Manual Pick and Place

picknplacePopulating a large surface mount PCB can take forever. [craftycoder] from Freeside Atlanta has built a great looking manual pick and place machine, removing the need for tweezers. No more will passives stick to your tweezers while you are trying to place them on your PCB!

We have seen a lot of pick and place machines in the past few years. What makes this one stand out is its simplicity and the no-nonsense build. This pick and place is built on an MDF platform, uses bearings from Amazon, standard 12 mm rails, and has a small camera for a close-up look at your part placement. Sure it is a manual method, but it beats painstakingly placing each part with tweezers. It would be interesting to see how much this entire build cost; we expect that it was not too expensive. See this thing in action in the video after the break.

We hope this project has inspired you to go out and make something cool! If so, let us know what you have made!
[Read more...]

This SMD Reflow Hot Air Gun Hangs Around Your Workbench

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Has reflowing surface mount components got you down? [Giorgos] is currently working on a project that will lift your spirits…. well at least your hot air gun. Tired of manually holding his heat gun in one hand and IR thermometer in the other, [Giorgos] set out to create a device to alleviate just that. Although not completed yet, it appears the machine’s intent is to hold the heat gun at an appropriate height above the work piece in order to achieve the correct reflow temperature. He doesn’t say how the height of the hot air gun will be controlled. We’d like to see a microcontroller adjust the height of the hot air gun depending on the temperature of the component to be reflowed. [Giorgos] gives an extremely detailed account of his build process. Make sure to check out all four pages of the project post!

We’ve seen a lot of interesting work from [Giorgos] over the years like this capacitive touch-pad entry system.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

Semi-professional board assembly for your workshop

[Zach Hoeken] has the answer to assembling multiple surface mount PCBs in the home workshop. It’s certainly not for everyone. But if you’ve ever thought of marketing your own small runs he has the equipment and methodology you need.

He had tried using hacked together equipment, but after encountering a range of issues he finds the investment in a few key items saves time and money in the long run. The first is a precision tooling fixture block; that metal plate with a grid of holes that makes up the background of the image above. It comes with machined pegs which fit the holes perfectly, and as you can see, his panel of 16 boards include tooling holes that line up with the fixture. Once in place, a steel solder stencil is aligned with the board using its own tooling holes. The alignment of the stencil and its uniformed thickness ensure that the perfect amount of solder paste is easy to apply with a squeegee. [Zach] hand places his components but he did invest in a proper reflow oven to make the soldering a set and forget process.

Manga Guide to SMD

For those that have always felt a bit treppidatious when approaching SMD, you can relax. Here’s a simple guide to walk you through your first shaky steps into surface mount devices. Distributed freely under the creative common license, the Manga Guide to SMD is an 18 page comic that has a goal of making SMD producers out of all of us. There’s a good visual explanation of what SMT is and why we use it, as well as a thorough walk through of how to solder the tiny devices with your soldering iron. They don’t go into dealing with a small reflow oven in this issue.

If this fits well with your learning style, you might also be interested in the Manga Guide to Electricity.

Kapton tape aids in drag soldering surface mount parts

Drag soldering works exactly as its name implies, by dragging a bead of solder across fine-pitch pins you can quickly solder an entire row. The method relies on clean joints, so liquid solder flux is often used to make sure there is good flow. But if you’re drag soldering on boards that you’ve etched yourself the solder can sometimes run down the trace, rather than staying where you want it. Professionally manufactured boards don’t have this problem since they have solder mask covering the copper that doesn’t need soldering. [Ahmad Tabbouch] has a method that uses Kapton tape to act as a temporary solder mask on diy boards.

The process involves several steps. First, three strips are place horizontally across the board, leaving just a portion of the upper and lower pads exposed. Those pads are then tinned with solder, and a light touch with an X-acto knife is then used to score the tape covering the vertical rows of pads. Once the waste as been removed, two more strips are added and those rows are tinned. From there the chip is placed and soldered as we’ve seen before; first tacked in place, then fluxed, and finally drag soldered to complete the connections. This achieves a crisp and clean connection, presumably without the need to clean up your solder mess with solder wick.

Kapton tape resists heat, making it perfect for this process. We’ve also seen it used on hot beds for 3D printers, and as a smoothing surface for sliding mechanisms.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

How to populate a surface mount PCB

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Let’s face it friends, everything is moving toward surface mount components. We’ve seen quite a few features here that cover using stencils to populate boards and using ovens to reflow. [Oleg] has put together a tutorial on the process he uses to populate and reflow his own boards.

[Oleg] is the creator of the USB Isolator and therefore has a need to frequently populate the same board. He’s using an acrylic frame that fits the PCB perfectly to hold it in place so that paste and be applied right up to the edges of the board. He ordered a laser cut Kapton stencil for applying the solder. The paste is squeegeed into the stencil holes, the stencil is removed, and parts are placed with tweezers and a steady hand. For the final step, the boards go into an old toaster oven for reflow.

[Oleg] uses temperature marker on his boards to monitor the progress of the reflow. This marker is basically a crayon that begins to melt at a specific temperature. When the board has cooled, the melted mark can be scraped away or removed with alcohol.

Of course this is only really useful if you have a bunch of high-quality boards to populate. But with the relatively low cost of getting professionally made boards we think the need for this type of assembly process is on the rise.

Parts: 0.1uF decoupling capacitors

Most ICs need to be decoupled from their power supply, usually with a 0.1uF capacitor between each power pin and ground. Decoupling is usually used to remove noise and to smooth power fluctuations. Every project will need a few decoupling capacitors; our mini web server project has three ICs that require a total of 11. This can be an expensive part to buy in singles, so it’s crucial to stock up online. Read more about our favorite bulk through-hole and surface mount decoupling capacitors after the break. [Read more...]