3D Printer Becomes Soldering Robot

What do you do if you have to solder thousands of through-hole parts? The expensive, professional way of doing this is running the boards through a wave soldering machine, or a machine with a fancy CNC solder fountain. The amateur way of soldering thousands of through-hole joints is putting some boards on the workbench and sitting down with a soldering iron. There is nothing in between; you’re either going to go with full automation for a large soldering job, or you’re doing it completely manually. That’s the problem this soldering robot solves. It’s a small, cheap, but still relatively capable soldering robot built out of a 3D printer.

This project is a solution to the development hell of the OpenScan project. This project is built around a small, simple printed circuit board that uses several 0.1″ female headers to connect an Arduino and motor drivers. Soldering them by hand is simply boring, and 3D printers are cheap, so the great mind behind this project decided to use a printer to pump out solder.

The modifications to the printer include a mount for a TS100 soldering iron and a modified filament extruder that pushes a spool of solder through a PTFE tube. The GCode for this soldering job was created manually, but you could also use a slicer instead. After 20 hours of development, the ‘success rate’ – however that is defined – is between 60-80%. That needs to get up to four or five nines before this DIY soldering robot is practical but this is a decidedly not-bad result for a few hours of tinkering.

This printer mod works great for the use case of stuffing a few 0.1″ headers into a board and letting a robot automatically solder the joints, but this printer will run into a problem with the general case of soldering a lot of randomly-shaped through hole parts. You need to actually hold the parts up against the board while soldering. There’s an easy solution to this problem: just flip the 3D printer upside down. This hack of a cheap 3D printer is so, so close to being a great solution to soldering thousands of through-hole parts quickly and easily, and we’re looking forward to seeing where the community takes this idea. You can check out the video demo below.

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DIY Arduino Soldering Iron Hits Version 2.0

A few months ago we brought word that [Electronoobs] was working on his own open source alternative to pocket-sized temperature controlled soldering irons like the TS100. Powered by the ATMega328p microcontroller and utilizing a 3D printed enclosure, his version could be built for as little as $15 USD depending on where you sourced your parts from. But by his own admission, the design was held back by the quality of the $5 replacement soldering iron tips he designed it around. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

But [Electronoobs] is back with the second version of his DIY portable soldering iron, and this time it’s using the vastly superior HAKKO T12 style tip. As this tip has the thermocouple and heating element in series it involved a fairly extensive redesign of the entire project, but in the end it’s worth it. After all, a soldering iron is really only as good as its tip to begin with.

This version of the iron deletes the MAX6675 used in V1, and replaces it with a LM358 operational amplifier to read the thermocouple in the T12 tip. [Electronoobs] then used an external thermocouple to compare the LM358’s output to the actual temperature at the tip. With this data he created a function which will return tip temperature from the analog voltage.

While the physical and electrical elements of the tip changed substantially, a lot of the design is still the same from the first version. In addition to the ATMega328p microcontroller, version 2.0 of the iron still uses the same 128×32 I2C OLED display, MOSFET, and 5V buck converter from the original iron. That said, [Electronoobs] is already considering a third revision that will make the iron even smaller by replacing the MOSFET and buck converter. It might be best to consider this an intermediate step before the DIY iron takes on its final form, which we’re very interested in seeing.

The first version of the DIY Arduino soldering iron garnered quite a bit of attention, so it seems there’s a decent number of you out there who aren’t content with just plunking down the cash for the TS100.

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Build Your Own Portable Arduino Soldering Iron

At this point you’ve almost certainly seen one of these low-cost portable soldering irons, perhaps best exemplified by the TS100, a pocket-sized temperature controlled iron that can be had for as little as $50 USD from the usual overseas suppliers. Whether or not you’re personally a fan of the portable irons compared to a soldering station, the fact remains that these small irons are becoming increasingly popular with hackers and makers that are operating on a budget or in a small workspace.

Believing that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, [Electronoobs] has come up with a DIY portable soldering iron that the adventurous hacker can build themselves. Powered by an ATMega328p pulled out of an Arduino Nano, if offers the same software customization options of the TS100 but at a considerably lower price. Depending on where you source your components, you should be able to build one of these irons for as little as $15.

The iron features a custom PCB and MAX6675 thermocouple amplifier to measure tip temperature. A basic user interface is provided by two tactile buttons on the PCB as well as an 128×32 I2C OLED display. In a future version, [Electronoobs] says he will look into adding some kind of sensor to detect when the iron is actually being used and put it to sleep when inactive.

The tip is sourced from a cheap soldering station replacement iron, and according to [Electronoobs], is probably the weakest element of the entire build. He’s looking into using replacement TS100 tips, but says he’ll need to redesign his electronics to make it compatible. The case is a simple 3D printed affair, which looks solid enough, but seems likely to be streamlined in later versions.

We’ve seen a number of attempts at DIY soldering irons over the years, but we have to say, this one is probably the most professional we’ve ever seen. It will be interesting to see how future revisions improve on this already strong initial showing.

