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SMT50 pick-and-place

Describes my experiences buying, setting up, and using the SMT50 pick and place machine

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This project describes my experience with finding, purchasing, shipping, installing, configuring, and ultimately using the SMT50 pick and place machine. More details of the machine itself are here http://hothotsmtmachine.com. Please read the logs for the various stages and progress.

Ever since I started work on my Blue Basic project, I've had the goal of building a few hundred prototype boards. To this end, I wanted to buy a pick and place machine so I could do this at home. It's mostly a learning experience because, realistically, it's not the cost-effective solution.

I started by reading the always excellent Low Power Lab where Felix has written a great starter on pick and place machines. Go read it now if you haven't; you can find it here (http://lowpowerlab.com/blog/2014/05/19/pick-and-place-entry-level-options/ and http://lowpowerlab.com/blog/2014/07/14/pick-and-place-commercial-options/). My experiences don't quick match up with what's described especially when it comes to importing equipment, but I'll get on to that later.

Ultimately I did go for an imported Chinese machine - the SMT50 available from http://hothotsmtmachine.com. It had many of the features you really want: top and bottom vision, up to 40 feeders, multiple nozzles, support for panelized placement, and a bunch of other nice to haves. Also, the software is in English ... well ... sort of.

  • 1 × SMT50 pick-and-place machine

  • Software and vision fussiness

    Tim Wilkinson10/19/2015 at 17:03 0 comments

    It's been about 3 months since I updated, so I wanted to let people know the current state. Two things have cropped up recently: the machine software and the vision.

    Software - no software updates. I'm not really surprised and I suspected I wouldn't get any going into this purchase. But there are bugs and it would be nice if there were updates to fix them. But, unfortunately, having spoken to the company, this is just not going to happen. Looks like they might have had a falling-out with their original software provider. I've not yet tried to contact the software maker directly, but I will probably do that at some point.

    Vision - the vision has been particularly fussy recently. I'm not sure why this would be. The machine does align and center components correctly using the vision system, but it then mis-rotates before placing (usually over or under rotates slightly). I need to revisit the configuration here to see if I can work out how I made this worse. Until I have time to investigate, I've found placing without vision to be more accurate (which is just wrong, really).

  • Just so you know ...

    Tim Wilkinson07/16/2015 at 23:31 0 comments

    The other day someone emailed me to ask if I still liked my SMT50 and would I still recommend it. I think they wondered why I'd not updated this blog recently, which is a fair observation. So; yes I still like the machine and still recommend it. I've not written much here recently because I've not had much to add - it works, I'm happy and haven't had to do much more tweaking.

    So ... now you know.

  • Component rotation

    Tim Wilkinson01/14/2015 at 22:22 7 comments

    When I started using the SMT50 to place my first board, I didn't really have component rotation setup properly in the Eagle source files. To get it working I just messed with the Part rotation in the PCB on the SMT50 until it was placed correctly. Not really the way to go, but at the time it was one less thing for me to sort out properly.

    I finally had chance to look at rotation properly today (I know ... it's been a while) and things are not as helpful as you might hope. There are three sources of rotation information which might be used when picking and placing a part. The first is the location of the tape; either in the north feeder or the west feeder. These feeders are at 90 degrees to each other, so tapes loaded in different feeders start with different initial rotations. Next, each feeder has the ability to set its own rotation as part of the feeder configuration. And finally, the parts themselves also have rotations which may be set.

    After some experimenting I was rather surprised to discover that the only rotation that matters is the one set on the part itself. The position of the feeder is ignored, as is the rotation set on the feeder. This means that, after you load your pick and place file into the machine, you need to very carefully check every rotation of every part because which tape the part is fetched from is not taken into account when rotating.

    Oh, and don't forget; the PCB itself can also be rotated depending on how you load it into the machine which will also effect the value you set on the part rotation.

    One final detail. Rotations are anticlockwise looking from above.

