This Hackaday Prize Entry Sucks

Sucker [K.C. Lee] is busy working on his entry to The Hackaday Prize, and right now he’s dealing with a lot of assembly. For his entry, that means tiny SMD parts, and the vacuum pen he ordered from DealExtreme hasn’t come in yet. The solution? The same as anyone else who has found themselves in this situation: getting an air pump for an aquarium.

For this quick build until the right tool has time to arrive from China, [K.C.] took an old fish pump and modified it for suction. He doesn’t go over the exact modification to the pump, but this can be as easy as drilling a hole and stuffing some silicone tubing in there.

The ‘tool’ for this vacuum pen is a plastic disposable 0.5mm mechanical pencil. [K,C.] found this worked alright on smaller parts down to 0402 packages, but heavy parts with smooth surfaces – chips, for example – are too much for the mechanical pencil and aquarium pump to handle.

11 thoughts on “This Hackaday Prize Entry Sucks

  1. Had the same problem as he did, it’s the tips of the vacuum pens that matter the most. The rest can work well home made.

    I hope no fish is now suffocating…

  2. Yup, I used a aquarium pump to pick up a FF784 BGA (~5.5g) part with no issue. You need to order tips along with some suction cup style attachments for them. For 0402 parts, even a 0.5mm mechanical pencil is slightly too large. Unfortunately, small pitch tips are expensive (~$20).

    All in all, a cool quick and dirty hack. I’d also like to see how well syringe tips can be adapted.

      1. I was thinking that maybe a combination of syringe needle (the non sharp ones) and the surface of latex gloves could provide a nice surface. But I have not tried.

  3. Thanks for posting my Q&D hack! Right now, this is my plan B in case the cheapest DX pick up tool+extra tips isn’t going to work for my 0402. One can never tell from their pictures. They probably would work for the bigger parts. I can do 0603 and up with tweezers.

    Still waiting for my PCB to show up in 20+ days, so this give me something to practice for the meanwhile. I have plenty of 0402, tiny crystals and supercap on my new PCB. They are insanely small. See here:

    By the way, the clip/holder was used as a manual valve adjustment (by rotating it) to partially covering the hole I drill on the side of the pencil. :)

    Since the valve mode is really specific to the pump and was easy, I didn’t bother. I have updated the project log to show the valve modification for completeness. The general idea is simple.

    Picture of valve modification:

    Basically remove the valve. I have seal the hole at the right hand side with hot glue and drill a hole on the left side for the plastic tube for the suction port. Dremel an ‘U’ shaped opening for the new port on the case. The suction port is a plastic tube from a butane lighter refill tip. I guess the plastic tube from the guts of the mechanical pencil is probably better.

    I have seen youtube video for modding a more fancy pump simply by rotating the valve 180 degrees. This mod preserves the air outlet and uses the cheapest pump that I bought from my local Walmart a few years ago. I had used the pump for etching PCB in a tank and the vacuum port was for a failed attempt at making a desoldering tool.

    @[Bogdan] If I had any fish at all, they would be “swimming with the fishes” (in heaven).
    @[russdill] That’s really fancy set up!

    Thanks again for the suggestions etc.

  4. Wonder if you simply could dip the tip in reasonably thin silicone. Then just keep the pen tip-down and run the vacuum until it cures. The vac will take care of maintaining an open hole. Gravity plus surface tension will (probably) take care of do the job of forming an even lip.

    I’m still doing SMD pick-and-place low-tech, using a blunted toothpick moistened with spit. Works fair, could be a bit stickier. I wonder if that glue intended for making your own sticky notes would work.

    1. I am thinking of using those machine IC socket pins. Once you dremel off the other end, you get a good tube for the larger components. The business end has a nice and much wider lip and probably a good place for that dip in silicon. Put that over a piece of the slippery paper they used for pressure sensitive sticker. Poke a needle all the way through the paper from the other side. After it dries, trim with a blade. The other end you can probably find the right size wire insulation to fit on the mechanical pencil tip.

      A tiny bit of SMT flux paste (not solder paste) might work better as you don;t want moisture in there when you reflow.

  5. I find that a bamboo chopstick with moistened tip gives the perfect amount of stickiness for picking up 0402 parts and depositing them in the solderpaste.

  6. Or you can use a fridge compressor as a vacuum pump. Just attach some tubing to the inlet tube and you’re done:

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