it done. Last one I picked up was a two eye setup and it cost me $49.00 plus shipping off ebay.

  9. Haku says:

    Hook up your camera to a projector for an even bigger level of magnification ;)

  10. svofski says:

    This may be fun and much better than nothing, but… Ebay for “stereo microscope”. You need 10x and maybe sometimes 20x, at most. Stereo is extremely important, you don’t imagine how precise your hands are when there is a good feedback from the eyes. USB/video/whatever is just fancy junk.

  11. George Johnson says:

    SMD is NOT this hard people! I used to do it with no magnification at all (at work, I made a living at it), but as I got older, my eyes just aren’t what they used to be.
    But I use just a stereo visor, at a couple X mag and that’s it.
    You can go even higher if you need to. So this is suitable even if your eyes are worse than mine. It’s also easier since you’re not tied down to a scope, just like working on a non-SMD board.
    But good grief, SMD is NOT this hard!
    I think this is why people are so afraid of trying to work with it. They read BS like this, and Hack-a-day keeps pushing the idea that you just can’t work with it without some “magic” equipment.
    My God! Please, treat it like just “normal” stuff, and maybe, just maybe, people will use it more. This is NOT brain surgery!
    I use a regular 20 year old Weller Station (at least 20), fine gauge solder, solder wick, tweezers, and the stereo visor, and that’s IT!

    • svofski says:

      Amen to that. Hackaday really should stop spreading this “SMD is scary” FUD. And it’s not 10 years ago even, now there are dozens of great SMD soldering tutorials on various sites and youtubes… You need absolutely nothing special for SMD work. You can do it with your grandfather’s soldering iron, provided that it has some isolation from the mains voltage. Fancy soldering stations cost money not because they magically enable SMD work, they cost just because they are efficient, heat up fast, reliable, provide correct temperature indication etc.

      Having a stero microscope is still a huge commodity, though, especially if you experiment a bit and have to rework parts sometimes. I use mine a lot.

      • Haku says:

        SMD resistors are great for stripboard work, they can save you a ton of space compared to traditional metal film resistors.

        • messmaker says:

          A few years ago Nuts & Volts had an article on SMD and they showed that 0805 resistors and caps fit perfectly between regular old protoboard holes.

          I have soldered SMD parts and agree with many here – it is pretty easy ( with or without magnification ). I suggest looking up a few videos online and searching out good technique. I watched Ben Hecks recent SMD soldering tutorial… while I am happy that he is trying to demystify it – I was horrified by his soldering technique. Nothing against Ben, he is pretty darn talented and I love his show. I am glad the technique works for him but it seemed a little slapdash for my taste.

      • Chuckt says:

        I wear glasses and it is hard enough with through hole components.

    • soundman98 says:

      i’m glad i delved into smd components well before i started reading hackaday. i keep a magnifier on-hand to sometimes inspect the final solder joints, but normally do all my smd soldering with a tweezers, iron, and no magnification.

    • Mike says:

      Agree completely, I’m mid-20s, I do 0402 components by hand for prototyping, no problems.

    • Anonymous says:

      Exactly. 0402 is still easy enough to solder with normal iron with a blade tip. Haven’t tried smaller, but i’d imagine 0201 is doable.

  12. Tom the Brat says:

    Somehow, I keep getting my tweezers magnetized.
    I’ve been putting the parts on without magnification. The paste too, and using my 30x loupe (about $5) to inspect.

    I couldn’t believe how much easier SMD was to do than through hole! I love it! Even converted a couple friends. I now use an electric fry pan to do most of the soldering, and my cheap ($25) temperature controlled iron for touchup. Fine solder and solder wick are helpful.

    Hmm, Did I really say I surface mounted a couple friends?

  13. echodelta says:

    I have macro focused TV cameras to sub-centimeter distances on small boards and it looks great. Think cheap, but for inspection only not hot action. I have also macro focused zoom lenses set to tele. That will give greater working distance. Then I compare it all with the lens out of a scanner (they don’t seem to last long) that is free, and makes a great loupe. However my eyes are nearsighted and I can focus at 3 inches without glasses. That’s referred to as natural magnification relative to the norm. So surfing around for trouble with my eyes in good light scores many times no mater how small. A pic on a phone looks like big screen to me if I want it to.

  14. ARob109 says:

    I read this yesterday, than oddly enough Amazon has a USB microscope on sale as part of their Lightning Deals. It kinda the article description, 10x to 50x optical, 200x digital… I wonder if someone at Amazon is a reader? http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004M8SQ6Q?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

  15. jpnorair says:

    I solder 0402 and other such components with a binocular boom-arm microscope. I picked one up used for $400, in good condition, with an LED ring light. I must say, having perspective is a great thing for these little parts. I would not want to use a non-binocular scope for such work.

  16. hsiboy says:

    I don’t get it. Without stereo vision you ain’t gonna get any better results than using an inspection magnifying glass (with ring light).

    And why USB?

    This is a magpie project, shiny for shiny sake.

    @hsiboy

  17. Vicary says:

    Who need magnification on 1206 things? Hobbyist don’t mess with them, guys in the industry deal with them with naked eyes.

  18. gant says:

    Such a USB-microscope is helpful – if you’ve got one anyways. I wouldn’t recommend buying one just for this purpose because you might spend the money on better tools serving the exact purpose, e.g. binocular scope/head-mounted set of glasses or whatever.
    I use my usb scope mainly for inspection. I found it difficult to use it as an aid for actual soldering, however, in some special cases it did help (a stereo scope surely would have helped me much better, but sadly I don’t have one).

  19. xb0xguru says:

    Sorry to add to the nay-sayers, but I’ve only used a USB Microscope once and that was to video soldering to SMD parts. It was a PITA as the amount of space around the object was uncomfortably small. I too solder all SMDs by naked eye – as low as 0402. Get a fine tipped iron, 60/40 solder and SMD rework flux and with practice and the right technique, you should be able to solder almost any SMD component. I say ‘almost’ as surface mounted MOSFETs are best dealt with by a hot air wand.

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