  • Vision Tweaking

    Tim Wilkinson11/29/2014 at 07:04 0 comments

    One of the major reasons I purchased this particular machine was for its vision system. The device comes with two cameras; an upwards facing fixed camera, and a downwards facing camera attached to the mount. The down camera is used for various things, but the up camera is only used for component centering.

    For my BlueBasic project, I have a very small boost converter chip (2mm by 1mm) which is packaged a little loosely in its tape. After some initial experimentation without vision it became clear that I needed vision to accurately place this device. However, despite my best efforts, I could not get the vision system to recognize the chip. I tinkered with the light, I changed the various vision settings, I tried masking the camera in different ways, but nothing worked reliably. Occasionally the vision system would do the right thing, but then would stop.

    Eventually, after watching the (then untranslated) videos several more times, I noticed that all the vision examples used a larger nozzle, while I was using a smaller one. That didn't seem so significant except that the small nozzles had a yellow background, while the large ones have a black/grey background. I'd originally assumed that a black chip against a yellow background should be fine, but in my desperation I put a disc of black paper over the yellow and tried again. And it all works! Here's a before and after photo:

    So, I don't know why any of the nozzles have yellow background, but I suggest you replace them with black paper.

    One other note - once the Vision video was translated, about 30 seconds in they tell you this fact! Oh well.

    12/2/14: A late addition. Apparently I'm a bit blind because on the front of the machine are three little dials. Turning them changes the light intensity. Wish I'd noticed earlier.

  • Video Instructions

    Tim Wilkinson11/27/2014 at 06:50 0 comments

    Now, a little diversion from my own blogging about the SMT50. When you buy this machine it comes with a whole set of instructional videos ... narrated in Mandarin :-( Watching them it became clear they contained lots of very useful information if only I could understand what was being said.

    So, off the Craiglist I went to find a translator. And there I found a very helpful chap called Tony who has been working to provide time coded transcripts for each video. You'll find these videos, with transcript, on YouTube here:

    youtube.com/watch?v=EoyQQapnzf4&list=PLoOObN3KOYWWzeCRNp3L8-0Fs4PbKlDCG

    I hope you find them useful.

  • Speed Settings

    Tim Wilkinson11/23/2014 at 06:35 0 comments

    The other parts of using Speeds is assigning them to various operations. This is done in the "Speed Settings" window which is also available from the "Config" menu option. This is a multi-tabbed window with each tab allowing you to set specific speeds for various operations:

    Notice in my settings I've changed the XY Axis (the general pick and place running speed) to my "XY Half" setting. All these settings are completely sensible and there's no reason to change any; but it's interesting to explore and get an idea of how you might tweak the machine to better results. Notice the tab "Dispensing running speed" which I assume is for machines with adhesive dispensers (which the SMT50 doesn't have).

  • Speed Management

    Tim Wilkinson11/23/2014 at 06:24 0 comments

    There are lots of different operations that the head of the machine performs, and each of these can be configured to a specific speed. The speed settings are separated into two sections: a configuration for a specific speed setting in terms of how fast the move the various stepper motors, and when that setting should be used. Going back to the "Setup" menu, you'll see two Speed options listed. If you open the "Speed Template Management" option you'll see this:

    Actually, you'll see this is you first replace the speed.ini file (which, again, has improved translations). Of all the speeds in this list, the most important one is the first, the "XY speed". If you select it and hit the "Modify" button you'll see this:

    This speed is the one the machine uses for almost every pick and place action. By selecting the X, Y, Z and A at the bottom/left you can view and edit how each of these axis stepper motors are handled. As the dialog says, larger values results in slower movements. Also, be aware that specifying values which are too fast, especially for "Start and stop speed" can result in the head failing to operate properly resulting in lost of accurate position. This occurred to me when I accidentally changed the "A" value to be too fast which not only prevent the component being rotated correctly, but also mean the head miscaculated the next X position.

    At the very bottom of the speed template list you'll see two additional speeds which I added to my configuration. The "XY Slow" speed has all the value set as high as possible to everything moves as slow as possible. It's quite handy for testing.

