MeatBagPnP Makes You the Automatic Pick and Place

It’s amazing how hackers are nowadays building increasingly complex hardware with SMD parts as small as grains of sand. Getting multilayer PCB’s and soldering stencils in small quantities for prototyping is easier than ever before. But Pick-and-Place — the process of taking parts and stuffing them on the PCB in preparation for soldering — is elusive, for several reasons. For one, it makes sense only if you plan to do volume production as the cost and time for just setting up the PnP machine for a small run is prohibitive. And a desktop PnP machine isn’t yet as ubiquitous as a 3D printer. Placing parts on the board is one process that still needs to be done manually. Just make sure you don’t sneeze when you’re doing it.

Of course the human is the slow part of this process. [Colin O’Flynn] wrote a python script that he calls MeatBagPnP to ease this bottleneck. It’s designed to look at a row in a parts position file generated from your EDA program and highlight on a render of the board where that part needs to be placed. The human then does what a robotic PnP would have done.

A bar code scanner is not necessary, but using one does make the process a bit quicker. When you scan a code on the part bag, the script highlights the row on the spreadsheet and puts a marker on the first instance of it on the board. After you’ve placed the part, pressing the space bar puts a marker on the next instance of the same value. The script shows it’s done after all parts of the same value are populated and you can then move on to the next part. If you don’t have a bar code scanner handy, you can highlight a row manually and it’ll tell you where to put that part. Check it out in the video below.

Of course, before you use this tool you need some prior preparation. You need a good PNG image of the board (both sides if it is double-sided) scaled so that it is the same dimensions as the target board. The parts position file generated from your EDA tool must use the lower left corner of the board as the origin. You then tell the tool the board dimensions and it scales up everything so that it can put the red markers at the designated XY positions. The script works for single and double-sided boards. For a board with just a few parts, it may not be worth the trouble of doing this, but if you are trying to manually populate a complex board with a lot of parts, using a script like this could make the process a lot less painful.

The project is still fresh and rough around the edges, so if you have comments or feedback to offer, [Colin] is listening.

[Colin]’s name ought to ring a bell — he’s the hacker who built ChipWhisperer which took 2nd Prize at The Hackaday Prize in 2014. The MeatBagPnP project is a result of having worked at building increasingly complex boards manually and trying to make the process easier. In addition to the walk-through of how the script works after the break we’ve embedded his other video from three years back when he was stuffing parts — including BGA’s — the hard way and then reflowing them in a Chinese oven with hacked firmware.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Reflowduino, the Open Source Reflow Oven Controller

Face it — you want a reflow oven. Even the steadiest hands and best eyes only yield “meh” results with a manual iron on SMD boards, and forget about being able to scale up to production. But what controller should you use when you build your oven, and what features should it support? Don’t worry — you can have all the features with this open source reflow oven controller.

Dubbed the Reflowduino for obvious reasons, [Timothy Woo]’s Hackaday Prize entry has everything you need in a reflow oven controller, and a few things you never knew you needed. Based on an ATMega32, the Reflowduino takes care of the usual tasks of a reflow controller, namely running the PID loop needed to accurately control the oven’s temperature and control the heating profile. We thought the inclusion of a Bluetooth module was a bit strange at first, but [Timothy] explains that it’s a whole lot easier to implement the controller’s UI in software than in hardware, and it saves a bunch of IO on the microcontroller. The support for a LiPo battery is somewhat baffling, as the cases where this would be useful seem limited since the toaster oven or hot plate would still need a mains supply. But the sounder that plays Star Wars tunes when a cycle is over? That’s just for fun.

Hats off to [Timothy] for a first-rate build and excellent documentation, which delves into PID theory as well as giving detailed instructions for every step of the build. Want to try lower-end reflow? Pull out a halogen work light, or perhaps fire up that propane torch.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Manual, CNC Pick And Place Machine

Everyone who wants a 3D printer probably already has one, and even laser cutters and CNC machines are making their way into garages and basements ’round the world. Pick and place machines are the next great frontier of personal manufacturing, and even though that’s a long way off, [Tegwyn]’s project for this year’s Hackaday Prize is bringing us that much closer to popping down 0201 LEDs reliably.

This project is a manual pick and place machine — otherwise known as ‘tweezers’. It’s a bit more complicated than that, because the entire idea behind [Tegwyn]’s build is to decouple a human’s fine motor skills from the ability to place components on a board. To do that, this project is using an off-the-shelf, blue light special CNC machine. There’s not much to it, just a bit of aluminum extrusion and some threaded rods. However, with the addition of a vacuum pump, a hollow needle, and a few manual controls to move the axes around, the operator has very fine control over where a resistor, cap, or LED goes.

