A DIY Vacuum Pickup Tool for $75

If you’re assembling prototypes of SMD boards on your own, placing the parts accurately can be a pain. Of course, it’d be nice to have a full pick and place machine, but those are rather expensive and time consuming to set up, especially for a small run of boards. Instead, a vacuum pickup tool can help you place the parts quickly and accurately by hand.

The folks over at Ohmnilabs have put together their own DIY pickup tool for about $75, and it’s become part of their in-house prototyping process. They grew tired of placing components with tweezers, which require you to remove parts from the tape before lifting them, and have a tendency to flip parts over at the worst time.

The build consists of a couple parts that can be bought from Amazon. An electric vacuum pump does the sucking, and the vacuum level is regulated with an adjustable buck converter. A solid foot switch keeps your hands free, and syringe tips are used to pick the parts up.

This looks like a simple afternoon build, but if you’re prototyping, it could save you tons of time. To see it in action, check out the video after the break.

14 thoughts on “A DIY Vacuum Pickup Tool for $75

  1. Ended up building mine using a ‘venturi vacuum ejector’, a solenoid and the foot switch from the solder paste machine. Noisy but works well and is quite fast. Working on building it into the solder paste machine as a second tool. Ended up costing about $20-30 and used existing shop air.
    I like the idea of using the syringe as a handle as I can use the caps from the solder paste machine for the line connections, much less bodge than a hand pickup tool and heatshrink. :) I’ll be remaking the handle this weekend!
    To save some money at the expense of accuracy, you can ditch the footswitch and just drill a hole in the handle for your fingertip. This does make the tool ‘twitch’ though as you move your finger.

  2. For me, the pump, solenoid, and foot switch were really cheap off amazon. It’s the tiny delrin tips that are expensive. You really need good tips if you want to go 0402 and below. It’s actually really helpful to get a 3 port solenoid. You can then switch the tip’s connection from the pump to open air. If you have a 2 port solenoid, you just have to connect one of the ports of the solenoid to a T-junction and leave the other port open. If you connect it inline, there’s no easy way for the tip to lose pressure.

    1. I used normal syringe needle from the pharmacy, they cost like 20ct. Cut off and bent. The pump was a surplus car central locking air pump (rotary vane). I had the finger hole for “switching”, but in the end I adjusted the pump down, so that the suction was less than the stickiness of the solder paste. So it was just pick and “stick” for placing.

  3. I really appreciate that this article says $75, and means it. Way too many projects say “build a spaceship for $5!” then say, “first, go into your junk pile and pull out a spaceship.”

    Also, appreciate projects that give purchasing links for their parts. Super helpful.

  4. I’ve just ordered up a set of components off ebay for a similar tool to this. The main improvement is that it uses a solenoid valve rather than a mechanical foot switch. The whole lot came to just over £40, and £20 of that is power supply and buck converter, both of which are stupidly over-specified for the job (both able to supply 10A; the pump draws 1A and the solenoid about 150mA).

    The main reason for the solenoid choice is, of course, to make it easier to rebuild into an automatic machine at a future date…

    1. Of course, the downside to ebay orders compared to amazon is that I’ve probably got a few weeks waiting to do.

      It seems sort of bizarre to me that, after the power supply and converter, plastic tubing is the next most expensive component. £8 for 10m of 1/4″ tube? Really???

    2. This must be build your own vacuum pick up tool week.

      I’m cobbling together one just like yours, but I’ve also thrown in a pressure sensor (MPX5100DP) and a LM311 to turn the pump on/off when the vacuum pressure drops.

  5. I made one off a faulty blood pressure measuring thing. Has a pump and a valve inside. It was a bit tricky to convert the pump to suck instead of pumping, because it has no inlet port. Otherwise, it was quite similar to this =)

  6. I read this Friday morning and ordered parts to build one right then. The Amazon bill came to just shy of $100. It would definitely be possible to do this cheaper, but out of laziness I just dropped in their original BOM.

    Everything arrived today (Sunday, thanks Amazon Prime!) and I assembled and stuffed a couple of boards with it. HOLY CRAP IT’S AWESOME! Definitely saved a lot of time.

    It’s a bit noisy, which might become an issue if I’m stuffing boards while my wife is home, and with my office chair height the foot pedal is awkward. If I were starting from scratch and putting more thought into this then I’d go for a solenoid and a bite switch, but this thing is definitely a HUGE help!

  7. Hi guys, Jared from OhmniLabs here. Glad you found it useful! The foot pedal was a must for us to avoid hand shake from finger valve actuation. I really wanted to go with a electronic foot pedal and solenoid too, just couldn’t find a nice solenoid with the right specs easily available on amazon, so we went with mechanical for now. We wanted something that we could just order and have it show up next day when we are setting up new stations.

    Would be interested to hear if anyone has recommendations for cheap but even better tips. The steel syringe tips tend to be a bit slippery and parts can rotate slightly during placement. We are thinking of using Plasti-dip or some rubberizing method on the tips.

  8. I use a an aquarium pump with the membrane reversed, some silicone tubing with a small hole near the end (that I can cover with my finger while placing the part), and a plastic solder paste nozzle jammed into it. Cost me about 10$. Works a treat.

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