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A Sneak Peek At The TS100 Soldering Iron’s Younger Sibling

Many readers will be familiar with the TS100 soldering iron, a lightweight and powerful tool with an integrated temperature controller in its handle based upon an STM32 microcontroller. As an iron it’s a joy to use, it has hackable code, and it has become a firm favourite within our community. There have been rumours of a TS100 stablemate for some time now, with the model number being touted as a TS200 and with it being said to be USB-C powered. But beyond those tidbits, until now there has been not a lot to go on.

So [Marco Reps]’ video that we’ve placed below the break is a particularly interesting one, featuring as it does a prototype of the iron in question. It’s called the TS80 but there is evidence on its PCB that it has held the TS200 moniker in the past, it’s USB-C powered, and it features a new integrated heating element and bit with a Weller-style 3.5mm jack connector.

He runs it through a battery of tests and finds it to perform very well indeed, sometimes better than the TS100 despite his not having a USB-C power source capable of supplying the same voltage that his TS100 gets through its DC jack. To be clear, the TS100 is still a very good iron indeed, this one is simply a little bit better. Inside a sturdier metal barrel is a PCB with the STM32 on board as well as an OLED display that looks a little smaller than the one on the TS100. The shorter element receives praise, while the TS100 is hardly a long iron it is always good to get as close to the action as possible.

There is a concern over the lack of a DC jack and its reliance on USB-C, though he points out that with the appropriate cables and increasing USB-C adoption this should not remain a problem for long. We’d be interested to ensure that it can be powered through the USB-C socket from a simple DC power source such as a battery though, as that flexibility is such a bonus with the TS100.

So then, the TS80 is coming, but the TS100 is still a very good iron indeed so there’s no need to throw yours away any time soon. It’s an iron we look forward to seeing when it arrives though, and no doubt we’ll give you our verdict.

You can see our TS100 review if that takes your fancy, and while you’re at it take a look at one of the community’s most awesome TS100 hacks. [Marco] muses on how long it’ll be before someone has their TS80 playing audio through that 3.5mm jack.

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DIY Power Supply And TS100 Outlet Combo Shows Off Great Layout

Here’s a combination of two important electronics workbench tools into a single, cleanly-assembled unit. [uGen] created a DC power supply complete with a plug for the popular TS100 soldering iron, and it looks great! Most of the main components are familiar offerings, like a LM2596 DC to DC buck converter board and a DPS3003 adjustable DC power supply unit (we previously covered a DIY power supply based around the similar DPS5005.) The enclosure is an economical, featureless desktop instrument case whose panels were carefully cut to fit the necessary components. There’s one limitation to the combo: the unit uses a switch to either power an attached TS100 iron, or act as a general DC power supply. It cannot do both at once. So long as one doesn’t mind that limitation, it’s a nice bundle made from very affordable components.

It’s easy for something to look like a hack job, but to look clean and professional involves thoughtful measurement, planning, and assembly. Fortunately, [uGen] has supplied all the drawings and bill of materials for the project so there’s no need to start from scratch. Also, don’t forget that if the capabilities of the DPS power supply units leave you wanting a bit more, there is alternative firmware in the form of OpenDPS; it even offers a remote control feature by adding an ESP8266.

Protect Your TS100 Soldering Iron

The TS100 is a compact temperature-controlled soldering iron that’s long on features without too eye-watering a price. One thing it lacks as shipped though is anything to protect it from the thumps and bumps of everyday life in a toolbox, save for its elegant cardboard-and-foam retail box which requires iron and element/bit to be separated.

[Jeremy S. Cook] has a TS100, and decided to do something about it with a bit of work that may be quite simple but should be something that all TS100 owners take a look at. He made a very tough carrying container for it from a length of PVC pipe lined with the foam from the iron’s retail package. His short video which we’ve placed below the break takes us through the build, which bits of the packaging foam to cut, and uses a pair of PVC end caps to terminate the container. It’s not high-tech by any means, but enough of you will have TS100 irons to appreciate it.

You can read our review of the TS100 if you are interested, or you can marvel at the additions people have done to its software. Tetris, for example, or a working digital oscilloscope. Meanwhile [Jeremy] is an old friend of Hackaday, whose many projects include this recent unholy hybrid of fidget spinner and multirotor.

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Hakko FX-901: Better Than TS-100?

You’ve surely seen the TS-100 soldering iron. It has an OLED display, an ARM processor, and will run with an external battery pack. They are not too pricey, but at $80 or so they aren’t exactly an impulse buy, either. [Drone Camps RC] used one in the field and decided to try a Hakko FX-901 instead. He did a video review that you can see below.

The FX-901 is about half the price of a TS-100. Granted, it doesn’t have a fancy display and you can’t hack it to play Tetris. However, it does take batteries (including rechargeable) without an external pack. The manufacturer claims up to two hours of use and that it will melt solder in 40 seconds. From the video, the iron actually melted solder in under 30 seconds. The two hours, by the way, is with rechargeables. Alkaline AA batteries should give about 70 minutes of operation.

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