A Pick And Place Tool From Medical Equipment


A vacuum tool is an invaluable tool if you’re working with tiny SMD parts, and even with tweezers you might have a hard time placing these nearly invisible components on their pads for soldering. One tool that’s really great for these parts is a vacuum pen, usually made from an old aquarium air pump. [Jon] may have found a much more suitable piece of equipment to scavenge for a vacuum pen build – a nebulizer.

Nebulizers provide asthmatics with low pressure, low volume air to atomize medication for inhalation. Inside the nebulizer is a small diaphragm pump, just like the small aquarium pump teardowns we’ve seen. In just five minutes, [Jon] tore his thrift store nebulizer apart and reversed the flow of air, turning something that blows into something that sucks.

After the suction part of the build was finished, [Jon] needed a way to pick up small components. He did this by blunting a large hypodermic needle and fastening it to the end of a Bic pen with heat shrink tubing. After drilling a small hole in the pen body, he had a very nice looking SMD vacuum pump.

41 thoughts on “A Pick And Place Tool From Medical Equipment

    1. SMT for home use? It’s just progress.

      Also SMT is really not that hard to work with at home. Give it a try. There’s no need for (as much) board drilling. Things like pick and place, solder stencils, reflow ovens, etc. are nice but they’re not really necessary if you’re working in small quantities. Don’t let that sort of thing scare you off.

  1. OK, I just need to bitch. I’m sure one of the HaD editors will in turn disagree with me, execute their power to silence those who disagree, and delete my post or account, so whatever.

    If you want to publish a HACK, then please do so. PUBLISH SOMETHING NEW AND CREATIVE AND UNIQUE. There are a countless number of vacuum pump projects out there, just to use as an example – And a vast majority of them are simply emulating one of the other projects. PUBLISH SOMETHING NOVEL. Something NEW. Once in a while, at least?

    I assume that this site is slowly dying because of the lack of content. I am just saying all of this because I see great potential with this site (and with it’s name being attractive to begin with) but it is being wasted by someone who either has no talent or no time to deal with this… So the result is white noise.

    Very disappointing.

    Also, my critique of this project:

    You make the statement that this is a reasonable alternative to tweezers. Did you go and talk to any experts before making such a statement? I know a dozen seasoned EE techs who would disagree with you, and not one who would agree with you.

    It’s one thing if you’re building an actual pick-and-place, which in such a case you might actually use a real vacuum pump (One of the ten dollar ones, even!) to make something like this.

    Regardless, you’ve esssentially plugged a nebulizer in backwards. Congratulations, really, but have you done any long term analysis on this thing? You’ve decreased the flow rate through the pump. Is this going to cause wear issues? Will this thing fail prematurely? Do you know ANYTHING other than the fact that you’ve plugged an air pump in backwards?

    THIS is what being an engineer is about – Designing, asking why, what if, how, etc etc ETC – THIS is what you should want to do if you are interested in this field – Instead, I see everyone on this site doing something that has been done before, and then claiming victory over… I have no idea what.

    I think this is just a symptom of the younger generation in this country. We have truly lost our creativity as a population.

    1. I wouldn’t say anyone is claiming victory over “anything/anyone” in particular for small hacks like these. It’s not as easy as you think to post 100% from the ground up original made projects…they are often few and far between. You should also try to remember that not all of us have seen everything you have seen and sometimes these hacks are news to some of us. I understand your gripe but the world isn’t perfect and HaD has never made the claim to be as far as I recall.

    2. Sometimes you just need to get something done. If you want to populate one of your own PCBs with SMDs then you just want a quick, working solution, namely a HACK. No need to overengineer everything, if the thing wears out, build a new one! You want to focus your time on the actual Project!

    3. You claim that this isn’t a hack, when it is specifically modifying / re-purposing a device to perform a new function. Sounds like a good definition of ‘hack’ to me.

      You also imply that the editors / creator of this hack have a duty to perform long term analysis of the resulting devices longevity and performance, for a _hack_. If we were advocating using this device for mission critical uses or in a situation where it’s failure would threaten health or property damage this criticism might make sense. Except it’s a freaking hack to make a simple tool for an individuals use in a hobby. That kind of rigorous analysis is going to tell you the same things we could extrapolate from what you already said: “we hooked it up backwards: therefore it doesn’t work as efficiently as before, but it does what we need for now and it was cheap”.

      I for one knew that one could turn an aquarium air pump into a vacuum pickup syringe in this manner. It’s true that this has been done / covered before. But I did learn one thing from this article: you can do the same thing with the guts of a nebulizer. If I need to make this tool, the range of options I am aware of was increased. I have gained something of value, even if very slight, from this article.

      As for the site dying, have you been reading for the past few months? The number of articles posted a day jumped dramatically right after they sold to the new owners. Why do you perceive this site as dying when it’s just been given a breath of new life?

      And as always – when ANYONE starts complaining that something isn’t a hack we say this: go do better. Invent something new. Make an awesome hack. Inspire someone else to do something inventive, then submit whatever it is to Hackaday to share it with all of us. If we want to see more or a higher caliber of hacks on this website, it’s up to US to create / find the wonderful things in this world.

    4. Given the large volume of media published on the internet daily it’s impossible for an aggregator such as HaD to be on top of every novel hack out there. Thus they are forced to post some not-so-novel hacks that they have found. Many of the novel hacks you speak of only get unveiled at Cons, which BTW HaD does go to.