  • Tapes

    Tim Wilkinson11/22/2014 at 05:07 0 comments

    Tapes go in the feeders and need to be configured separately. You find the tape configuration under the Setup menu on the top bar:

    Selecting Tape Management opens a pane something like this:

    Here I've defined a few tapes. Tapes can be added, modified, or deleted using the buttons at the bottom of this window. To Modify a tape, first select it. Here's a tape I'm currently using:

    As you can see, tapes have lots of properties. But, if you look at a tape's spec, you should find measurements given for all of these properties. I've tried to pick a name which is, at least in part, meaningful to me. I've included which side of the machine this tape will go and made sure to set the Position appropriately. This is *very* important! If you get this wrong, the machine will attempt to pull the tape in the wrong way and make a terribly noise as it does it (take it from me!). Also be careful with the n*P2 value. P2 is the distance from the middle of the component cavity to the tape sprocket hole. Initially I just used the value for my tape (which was 2mm). This is bad. Here's a picture of a feeder with a little snippet of tape in it:

    "C" is the spot where a component, and "A" is the feeder hole a distance P2 from it. When the tape advances, the head will drag it a distance of P1 (the distance between two holes). However, if it drags from "A" it will attempt to move the head into the metal flap to the right of A. Again, the machine will make a very bad noise! Instead you should set P2 so it will drag from hole "B". In my case that was 10mm for the North set of feeders, and 14mm for the West. I changed the translation from a simple label to try to remind myself of this fact.

    One final value for a tape is the color, which may be black or white. So far I've not found if this is used in anyway.

  • Feeder configuration

    Tim Wilkinson11/22/2014 at 03:02 0 comments

    The basic machine comes with a west feeder consisting of 20 8mm feeders. I added an additional north feeder which comes with an assortment of 8mm, 12mm and 16mm feeders (I like to have options!). I'd watched the videos and, looking at the machine head, I could see the pointer head which was used for dragging the tapes through the feeders. But how does the machine know where the feeders are?

    On the top bar of the app you'll find a button "Feeders" (or you will if you're using my translations). Pressing that opens up the feeder pane. This one shows many feeders already configured:

    As I recall, the default project which comes with the machine only defines two of the 36 available feeders; the rest you have to define by hand! This isn't that hard to do once you've worked out how to move the machine head around and have the MARK camera working. However, it is rather tedious. As a starting point I've added my feeder configurations to the GitHub repo. These are part of the project database and you can find if here https://github.com/aanon4/SMT50/blob/master/OURSMT/config/Project_smt.cfg. When it comes time to use an actual feeder for components, you'll probably need to tweak the values a little depending on the tape properties, component size, etc. To do this simply right click on the feeder line and select "Modify feeder" from the popup menu.

    Feeders are number 1-20 north-west to south-west, and 21-36 north-east to north-west. This isn't that sensible really, but it fitted with the numbering scheme of the two originally defined feeders and, at the time, I thought the numbering might be significant. It isn't, and you can number them anything you want.

    Modifying feeders

    The feeder modification popup looks like this:

    There are lots of things happening in this window and, as I write this, I don't know what all of them are for. In the context of just feeding the component, the X, Y, feeding method and tape & location settings are most important. The X,Y set the exact position of the pick nozzle over the component and should be as central as possible. The feeder method and tape & location settings together define how the tape of components is handled (i.e. how the tape is advanced to the next component). All feeders on the SMT50 use the "Pull" method. Tape and location is defined in another settings window which we'll talk about next.

  • Machine movement basics

    Tim Wilkinson11/21/2014 at 22:02 0 comments

    Eventually I'll get transcripts done for the instructional videos; but in the meantime it can be tricky working out how to do things. Take just moving things around. When you open the software, there's a big "Connect" button on the bottom(ish) left. Press this and the software will connect to the machine. Once connected it's time to make sure everything works. The machine has 4 different controls for the pick and place head:

    • North/South
    • East/West
    • Up/Down
    • Rotate

    The machine places South at the front of the machine, North at the back, West to the left, and East to the right. Also, North/South is the Y-axis, East/West is the X-axis, Up/Down is the Z-axis. and Rotate is the A-axis. The different axis names and compass points come up frequently in the software.

