How To Retrofit A Pick And Place Machine For OpenPnP, In Detail

[Erich Styger] owns a Charmhigh CHM-T36VA pick and place machine, which he describes as well-built and a great value of hardware for the money. However, the software end is less impressive, with a proprietary controller that is functional but not great. The good news is that it is possible to retrofit the machine to use the OpenPnP framework, which is open-source and offers more features. Even better, [Erich] has already done and documented all the hard parts!

The CHM-T36VA has two heads, vision system, and uses drag feeders.

The conversion requires upgrading a few hardware parts such as the cameras, replacing the controller’s firmware, then installing and configuring OpenPnP (which runs on an attached PC.)

[Erich] does not recommend this conversion for anyone who is not very familiar with electronics, or has any worries about voiding warranties. Barring that, he suspects the conversion could be done in about a day or two’s worth of focused work. It took him two weeks, including time spent fine-tuning the first production job. He says the bulk of the time was spent on configuration, but he has shared his configuration on GitHub in the hopes that it will save a lot of time for anyone using the same hardware.

After populating some 300 boards and placing over 7000 parts, he’s very happy with the results. The machine places between 600 and 700 parts per hour, so speed might not be amazing but it’s perfectly serviceable. [Erich] finds that while the machine runs a little slower than it did with the original controller, it also runs much smoother and quieter overall. In return he gets what he truly wanted: a pick and place machine whose operation and configuration is entirely open and accessible. You can see it in action in the video, embedded below.

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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.

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Tools Of The Trade – Component Placing

Recently we started a series on the components used to assemble a circuit board. The first issue was on dispensing solder paste. Moving down the assembly line, with the paste already on the board, the next step is getting the components onto the PCB. We’re just going to address SMT components in this issue, because the through hole assembly doesn’t take place until after the SMT components have gone through the process to affix them to the board.

Reels!
Reels!

SMT components will come in reels. These reels are paper or plastic with a clear plastic strip on top, and a reel typically has a few thousand components on it. Economies of scale really kick in with reels, especially passives. If you order SMT resistors in quantities of 1-10, they’re usually $.10 each. If you order a reel of 5000, it’s usually about $5 for the reel. It is cheaper to purchase a reel of 10 kOhm 0603 resistors and never have to order them again in your life than it is to order a few at a time. Plus the reel can be used on many pick-and-place machines, but the cut tape is often too short to use in automated processes.

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OpenPnP Working To Create An Affordable And Completely Open Pick And Place Machine

open-pick-and-place

If you happen to do a lot of SMD work, a pick and place machine is an incredible time saver. The problem is that most automated pick and place solutions are well outside of the “small outfit” price range, let alone the budget of a hobbyist.

We have seen some great DIY pick and place implementations around here, though most are lacking professional features or the sort of documentation that would make it easy for others to replicate. The OpenPnP project is looking change things, with a completely open source hardware and software solution with a price target of under $1,000.

Things are already well under way, with plenty of details available in the project’s wiki. According to the development page, a prototype should go into construction in the near future, and development of the pick and place’s control software is coming along nicely.

While things are looking great for the OpenPnP project, they can always use some help to keep things moving. Be sure to check out the project page if you are interested in lending a hand.

To see some of the progress being made, stick around to see a short demo video of the control software and camera in action.

[via Make]

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