Many of Hackaday’s readers will be no stranger to surface mount electronic components, to the extent that you’ll likely be quite comfortable building your own surface-mount projects. If you have ever built a very large surface-mount project, or had to do a number of the same board though, you’ll have wished that you had access to a pick-and-place machine. These essential components of an electronics assembly line are CNC robots that pick up components from the reels of tape in which they are supplied, and place them in the appropriate orientation in their allotted places on the PCB. They are an object of desire in the hardware hacker community and over the years we’ve seen quite a few home-made examples. Their workings are easy enough to understand, but there is still much to gain by studying them, thus it was very interesting indeed to see a friend acquiring a quantity of surplus Siemens component feeders from an older industrial pick-and-place machine. A perfect opportunity for a teardown then, to see what makes them tick.
Hardly a week goes by without a headline screaming about some asteroid or another making a close approach to Earth; it’s only by reading the fine print that we remember what an astronomer’s definition of “close” means. Still, 2020 being what it is, it pays to stay on top of these things, and when you do the story can get really interesting. Take asteroid 2020 SO, a tiny near-Earth asteroid that was discovered just last week. In a couple of weeks, 2020 SO will be temporarily captured into Earth orbit and come with 50,000 km near the beginning of December. That’s cool and all, but what’s really interesting about this asteroid is that it may not be a rock at all. NASA scientists have reverse-engineered the complex orbit of the object and found that it was in the vicinity of Earth in late 1966. They think it may be a Centaur booster from the Surveyor 2 moon mission, launched in September 1966 in the runup to Apollo. The object will be close enough for spectral analysis of its. surface; if it’s the booster, the titanium dioxide in the white paint should show up loud and clear.
Lasers are sort of forbidden fruit for geeks — you know you can put an eye out with them, and still, when you get your hands on even a low-power laser pointer, it’s hard to resist the urge to shine it where you shouldn’t. That includes into the night sky, which as cool as it looks could be bad news for pilots, and then for you. Luckily, friend of Hackaday Seb Lee-Delisle has figured out a way for you to blast lasers into the night sky to your heart’s content. The project is called Laser Light City and takes place in Seb’s home base of Brighton int he UK on October 1. The interactive installation will have three tall buildings with three powerful lasers mounted on each; a smartphone app will let participants control the direction, shape, and color of each beam. It sounds like a load of fun, so check it out if you’re in the area.
We got an interesting story from a JR Nelis about a quick hack he came up with to help his wife stay connected. The whole post is worth a read, but the short version of the story is that his wife has dementia and is in assisted living. Her landline phone is her social lifeline, but she can’t be trusted with it, lest she makes inappropriate calls. His solution was to modify her favorite cordless phone by modifying the keypad, turning it into a receive-only phone. It’s a sad but touching story, and it may prove useful to others with loved ones in similar situations.
We pay a lot of attention to the history of the early computer scene, but we tend to concentrate on computers that were popular in North America and the UK. But the Anglo-American computers were far from the only game in town, and there’s a new effort afoot to celebrate one of the less well-known but still important pioneer computers: the Galaksija. Aside from having a cool name, the Yugoslavian Z80 computer has a great story that will be told in documentary form, as part of the crowdsourced Galaksija project. The documentary stars our own Voja Antonic, who was key to the computer’s development. In addition to the film, the project seeks to produce a replica of the Galaksija in kit form. Check out the Crowd Supply page and see if it’s something you’re willing to back.
There’s an interesting new podcast out there: the Pick, Place, Podcast. Hosted by Chris Denney and Melissa Hough, it comes out every other week and is dedicated to the electronic assembly industry. They’ve currently got eight episodes in the can ranging from pick and place assembly to parts purchasing to solder paste printing. If you want to learn a little more about PCB assembly, this could be a real asset. Of course don’t forget to make time for our own Hackaday Podcast, where editors Mike and Elliot get together to discuss the week in hardware hacking.
[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!
[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.
Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys ride the rails of hackerdom, exploring the sweetest hacks of the past week. There’s a dead simple component feeder for a pick and place (or any bench that hand-stuffs SMD), batteries for any accomplished mixologist, and a droid build that’s every bit as cool as its Star Wars origins. Plus we gab about obsolescence in the auto industry, fawn over a frugal microcontroller, and ogle some old iron.
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Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams explore the coolest hacks of the past 168 hours. The big news this week: will Wink customers pony up $5 a month to turn their lights on and off? There’s a new open source design for a pick and place machine. You may not have a Vectrex gaming console, but there’s a scratch-built board that can turn you oscilloscope into one. And you just can’t miss this LED sign technology that programs every pixel using projection mapping.
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It goes without saying that we love to see all the clever ways people have come up with to populate their printed circuit boards, especially the automated solutions. The idea of manually picking and placing nearly-microscopic components is reason enough to add a pick and place to the shop, but that usually leaves the problem of feeding components to the imagination of the user. And this mass-production-ready passive component feeder is a great example of that kind of imagination.
Almost every design we’ve seen for homebrew PnP component feeders have one of two things in common: they’re 3D-printed, or they’re somewhat complex. Not that those are bad things, but they do raise issues. Printing enough feeders for even a moderately large project would take forever, and the more motors and sensors a feeder has, the greater the chance of a breakdown. [dining-philosopher] solved both these problems with a simple design using only two parts, which can be resin cast. A lever arm is depressed by a plunger that’s attached to the LitePlacer tool, offset just enough so that the suction cup is lined up with the component location on the tape. A pawl in the lower arm moves forward when the tool leaves after picking up the part, engaging with the tape sprocket holes and advancing to the next component.
[dining-philosopher] didn’t attack the cover film peeling problem in his version, choosing to peel it off manually and use a weight to keep it taut and expose the next component. But in a nice example of collaboration, [Jed Smith] added an automatic film peeler to the original design. It complicates things a bit, but the peeler is powered by the advancing tape, so it’s probably worth it.
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.