    You can move the machine along these various access using the on-screen buttons on the middle/left of the window. The labels and what they do are mostly obvious. There are also keyboard shortcuts to manipulate the machine. You can glean these by watching the videos (several times in my case) or just read my list here:

    • East - LEFT
    • West - RIGHT
    • North - UP
    • South - DOWN
    • Head down - PAGE DOWN
    • Head up - PAGE UP
    • Rotate - END and HOME (clockwise and counter-clockwise ... I don't recall which is which)

    Initially I missed that none of these key will do anything unless you also hold down the ALT key at the same time. You can also make more fine adjustments by holding down the ALT and SHIFT keys.

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Vladimir wrote 04/04/2017 at 16:49 point

Hello Tim. You were able to get the software update. I have a similar program version 2.128992. I have not received an update for the second year. Although I see that some users have for example version 2.6709. What is your version of the program?

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Nicola Wrachien wrote 10/19/2015 at 08:32 point

Hi Tim!

This article is very useful. However I'd like to know also:
a) The typical average speed (in parts/hours) if vision is enabled.
b) If the machine can handle 0402 (And if vision is required for 0402). Have you tried?
c) If the machine can support chip on trays. Did you have any experience about this? Can you comment on that?

regards

nw

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Tim Wilkinson wrote 10/19/2015 at 16:55 point

Hi,

So ...

1. Not fast. The vision is slow and fussy. I don't know part/hour because I've never really measured it (I use it for small batch prototyping for my startup).

2. They say only 0603 and that's the smallest I've gone. They do a slightly more deluxe version (screws rather than belts) which is suppose to be good for 0402. Not tried that version of course.

3. Yes it does. I've not used off-the-shelf trays of chips, but I have a a machined tray I use to some bigger chips which I populate by hand before a run. That works well.

Thanks

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Nicola Wrachien wrote 10/22/2015 at 13:49 point

Hi!
Thank you for the answer!

In the meantime I contacted hothotsmtmachine and Sunny replied that the machine is capable of mouting 0402s and  1800 cph with vision, which would correspond to 1 component each 2 seconds... It soulds "fast" for a cheap machine, especially considering it has vision... In your opinion does the machine place one component every 2 seconds?
Regards
nw


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Robert Walter wrote 11/28/2014 at 06:36 point
Michele,
The point of this is, is to document and help the hacker community with information that may otherwise be difficult or time consuming to obtain. I have to applaud Tim for taking the time to document his experiences. He could have easily kept his thoughts on this machine to himself, but that wouldn't help anyone else. His writeup, and kindness to reply extensively to my questions via email, has influenced me to purchase on of these pick and places.

Now, do I think this PNP needs some minor hackaday tweeks to be perfect, absolutely. So when the time comes, I hope to contribute to the space. If Tim didnt start this project, then we would have not learned anything, and that is the whole point of this site.

In short, there are lots of projects that are posted that have different value to different people. But each and every project here is likely invaluable to those who need them, and that is the point of this site.

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charliex wrote 11/19/2014 at 02:01 point
btw, i went through the same thing with those connectors, never seen them before on my SMT pick up station, turns out they're ubiquitous in the pnp/smt world, parker push to connect / prestolok series, mcmaster carr and grainger sells etc.

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Tim Wilkinson wrote 11/19/2014 at 05:23 point
Thanks for this. I now have quite a few of these adaptors. If anyone wants one, do let me know.

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Norman Curato wrote 11/18/2014 at 06:23 point
Hi Tim,

Did this machine deliver as you expected? Can you share your inputs as to the performance of the SMT50? I'm planning to purchase one for my prototyping requirements. Your feedback will be very helpful

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Tim Wilkinson wrote 11/18/2014 at 06:47 point
I can probably answer that tomorrow when I will finally be able to use it. The final Air bit only turned up today and while I checked everything out today, I didn't have time to pick and place anything for real. Will update tomorrow.

