Angel Investor Gives Open Source PnP A Massive Boost

We love it when an Open Source hardware project grows up and turns into a sustainable business, bootstrapped with nothing but hard work and great ideas, but it’s a really tough prospect to do it using your own money, ploughing the profits from any sales back into development and not taking a dime in wages whilst you do so. People obviously need an income to live off, and that time spent working on a startup is time you can’t spend earning your keep. So it’s with great pleasure that we can bring you the latest news from [Stephen Hawes] and his pick-and-place machine plans. In the year since we last checked in with the project, development has continued at a steady pace, with the guys quickly outgrowing the garage workspace, whilst they prepare PnP machine kits ready for sale.

The big news is that [Joel Spolsky], co-founder of Stack Exchange, creator of Kanban management tool, Trello, and angel investor, has made a sizable ($100K USD) investment in the company which has allowed them to take on a 3,000+ sq. ft office space, and given them the funds for stock and all that boring business overhead stuff. [Stephen] takes time to explain that [Joel] will not have any control of the company, and all hardware and software will remain fully Open Source. For those interested [Joel] implemented his investment as a SAFE note (Simple Agreement for Future Equity) and as such, [Joel] will only make a return in the form of a small share allocation, if they hit the big-time in the future. Can’t really say fairer than that!

[Stephen] did recently receive a ‘cease and desist’ notice regarding his use of the ‘Index’ name for the project, since that is already a trademarked term, defended by somebody else, the project will need change name very soon. A minor setback, but it is a bit annoying that a chunk of that investment now has to go to a lawyer to make sure that the name they do eventually choose isn’t already taken and is safe to use.

In terms of the machine itself, it is now is fully operating, with multiple automatic tape feeders, featuring up and down-facing machine vision, and all that OpenPnP goodness. It has even been demonstrated placing parts for its own custom motherboard PCB, reprap style. Nice!

We wish [Stephen] and partner [Lucian] all the success they deserve, and hope they get those kits out there, because there are people around these parts that need an affordable, hackable, desktop PnP machine ASAP, this scribe included!

Here’s the earlier story covering the machine, but it’s not the only Open Source PnP machine we’ve seen – here’s another one from a few years ago.

Continue reading “Angel Investor Gives Open Source PnP A Massive Boost”

Open Source Pick And Place Has A $450 BOM Cost

Give your grizzled and cramped hands a break from stuffing boards with surface mount components. This is the job of pick and place machine, and over the years these tools of the trade for Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) have gotten closer to reality for the home shop; with some models diving below the $10,000 mark. But if you’re not doing it professionally, those are still unobtanium.

The cost of this one, on the other hand, could be explained away as a project in itself. You’re not buying a $450 shop tool, you’re purchasing materials to chase the fever dream of building an open source pick and place machine. There are two major parts here, an X/Y/Z machine tool that can also rotate the vacuum-based parts picker, and the feeders that reel out components to be placed. All of this is working, but there’s still a long road to travel before it becomes a set and forget machine.

The rubber hits the road in two ways with pick and place machines: the feeders, and the optical placement. The feeders are where [Stephen Hawes] has done a ton of work, all shown in his video series that began back in January. The stackup of PCBs and 3D-prints hangs on the front rail of the gantry assembly, is adjustable for tape widths, and uses an interesting PCB encoder wheel and worm-gear for fine-tuning the feed. [Stephen’s] main controller board, a RAMPS shield for and Arduino Mega that runs a customized version of Marlin, can work with up to 32 of these feeders.

So far it doesn’t look like he’s tackled a vision system, although the Bill of Materials does include  “Downwards Camera”, confirming this is a planned feature. Vision is crucial in commercial offerings, with at least one downward camera for precise board positioning, and often an up-facing camera as well to ensure component position and orientation (if not multiple cameras for each purpose). Without these, the machine would be dead reckoning and that can lead to drift over the size of the board and the duration of the placement run as well as axial misalignment. Adding vision shouldn’t be a ground-up effort though, as [Stephen] chose to use OpenPnP to drive the machine and that project already has vision support. This will be much simpler to add when compared to the complexity of the feeders.

[Stephen] admits that much work still needs to be done and he would love to have help dialing in the performance of the feeder design, and fleshing out features on the road to perfection. Although we suspect that as in the early days of bootstrapping 3D printers, a project like this can never be truly finished. At least it’ll make his next run of LED glowties a lot easier to fabricate.

Continue reading “Open Source Pick And Place Has A $450 BOM Cost”