Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: CNC Becomes Pick and Place

In the 80s and 90s, building a professional quality PCB was an expensive proposition. Even if you could afford a few panels of your latest board, putting components on it was another expensive process. Now, we have cheap PCBs, toaster-based solder ovens, and everything else to make cheap finished boards except for pick and place machines. ProtoVoltaics’ semifinalist entry for the Hackaday Prize is the answer to this problem. They’re taking a cheap, off-the-shelf CNC machine and turning it into a pick and place machine that would be a welcome addition to any hackerspace or well-equipped garage workshop.

Instead of building their own Cartesian robot, ProtoVoltaics is building their pick and place around an X-Carve, a CNC router that can be built for about $1000 USD. To this platform, ProtoVoltaics is adding all the mechanics and intelligence to turn a few webcams and a CNC machine into a proper pick and place machine.

Among the additions to the X-Carve is a new tool head that is able to suck parts out of a reel and spit them down on a blob of solder paste. The webcams are monitored by software which includes CUDA-accelerated computer vision.

Of course a pick and place machine isn’t that useful without feeders, and for that, ProtoVoltaics built their own open source feeders. Put all of these elements together, and you have a machine that’s capable of placing up to 1000 components per hour; more than enough for any small-scale production, and enough for some fairly large runs of real products.

You can check out some of the videos for the project below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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It Sucks to Pick Up the Pieces

Jigsaw puzzles are a fun and interactive way to spend an afternoon or twelve, depending on the piece count and your skill level. It’s exciting to find the pieces you need to complete a section or link two areas together, but if you have poor dexterity, excitement can turn to frustration when you move to pick them up. [thomasgruwez] had the disabled and otherwise fumble-fingered in mind when he created this pick and place jigsaw puzzle aid, which uses suction to pick up and transport puzzle pieces.

The suction comes from an aquarium pump running in reverse, a hack we’ve seen often which [thomasgruwez] explains in a separate Instructable. A large, inviting push button is wired in line to turn the pump on and off. An equally large and inviting momentary switch turns off the vacuum temporarily so the piece can be placed.

At the business end of this hack is the tiny suction-cupped tip from a cheap vacuum pen. To interface the pen head with the pump, [thomasgruwez] designed and printed a rigid straw to bridge the gap. With utility already in mind, [thomasgruwez] also designed a ring that can be bolted to the straw to house a steadying finger of your choice, like the pinkie hook on a pair of barbers’ shears.

Our favorite part of this hack has to be the optional accessory—a tiny platform for quickly flipping pieces without cutting the vacuum. Check it out after the break.

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A DIY Pick and Place You Can Build Right Now

There have been quite a few DIY pick and place projects popping up recently, but most of them are limited to conceptual designs or just partially working prototypes. [Juha] wrote in to let us know about his project, LitePlacer, which is a fully functional DIY pick and place machine with working vision that can actually import BOMs and place parts as small as 0402 with pretty good accuracy.

LitePlacer UIWhile some other DIY pick and place setups we’ve featured use fairly exotic setups like delta bots, this machine is built around typical grooved bearings and extruded aluminum. The end effector includes a rotating vacuum tip and a camera mounted alongside the tip. The camera provides feedback for locating fiducials and for finding the position of parts. Instead of using feeders for his machine, [Juha] opted to pick parts directly from pieces of cut tape. While this might be inconvenient if you’re placing large quantities of a single part, it helps keep the design simple.

The software that runs the machine is pretty sophisticated. After a bit of configuration it’s able to import a BOM with X/Y information and start placing within seconds. It also uses the camera to calibrate the needle, measure the PCB  using the fiducials, and pinpoint the location of cut tape sections.

If you want to build your own machine, [Juha] published detailed instructions that walk you through the entire assembly process. He’s also selling a kit of parts if you don’t want to source everything yourself. Check out the video after the break to see the machine import a BOM and place some parts (all the way down to 0402).

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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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Towards A Tiny Pick And Place Head

One of the projects that has been on [Peter Jansen]’s build list for a long time – besides a fully functioning tricorder, of course – is a pick and place machine. It’s a project born out of necessity; each tricorder takes four days to assemble, and assembling the motherboard takes eight hours with a soldering iron and hot air gun. The pick and place machine isn’t complete yet, but one vital component – the vacuum head for picking up components – is getting there with the help of some odd components.

A few months ago, [Peter] saw a post on Hackaday about repurposing a tiny piezo micro blower for use as an extremely small vacuum pen. The original build was extremely simple – just a few pieces of foam board and a power supply, but the potential was there. A tiny electric air pump that’s able to pick up large chips and modules along with tiny resistors without having to run a hose through the mechanics of a CNC gantry is a godsend.

[Peter] got his hands on one of these micro blowers and started work on a proper tool head for a pick and place machine. A port on the micro blower was covered so it would suck instead of blow, the vacuum port was threaded through a stepper motor with a hollow shaft, and a fine tip was attached to the end.

What can this vacuum head pick up? 0604 size resistors aren’t a problem, but larger modules are simply too heavy. It looks like this micro blower would only be able to pick up small components. There are other options, though: [Grant Trebbin] has had some luck with a larger pump from Sparkfun, but this requires a vacuum line to run through a CNC gantry. There’s still some work to do before a small vacuum head shows up on the tool head of a pick and place machine, but given how long it takes [Peter] to put together a single tricorder, it’s well worth investing the time to do this right.

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.

Piezo Vacuum Pump for Lightweight Pick and Place

If you’re building a pick and place machine, or even just a vacuum pen, you’ll need some way to pick up tiny part. This means something that sucks, aquarium tubing, and everything that goes with that. A few months ago, [Wayne] found an interesting device called a Micro Blower that will blow small amounts of air from a small, lightweight device. A few modifications later, and he had a piezoelectric vacuum pump for picking up tiny parts.

The Micro Blower [Wayne] found is available on Mouser for about $45, but this device blows. To turn it into something that sucks, he would need to find a way to block up the input side of the pump so it could draw a vacuum. Eventually settling on mounting the blower inside a stack of foam board, [Wanye] glued on a 20 gauge needle and was able to suck up 0603 SMD parts.

The new piezoelectric sucker is extremely light, and the power draw is very reasonable: 18V and 20mA. This would be a great device to mount to a certain pick and place machine without having to run vacuum lines through the mechanics of a motion platform. Video below.

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