I have to admit that placing surface mount components by hand was never my favorite thing. It’s an activity that’s tolerable if a person only needs a couple of small boards here and there. However it is quickly becoming a dreaded activity as I have found myself faced with more frequent production runs of 20 or 30 boards, and larger component counts. For example, I have a control board design that will be ready to prototype in a few weeks that has a component count somewhere in the 300+ neighborhood. The thought of assembling one of these by hand was enough to get me seriously looking at pick and place machines.
I spent a fair bit of time evaluating the options on the budget end of the spectrum and decided to order up a Liteplacer kit. I considered everything from designing and building my own machine, to buying a ready to run commercial machine. The design it myself route was going to take more time than I can afford to devote to such a project right now. The commercial machines are faster and have more features but came along with a higher cost and a larger footprint. What attracted me to the Liteplacer is that it’s just enough machine for what I need right now, plus it’s open source & DIY friendly so I can add some of the more advanced features myself as time goes on and needs change.
This first installment is going to be a pretty basic overview of the Liteplacer. Subsequent articles will cover wiring the machine, and some of the custom touches I’ll be adding during the build.
So… what do you get when you order one of these?
Two boxes full of neatly bagged labeled parts, plus all the makerslides & extrusions to build the machine to the point of being able to attach it to your work surface. Also included are the cameras for the machine vision functionality, and the Tiny-G motion control board. It is up to the end user to independently source things like cabling, power supply, monitor, PC, enclosures, and work surface/supporting structure.
There’s not much to say about the mechanical assembly process really. It was all pretty easy, and well laid out in the instructions. The detailed labeling was a real help throughout the assembly process too. The process actually reminded me a bit of assembling a new set of Legos, or Erector sets as a child.
Here’s a closer look at the Y axis drive. Note: I have not added the belting yet.
Here’s a peek at the gantry.
I added the optional cable carriers when I ordered the kit. The carriers come a little bit longer than necessary and will hang out in the Y direction. This isn’t a problem if you are mounting the machine “open air” style like most people do. However I’m planning to have this machine enclosed, so I shortened up the Y axis cable carrier a bit to reduce the footprint.
The next step is to build the enclosure for the control electronics and the frame/enclosure for the entire machine. I drew both of these up in Solidworks. I’ll be mounting a 21.5″ ASUS monitor on the top horizontal member of the frame. The PC is a used small form factor HP that will mount vertically just under the control electronics enclosure on the inside left of the machine.
I was originally planning to do a welded steel frame to support the machine, but opted instead for 80/20 extrusion for the added flexibility as I add features over time.
This is the enclosure seen at the left of the frame assembly above.
That’s all for today. I’ll be posting additional articles as progress moves forward.