Simple Mechanism Gives Support for SMT Assembly

With the fine work needed for surface-mount technology, most of the job entails overcoming the limits of the human body. Eyes more than a couple of decades old need help to see what’s going on, and fingers that are fine for manipulating relatively large objects need mechanical assistance to grasp tiny SMT components. But where it can really fall apart is when you get the shakes, those involuntary tiny muscle movements that we rarely notice in the real world, but wreak havoc as we try to place components on a PCB.

To fight the shakes, you can do one of two things: remove the human, or improve the human. Unable to justify a pick and place robot for the former, [Tom] opted to build a quick hand support for surface-mount work, and the results are impressive considering it’s built entirely of scrap. It’s just a three-piece arm with standard butt hinges for joints; mounted so the hinge pins are perpendicular to the work surface and fitted with a horizontal hand rest, it constrains movement to a plane above the PCB. A hole in the hand rest for a small vacuum tip allows [Tom] to pick up a part and place it on the board — he reports that the tackiness of the solder paste is enough to remove the SMD from the tip. The video below shows it in action with decent results, but we wonder if an acrylic hand rest might provide better visibility.

Not ready for your own pick and place? That’s understandable; not every shop needs that scale of production. But we think this is a great idea for making SMT approachable to a wider audience.

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A DIY 5V-3V Switching Converter in the Space of a TO-220 Package

We’re suckers for miniaturization projects. Stuff anything into a small enough package and you’ve probably got our attention. Make that something both tiny and useful, like this 5-volt to 3.3-volt converter in a TO-220 sized package, and that’s something to get excited about. It’s a switch mode power supply that takes the same space as a traditional linear regulator.

Granted, the heavy lifting in [Kevin Hubbard]’s diminutive buck converter is done by a PAM2305 DC-DC step-down converter chip which needs only a few supporting components. But the engineering [Kevin] put into this to squeeze everything onto a scrap of PCB 9-mm on a side is impressive. The largest passive on the board is the inductor in 0805. Everything else is in 0603, so you’ll be putting your SMD soldering skills to the test if you decide to make this. Check the video after the break for a speedrun through the hand soldering process.

The total BOM including the open-source PCB only runs a buck or two, and the end result is a supply with steady 750-mA output that can handle a 1-A surge for five seconds. We wonder if a small heatsink tab might not help that; along with some black epoxy potting, it would at least complete the TO-220 look.

[Kevin]’s Black Mesa Labs has a history of turning out interesting projects, from a legit video card for Arduino to a 100-watt hotplate for reflow work that’s the size of a silver dollar. We’re looking forward to whatever’s next — assuming we can see it.

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Global Resistor Shortage, Economics, and Consumer Behavior

The passive component industry — the manufacturers who make the boring but vital resistors, capacitors, and diodes found in every single electronic device — is on the cusp of a shortage. You’ll always be able to buy a 220 Ω, 0805 resistor, but instead of buying two for a penny like you can today, you may only get one in the very near future.

Yageo, one of the largest manufacturers of surface mount (SMD) resistors and multilayer ceramic capacitors, announced in December they were not taking new chip resistor orders. Yageo was cutting production of cheap chip resistors to focus on higher-margin niche-market components for automotive, IoT, and other industrial uses, as reported by Digitimes. Earlier this month, Yaego resumed taking orders for chip resistors, but with 15-20% higher quotes (article behind paywall, try clicking through via this Tweet).

As a result, there are rumors of runs on passive components at the Shenzhen electronics market, and several tweets from members of the electronics community have said the price of some components have doubled. Because every electronic device uses these ‘jellybean’ parts, a decrease in supply or increase in price means some products won’t ship on time, margins will be lower, or prices on the newest electronic gadget will increase.

The question remains: are we on the brink of a resistor shortage, and what are the implications of manufacturers that don’t have the parts they need?

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Make A Better, Spring-Loaded SMT Tape Strip Holder

Every so often, a project is worth some extra work to see if the idea can go any further. [JohnSL] has been busy doing exactly that with his spring-loaded SMT tape holder project. Having done the original with 3D printing, he has been working on designing for injection molding. This isn’t a motorized feeder, it’s still a manual tool but it is an improvement over the usual workshop expedient method of just sticking segments of tape down to the desktop. Tape is fed into the holders from one end and spring tension holds the tape firm while a small slot allows the cover tape to be guided backward after peeling. As anyone who has used cut segments of tape to manually deal with SMT parts knows, small vibrations — like those that come from peeling off the clear cover — can cause the smaller components to jump around and out of their pockets, and any length of peeled cover gets awkward quickly.

The design allows for multiple holders to mount side-by-side.

In [JohnSL]’s design, all SMT tapes sit at an even height regardless of size or tape thickness. A central support pushes up from the bottom with tension coming from a spring pulling sideways; the central support is forced upward by cams and presses against the bottom surface of the tape. As a result, the SMT tape gets supported from below with even tension and the whole assembly maintains a narrow profile suitable for stacking multiple holders side by side. The CAD files are available online along with a McMaster-Carr part number for the specific spring he used.

After working out the kinks on 3D printed prototypes, [JohnSL] decided to see if it would be feasible to design an injection molded version and made a video outlining the process, embedded below.

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Improved Perfboard For Surface Mount Parts

Look through the last two decades of electronics project built on perfboard, and you’ll notice a trend. Perfboard is designed for through-hole parts, but ever more frequently, the parts we need are only available as surface mount devices. What does this mean for the future of all those protoboard, veroboard, and tagboard designs? It’s not good, but fortunately, there may be an answer. It’s perfboard designed for mounting SOICs, SOTs, and other surface mount devices.

Perfboard is an extremely simple concept. Most through-hole electronic components are built around 0.1″ or 2.54 mm spacing between pins. Yes, there are exceptions, but you can always bend the middle pin of a transistor and put it in a hole. SMT devices are different. You can’t really bend the pins, and the pin pitch is too small for the 0.1″ holes in traditional perfboard.

[electronic_eel] is changing that game up with his own design for perfboard. This perfboard has the traditional 0.1″ holes, but there are SMD pads sprinkled about between these holes. The result is being able to solder SOIC, SOT23-6, SOT23 and SOT363 devices directly to a board alongside 0603 and 0805 devices. Connect everything with a few beads of solder and you have a functional circuit made out of surface mount devices on something that’s still compatible with the old protoboard designs.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a new type of protoboard make it into production. A few years ago, Perf+, a bizarre ‘bus-based’ protoboard solution came onto the scene, although that wasn’t really designed for SMD parts. While [electronic_eel] doesn’t have any plans to sell his protoboard, the files are available, and you can easily design your own small piece of perfboard.

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.