What is a pick and place machine anyway?
A pick and place machine puts the components on circuit boards at assembly phase. Typically these machines are used for surface mounted devices (SMD). The LitePlacer is unique because it is the first affordable desktop machine aimed for prototype boards.
Do I need one?
If you are building complex prototypes with a few hundred components, you also need a machine, unless you are very fast by hand placement. Remember, the paste typically dries out in three or four hours after placement. All things add up and it is hard to do better than about 100 components per hour on a new board, unless it is something like a LED matrix, where most components are of same type and same orientation.
But to be honest, if your typical board is 20 passive components and one IC, hand soldering is a viable option.
Of course, if you just want to have a cool industrial desktop robot, I’m happy to sell you a kit!
What does it look like?
Courtesy of Elektor Magazine, there is also a photo gallery about the mechanical build as well as a timelapse video of their kit build.
What size it is, how big is the work area?
The size of the machine on the table is about 92 x 54 cm. Depending on the cable management solution, there might be some overhang; because of those, this machine needs roughly 100 x 65cm space overall.
The usable work area is about 570mm x 370mm. You need to fit your board and your components to this. The fully featured work area, reachable by both the camera and nozzle, is about 495mm x 340mm.
The size is not limited for any particular reason. If you need a bigger or smaller machine, there is no reason why you couldn’t use different length rails. If you change the width of the machine, you also need different length drive shaft and aluminium extrusion in the back, but these are readily available parts. By special order, custom size machine kits (with some restrictions) are available with little or no extra cost. Please contact me!
What is this machine capable of, what it can do?
The machine can reliably and repeatable place passive components down to 0402, SOT-23 diodes and ICs from tape at similar accuracy requirement. Here are some examples. A laser printed image of a circuit board was used in this test instead of a real board – sorry for the crappy “board” image quality! Click for a bigger image:
It can also place loose components in the SOIC accuracy level using optical part position recognition:
Small pitch ICs are supported with jig placed placement (see this page for details):
Where are the limits?
There are limits, it can’t reliably do 0201s. The loose part recognition algorithm is not accurate enough for 0.5mm pitch parts.
Also, as a prototype building machine, this is not very good for a production machine. First, it does not support feeders. This means that you can only use as many components as you can fit on your table, although that is a lot. Also, it is not super fast, only up to about 500-800 components per hour.
What is included in the kit?
The kit includes:
- All mechanical parts, packed and labeled
- TinyG controller
- USB cameras, LED ring lights
- Stepper motors
- Belts and pulleys
- Vacuum pump, valve and tubing
- Limit switches, FETs for pump and valve control
- Set of nozzles and the holder for them for automatic change
- Light diffuser and shade materials
What is not included in the kit?
The items not included in the kit are those that a typical kit builder is likely to have already or where adding them would not add value to the product, only overhead and shipping costs:
- Power supply: 24V DC, >5A
- Cables and wires. Please see this page for cables and wires you need for the build; the TinyG USB cable is of type B (square end).
- Connectors, termination blocks, ferrules and other cabling accessories (please see this page for suitable accessories for wiring)
- Cable chains or other cable management
- Enclosure for electronics (optional, but looks nice)
- Reset/kill/safety switch and its mount (please don’t omit to have one in your build!)
- Work table, screws to secure to machine to it
- PCB guide strips shown in some photos
- Computer (see below)
- Tools (please see Preparatory Step 1: Collect the Tools)
What else do I need?
The software runs on a Windows computer. It is not very demanding; it is tested on Windows 7, 8 and 10, but I see no reason why it wouldn’t work on older machines. Notable computer requirements are:
- 3 USB ports*
- OS support for web cams
- Display resolution 1280×960