There are a few neat additions to the, ‘put a vacuum pump on a CNC machine’ idea. This is a 4 axis machine, giving the user the ability to rotate the part around a pad. There’s also a microscope hooked up to a small monitor mounted to the machine. If you’re assembling hundreds of boards, this is not the machine you want. If, however, you only need a handful, don’t mind spending a few hours placing parts, and don’t want to go insane with tiny QFN packages, this is a great build and a great entry for the Hackaday Prize.

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No-Solder Breadboarding for SMD LEDs

Breadboarding is a great way to get started with electronics, and with the wide availability of those little wire jumpers, it’s never been easier – until you hit roadblocks due to poor connections and parasitic capacitance futzing with your signals. However, in today’s current climate, the latest and greatest modules are too often available only in SMD packages, and while breakout boards can help, it’s probably overcomplicating things a bit when it comes to SMD LEDs. It’s all good, though – [Simon Merrett] has a workaround, as part of his Yapolamp project.

[Simon] first took a flat strip of steel, and placed two neodymium magnets on top. The assembly was then wrapped in electrical tape for insulation, and two contacts were created with copper tape. The LEDs were then placed across the two contacts and wires were attached to join them to the breadboard. The 5630 LEDs [Simon] must contain some sort of ferrous material, because they were attracted to the magnets and sat neatly in place.

It’s a neat hack that would be particularly useful if you needed to quickly swap out LEDs, and saves them from damage by soldering. Meanwhile, check out this SMD LED matrix from 2009. 

An Hour to Surface Mount

Most of us have made the transition from through hole parts to surface mount. There are lots of scattered tutorials, but if you want to learn some techniques or compare your technique to someone else’s, you might enjoy [Moto Geek’s] hour-long video on how he does surface mount with reflow soldering. You can see the video below.

What makes the video interesting is that it is an hour long and covers the gamut from where to get cheap PCBs, to a homebrew pick and place pencil. [Moto Geek] uses a stencil with solder paste, and he provides links to the materials he uses. Continue reading “An Hour to Surface Mount”

Ambitious ATtiny85 Board Tests a Beginner’s Skills

[Chris O’Riley] has been playing around with Arduinos for around a year, and decided he wanted a breadboardable ATtiny85 in order to prototype using the actual controller that would be used in the final project. He wants to use it to interface with a Bosch BMP280 pressure sensor, but for now it stands alone.

It’s a simple board with the Tiny85, 3.3 V and 5 V regulators, a power LED, as well as the usual resistors and caps [Ed: not resistor sand caps]. The double-sided PCB [Chris] milled himself — he’s an illustrator and photographer by day, so it’s no surprise the board turned out gorgeous. He designed the board in Illustrator after taking a stab at Eagle, then ran it through his CNC to mill the circuits using a .017 inch end mill as well as drilling the vias. He add solder paste using the tip of a knife, but after messing around with an iron, he ended up investing in a hot air rework station.

We love our Tiny85s here on Hackaday. Check out the ATtiny85 gaming console, the NTSC-generating ATTiny85, and making DIY I2C devices with the chip.

Cameo Cutter Makes SMD Stencils

You never know what you might find in an arts and craft store. A relatively recent addition to crafting is automatic cutting machines like the Cricut and Cameo cutters. These are typically used to cut out shapes for scrapbooking, although they will cut or engrave almost anything thin. You can think of them as a printer with a cutting blade in place of the print head. [Mikeselectricstuff] decided to try a Cameo cutter to produce SMD stencils. The result, as you can see in the video below, is quite impressive.

If you’ve ever wanted to do SMD soldering with a reflow oven, stencils are invaluable for putting solder paste on the board where you want it quickly. The board [Mike] has contains a boat-load (over 2,000) of LEDs and dropping solder on each pad with a syringe would be very time consuming (although he did do some touch up with a syringe).

The board he’s using doesn’t have any extreme fine-pitched parts. However, he did some test patterns and decided he could get down to a finer pitch, especially with a little tweaking. However, the stencil he used didn’t need any changes. All he did was export the solder paste layer as a DXF and bring it straight into the Cameo software.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen one of these cutters pressed into stencil service. You can also get some use out of your 3D printer.

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