      Your critique of the hack itself is flawed on the premise that because someone who does the job for a living at a company with a budget orders of magnitude larger than a hobbiest doesn’t use the technique no one in their right mind would possibly benefit from it’s use. The very nature of a hack uses equipment outside of their design constraints. Of course the pump probably doesn’t like having resistance on the ‘wrong’ side of the diaphragm. They guy had it lying around or scooped it up for cheap, he doesn’t care if it burns out in 2 years. This isn’t Well-Designed-Engineering-Marvel-A-Day, This is Hack-A-Day, they’re meant to be ugly, klugy, and generally short term solutions.
      Have another cup of coffee and eat a snickers, your low blood sugar and internet anonymity is making you come off as a jerk.

    5. “THIS is what being an engineer is about – Designing, asking why, what if, how, etc etc ”
      Yeah, that’s why we call this a HACK. If it was properly designed, tested etc, it would just be another product. This site is about hacking, which means using things in ways that they were not designed to be used.

      “Regardless, you’ve esssentially plugged a nebulizer in backwards. Congratulations, really, but have you done any long term analysis on this thing?”
      Who cares? If a nebulizer for several dollars survives for a month, it will already be enough. If not, he will find another way. If he didn’t do it, he would never know if it’s viable. Also diaphragm pumps are rather durable even when running backwards.

      “You make the statement that this is a reasonable alternative to tweezers. Did you go and talk to any experts before making such a statement?”
      Who cares about experts? I tried to find easily accessible tweezers which could grab 0402 and couldn’t. It doesn’t mean that they don’t exist or are hard to obtain, but some things are easier to do for amateurs than for professionals.

      “I think this is just a symptom of the younger generation in this country. We have truly lost our creativity as a population.”
      Wat? I don’t even… He made something new. Maybe similar things were done before, but he found new cheap source of vacuum pumps.

      He did search on google if anyone did use nebulizer for that before. He didn’t found anyone. It is NEW. Maybe it’s not like curing cancer, but does everything need to be on the scale of a big engineering project?

    6. Reading your post ALMOST makes me wish HAD was the kind of website that moderated. I’m not sure why you are hating so hard of HAD or this article, maybe you should lead by example and stop coming and cluttering up the comments with a page of Raving Rants. Dont let the door hit you on the way out, Thanks

      1. I don’t tend to buy weird things when I go to flea markets or thrift stores but I have been going to them for over 40 years now so I’ve seen some strange things. This is the weirdest thing I can think of that I’ve bought off hand


        They’re a couple of Weston meters from the 1930s. I collect old meters and they’re some of the oldest I have. Well the oldest I could date. They look like they got lifted out of Frankenstein’s laboratory to me.

        1. OK, maybe “weird” was the wrong word. How about rare medical, or technical equipment, like your meters. Something that makes you scratch your head wondering how in the hell it ended up at a flea market or thrift store.

          1. I think I’ve got you all beat on the most unusual item. How about a Humphrey Autorefractor? You know the machine you look into at the opthomologist that automatically figures out the prescription you need? I found an older model that works great (I had just had an eye exam and the machine generated the same prescription) that goes for about $28,000 on eBay. It was marked $30, and I had a half-off coupon!

            It’s the same model shown here:



            It always makes for interesting conversation at the eye doctor :)

    1. The chain thrift stores seem to have more fun hackable stuff than the individual ones, at least in my experience. I’ve seen two nebulizers recently. Plus aquarium air pumps, I have seen examples of the internal diaphragm being reversed to provide suction. A stack of X10 modules, $1.50 each. A fully functional Roomba and accessories for $20.

      And there are some things I just can’t identify. Still trying to figure out one item, a featureless white box with an electrical cord. The only identifying mark is a single warning pictogram, showing a baby with a cord running out of its diaper and plugged into a wall outlet, and the red “DO NOT” circle and bar over it. But as the box is nearly the size of a two-slice toaster, I can’t imagine it fitting in a diaper simultaneously occupied by a baby. Perhaps it’s sharing more general wisdom, that you should not attempt to power or recharge your baby with AC?

  2. I was looking for a solution and had a nebulizer, so I Googled to see if anyone had done this before. I didn’t find any listings but what I did find were a bunch of listings for “nebulizer/vacuum pumps.” They are designed to suck! Sorry it’s not an earth-shattering invention – just a simpler way of getting something done.

    I’ve seen nebulizers in thrift stores fairly often. Sometimes the larger “chain stores” don’t sell them because they are a “medical device requiring a prescription” but many stores do have them.

  3. The trash had provided me with one several years ago. It had leftover medicine and the hoses and cup. Receipt indicated that welfare paid $170 for it and now it’s trashed.
    Made it into a vacuum pump too, for holding pouches on a dome setter for player piano rebuilding.

  4. You know, you can get an Aoyue vacuum pen station for like $30. Or if you already their 968A+ combo soldering iron/hot-air rework station, with the iron-mounted smoke extractor tube, you’re most of the way there. They sell a replacement pen/hose assembly for like $15, and you can hook that up to the vacuum inlet for in place of the extractor. (But really, for $30, you might as well just get the standalone vacuum pen station, it’s pretty nice.)

    Now, a hacked-together solder paste dispenser, THAT would spark my interest!

    And when are we gonna see someone finally get a homemade pick and place machine working, instead of the umpteenth ‘someone is working on one’ post followed by never hearing from that person EVER AGAIN? (Like there’s some cabal of machine manufacturers sending ninjas to kill anyone who tries to make their own…)

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