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Norman Curato wrote 11/18/2014 at 11:46 point
If you can share details regarding the software also. Hope everything works out.

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Tim Wilkinson wrote 11/19/2014 at 00:58 point
Will do. I've been working on that extensively while waiting for various hardware bits to turn up. There's lots to write about.

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Tim Wilkinson wrote 11/19/2014 at 01:12 point
A little experience from my first time using the machine today. Please remember this is the first pick and place machine I've ever seen, let alone used.

I placed a fairly simple board, containing a few capacitors and a couple of chips. At full speed the capacitors were fine but the chips were a little misaligned; too much for reflow to fix. I'm not using vision to correct them yet (not worked out how that works) so that may be part of the issue. I ran the test again at the slowest speed and everything was definitely better. But, two boards isn't very representative of anything, and I'm still tinkering with the setup. Even if it were, accuracy without vision at slow speeds is excellent. I think I can do better, but that'll have go wait until tomorrow.

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Tim Wilkinson wrote 11/16/2014 at 19:47 point
This is about tools. Every project needs tools. No one starts anything by first building their own screwdriver. Similarly, someone once told you how to use a screwdriver (hopefully so you'd hold it the right way round and stopped using it as a hammer). Of course, screwdrivers are now rather common. Pick and place machines not so much. When you buy one of these beasts, you can pay quite a lot and get one with support and instructions in English. Alternatively, you can buy one from China with instructions in Mandarin, no support to speak of, and no one around with experience. You save 90% of the cost, but it's a risk. Are you being ripped of buying from an unknown company? Are there hidden costs and problems in importing? How do you assemble the thing? Are there other bits you need to buy? How do you set it up? Configure the machine? Load components? Understand the software? Understand Mandarin? How well does it actually work? Is it, in fact, worth the money.

Fundamentally, if this is a good machine then the information to make it accessible should be somewhere so others can benefit and not see buying one as a risk. If it's a bad machine, then people need to know not to waste their money.

One day you might buy a pick and place machine for a few hundred dollars, plug it in, and off you go. Until then the more information shared about the ones you can buy, the better we all are.

This is not the perfect place for this story, but it's the right audience for it. If you want to follow along then please do.

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charliex wrote 11/19/2014 at 01:15 point
i disagree, it's the perfect place for the story, HAD even lists on their about page about using it as a blog or rants, a project doesn't have to be something you build, it can be something bought and others want to buy and are interested in experiences with it. I posed my cnc conversion which is pretty much all off the shelf stuff i stick together.

thanks for taking the time to post it.

incidentally i'm thinking about buying ( and not scratch building ) a California air compressor, they're Chinese made from what i understand but they're supposed to be pretty quiet, i love my supersilent but its much too small for these tools so need a shop one. if you could let us know how it works out. Also if you don't have one, you might want to add a moisture trap to the compressor.

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Norman Curato wrote 11/19/2014 at 01:42 point
Tim took the brave step in buying the product to blog about it so we can learn from his experience. You can't imagine the hours I've spent looking for credible information regarding these low-cost pick and place machines. So yeah, any place is perfect for this story. We can all fast track our projects if we spend every bit of dollar on the right tools and avoid buying from questionable sources. The very fact that the purchase and delivery went through without a hitch is amazing. I've imported a lot for both personal and commercial reasons, and there were a couple of times I got burned buying stuff from Alibaba or AliExpress. Waiting for more from you Tim. Blog away!

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Tim Wilkinson wrote 11/19/2014 at 07:44 point
Yes I think they are chinese made. People have moaned about the build quality, but for the purposes of running the vacuum on this machine the one I bought seems perfect. It's not silent, but in the enclosed basement space I'm working in, it's not really that loud either. And, given the capacity, it doesn't run that often anyway. The compressor has a manual outlet for moisture. Does a moisture trap catch it on the way in? That sounds better.

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Michele Perla wrote 11/16/2014 at 14:30 point
I don't get the point of this ... what kind of project is to buy something?

Build your very own pick-and-place and that's a different story.

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