- Click here to see NeoDen 4 Pick and Place Machine with Vision System.
This is Part 2 of the NeoDen TM-240A pick and place machine demo. Today I placed the machine on a proper table downstairs in the basement, and had my first-hand results of a production run — namely using the pick and place machine to assemble the OpenSprinkler Pi circuit board. The results are pretty satisfactory. Here is a video demo:
Now I will explain the boring details 🙂 The first step is to load the component tapes. The user manual has no instructions on how to load the tapes, so you have to carefully watch the videos provided by the manufacturer to learn. OpenSprinkler Pi is relatively simple so it doesn’t require many components. The TM-240A can fit twenty-one 8mm tapes, four 12mm tapes, and two 16mm tapes. While this is almost twice as much as its sister model TM-220A, the 12mm and 16mm slots turn out to be quite precious — those can easily run out and you will have to place the remaining components by hand. In my case, I also have a few relatively bulky components (e.g. LM2596S in TO263 package, and surface mount inductors and battery holders) that I have to place manually. So these components will all be hand placed after the machine pass.
On TM-240A, there is a front component loader that can fit 10 ad-hoc components. These can be bulky components that are not handled by the standard feeders. This is a very nice feature, however, the downside is that for each slot only allows one component, so you will have to re-load for each circuit board.
Next, I made a configuration file for the PCB. I started by using the Eagle script file downloaded from this link. I appreciate the author for sharing the script, as it saved me a lot of time of trying to figure things out myself. The configuration file is a human-readable text file and is very easy to edit. For example, for any components that I want to place manually, I simply put a value of ‘1’ in its ‘Skip’ column. Also, you can manually refine the x-y placement of each component based on the outcome of a trial run. You will probably have to sacrifice some components while tweaking the configuration file. To avoid wasting solder paste, I used the double sided tape that came with the machine, which allowed me to do trial runs as many times as I want. Once the configuration file is finalized, you can then switch to stencil printed PCBs.
Next, I applied solder paste to the PCB using my home-made solder paste stencil. I then placed the circuit board on the PCB holder of the machine. Make sure you push the PCB all the way to the left. Because my PCB is not perfectly rectangular, the machine’s origin is not aligned with the PCB’s origin. To fix it, I simply write down the amount of origin shift in the configuration file. The shift amount can be either calculated from the board design file, or can be measured empirically.
The exciting moment starts after clicking on the machine’s ‘Start’ button. It’s quite pleasing to see the machine moving quickly and precisely, picking up components and dropping them down on the circuit board. The machine can automatically detect if a component has been picked successfully (based on its internal pressure sensor reading), and make up to three attempts if it fails. The machine is also equipped with two needle heads. I installed a smaller needle, suitable for 0603 and 0805 components, as well as a bigger needle, suitable for components on the 12mm and 16mm tapes. The dual-head design is very convenient, as I basically never have to change the needles any more.
With less than 20 components to place, the machine finishes each pass very quickly. From the video you can see that a few components are not aligned perfectly, but these present no problems at all for the reflow process. Indeed after reflowing, most components will get aligned well with the solider pads. Well, to be fair, I’ve used mostly large components (e.g. 0805), and have yet to try smaller components. So I can’t say if the accuracy is sufficient for boards mostly populated with 0402 components. But I am pretty sure 0603 should be all right.
Anyways, I hope the video has given you some ideas of the capabilities and limitations of this machine. The next steps I would like to try include adjusting the speed of the machine to see if that helps with the placement accuracy, paneling the PCB to improve productivity, and also try to use the front loader for some of the bulky components. Feel free to leave your questions and comments below. Thanks!