No-Solder Breadboarding for SMD LEDs

Breadboarding is a great way to get started with electronics, and with the wide availability of those little wire jumpers, it’s never been easier – until you hit roadblocks due to poor connections and parasitic capacitance futzing with your signals. However, in today’s current climate, the latest and greatest modules are too often available only in SMD packages, and while breakout boards can help, it’s probably overcomplicating things a bit when it comes to SMD LEDs. It’s all good, though – [Simon Merrett] has a workaround, as part of his Yapolamp project.

[Simon] first took a flat strip of steel, and placed two neodymium magnets on top. The assembly was then wrapped in electrical tape for insulation, and two contacts were created with copper tape. The LEDs were then placed across the two contacts and wires were attached to join them to the breadboard. The 5630 LEDs [Simon] must contain some sort of ferrous material, because they were attracted to the magnets and sat neatly in place.

It’s a neat hack that would be particularly useful if you needed to quickly swap out LEDs, and saves them from damage by soldering. Meanwhile, check out this SMD LED matrix from 2009. 

Cameo Cutter Makes SMD Stencils

You never know what you might find in an arts and craft store. A relatively recent addition to crafting is automatic cutting machines like the Cricut and Cameo cutters. These are typically used to cut out shapes for scrapbooking, although they will cut or engrave almost anything thin. You can think of them as a printer with a cutting blade in place of the print head. [Mikeselectricstuff] decided to try a Cameo cutter to produce SMD stencils. The result, as you can see in the video below, is quite impressive.

If you’ve ever wanted to do SMD soldering with a reflow oven, stencils are invaluable for putting solder paste on the board where you want it quickly. The board [Mike] has contains a boat-load (over 2,000) of LEDs and dropping solder on each pad with a syringe would be very time consuming (although he did do some touch up with a syringe).

The board he’s using doesn’t have any extreme fine-pitched parts. However, he did some test patterns and decided he could get down to a finer pitch, especially with a little tweaking. However, the stencil he used didn’t need any changes. All he did was export the solder paste layer as a DXF and bring it straight into the Cameo software.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen one of these cutters pressed into stencil service. You can also get some use out of your 3D printer.

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[NE555]’s SMD Prototyping is a Work of Art

ne555_20yearsold
One of [NE555]’s boards from the 90s.
Over on twitter [NE555] has been posting beautiful SMD prototypes.

Back in the 90s when surface mount components gained widespread adoption, the quick and cheap PCB prototyping services of today were unavailable. This led many to develop their own approaches. In Japan a particularly novel and beautiful approach was, and still is, somewhat popular. [NE555]’s work is a excellent example of this technique using a fine enameled wire (you can find this on eBay as “magnet wire”), wirewrap board, and careful hand soldering. [NE555] has made a great video on the process (which you can watch below).

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Blowtorch SMD Reflow

result[whitequark] has been experimenting with a blowtorch for SMD reflow. Having just moved 8,000 km [whitequark] was stuck without any of the usual reflow tools. They did however have a blowtorch handy, and gave it a go.

When [whitequark] mentioned attempts on Twitter, we figured the results would mostly involve charred PCBs, smoke-filled rooms, and a possible trip to the local hospital. But [whitequark] is more sensible than we are, and by carefully monitoring the temperature and gauging the distance was able to get pretty decent results.

[whitequark]’s made a couple of further attempts and has had varying results. Overall, I’m not sure it’s a technique that I’m interested in trying myself, but it goes to show that in a pinch, a hacker will always find a creative way to get the job done.

Clearly the Best Way to Organize SMD Parts

Have some plexiglas (acrylic) leftovers lying around? Well, they could be put to good use in making this SMD organizer. It comes in handy if you deal with a lot of SMD components in your work. No longer will you waste your time trying to find a 15K 1206 resistor, or that BAS85 diode… or any other component you can think of soldering on the PCB. The basic idea is fairly straightforword, which helped keep this short.

2SMD resistors are packed in thick paper tapes that don’t bend easily, and thus need larger containers than other components, which are packed mainly in flexible PE tapes. The first version of this organizer was built with a 96mm diameter space for resistors and 63mm diameter for other components, but it seems that there is no need for such large compartments. If I were to make it again, I would probably scale everything down to about 80% of it’s current size.

The best way to join all plexiglass parts is to use four M4 threaded rods. There is also a 1.5mm steel rod which holds SMD tape ends in place and helps to un-stick the transparent tape which covers the components. At the top of the organizer there is a notch for paper, used for components labels. Most SMD components are packed in 8mm wide tapes, making the optimal compartment width 10mm. It is not easy to cut the 10mm thick acrylic and get a neat edge – instead, you could use more layers of thin sheets to make the spacers. Using 5mm acrylic you can combine more layers for any width of tape, which contains wider components, like SMD integrated circuits. The only thing that you have to be careful about, is to keep the distance between the thin steel rod and acrylic, which is marked as “2-4mm” on the drawing. It is good if this space is just a few tenths of a millimeter wider than the thickness of SMD tapes.

smd_orthoThe CorelDraw file that can be used for laser cutting the acrylic parts, is available for download. If you scale the profiles, don’t forget to readjust the hole diameters and some other dimensions which have to remain intact. If you have 5mm acrylic pieces, you should probably use two layers of acrylic for every tape (red parts on the drawing). The barrier layers would be made of thin acrylic — for instance 2mm (the blue parts). Edge layers (green) are once again 5mm thick, and there are also the end pieces (yellow), glued to the previous borders and used to “round up” the whole construction and to protect your hands from the threaded rods and nuts.

While you’re building this for your bench, make a vacuum picking tool for SMDs out of a dispensing syringe with a thick needle. It’s a common trick for hackers to use an aquarium air pump, just turn the compressor unit by 180°, so that it creates vacuum instead of blowing the air outside. This process is described by R&TPreppers in the video below.

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DIY SMD Twofer: Manual Pick-and-Place and the Beak

Populating a board with tiny SMT parts can be really tricky, and we’ll take all the help we can get. If you’re in the same boat, [vpapanik] has two devices you should check out.

First up is the manual pick-and-place machine. Wait, what? A manual pick-and-place? It’s essentially an un-driven 2-axis machine with a suction tip and USB inspection microscope on the stage. The picker apparatus is the “standard” needle-plus-aquarium-pump design, and the rails are made from angle aluminum and skateboard bearings.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s not a robot. But sometimes the right jig or tool makes all the difference between a manual procedure being fiddly and being graceful. And we couldn’t help but laugh at the part in the video where he demonstrates the “machine” moving in a circular pattern.

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3D Printed SMD Tool

We’ve seen pick and place tools in the form of tweezers, mechanical pencils adapted to aquarium pumps, but never as a 3D printed tool optimized for standard blunt-nose needles in a comfortable, ergonomic shape.

[Zapta] created this 3D printed SMD hand picker to populate a few boards. The tool is mostly 3D printed parts that come together for an airtight enclosure. The needles are the standard eBay affair, with the smallest he could find easily lifting 0402 and 0603 components from their tape reel. There’s also the option to switch over to larger needles for bigger components.

There are files available for two versions of this vacuum picker – one with a hole in the handle for those of us who would rather connect this thing directly to a modified aquarium pump, and one for the geniuses among us who use a foot pedal and pneumatic valve to release the tiny part. Other than the pump, the only a few bits of tubing are required to turn this bit of 3D printed plastic into a useful tool.