Pick and Place Machine

ProtoVoltaics Pick and Place Machine Project

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As a company we needed a PnP machine to make our products faster. Most of the PnP machines we found online were expensive, inaccurate, loud, and incomplete. It didn't take us long to decide this was going to be our next project.

The goal is to make a fully automated machine with fully automated feeders that are easily replaced anywhere in the stack. Also, the Pick and Place will use CV for accurate placement.

The goal here is to have a machine the requires no babysitting. We want to hit run job, and continue working on other tasks. The video below will show current progress on the unit.

Our latest test video is above. This is the official release video for our pick and place project. You can see everything here that we do. Auto tool changing, multi-board placement, feeders, trays, cut tape, computer vision, software/UI, and more. It doesn't end here either. This is a product we will be using ourselves we have a vested interest in updating it, and keeping it as awesome as possible.

As you can see in the video the machine goes to the part, aligns over top, and picks. Then, aligns again for placement. This gives us very accurate placement of small parts, and low pitch parts. In the video you can kind of see our feeder working. All parts are picked from the same feeder position. The feeder feeds the part into the well, and peels the clear plastic back all automatically.

The unit currently places at about 800 components per hour, has automatic tool changing for different sized parts, has breakthrough computer vision, and robust automatic feeders. Also, the software is very easy to use.

There is still work to be done, so continue to check in, and see the progress of the machine :D

Here is a demo of the UI.

As you can see we have two camera views. From each camera we select an area of interest, and from that area we use the CV to make sure that any offset is corrected. Also, you can import any PCB layout to the "Job Details" area. In our case we used KiCad.

  • 1 × ProtoVoltaics Pick and Place machine add-on for X-Carve
  • 1 × X-Carve
  • 1 × Computer
  • 1 × Monitor
  • 1 × ProtoVoltaics PnP Software

View all 7 components


    ProtoVoltaics10/01/2015 at 14:30 0 comments

    Brian Benchoff has wrote a small article about our project on go check it out!

  • Improvements

    ProtoVoltaics09/30/2015 at 17:39 0 comments

    We are back to work! We have a lot of people interested one of which requires us to prove our worth, and we always like a good challenge! To meet the expectations of the customer we have to add several new features. These new features will include the ability to place double sided boards and to have a "vibrafeed" for parts that come in tube trays.

    We are working on getting this done ASAP! We are also making improvements to the error detection. We will now be able to tell very quickly if we had a part pick up failure.

    Lastly, we are making changes to some areas of our computer vision. When all of this is done we will be able to reduce set up times drastically. Setting up these machines has always been the biggest headache, and we think we have the solution for it.

    Stay tuned as the updates roll through!

  • Back from the Faire!

    ProtoVoltaics09/29/2015 at 14:10 0 comments

    We had a great time at the World Maker Faire! NYC was so much fun. We met a lot of great people and great makers. One thing that we ran into is that there are a lot of people who want the machine, but aren't able to back KickStarters. We've been reached out to by several academic institutions, small businesses, and large companies that want our PnP, but are not allowed to fund a KickStarter campaign.

    Because we have had so much interest in our machine we will be selling it as a product weather or not the KickStarter gets funded.

    If you have interest in the machine and are unable to pledge toward the KS campaign we ask that you please email us at


  • New York!

    ProtoVoltaics09/24/2015 at 14:51 2 comments

    Packing up to leave for NYC today. If you have a chance to attend the World Maker Faire please do! Hope to see you there :D

  • 01005 parts?

    ProtoVoltaics09/18/2015 at 23:11 0 comments

    Just a quick update. We were testing the limitations of the machine and sucessfully placed an 01005! We will continue to test the limitations through the weeks to come. Also, we will be posting video of the machine placing 0402's, 0201's, and 01005's!

  • Hackaday prize semifinalist, possible finalist?

    ProtoVoltaics09/17/2015 at 18:20 0 comments

    It would be great to be a finalist. We know there are a lot of great projects this year! Also, we know that because we aren't fully Open Source we are at a disadvantage. However, we aren't throwing in the towel! There are several points the judges will be looking at to make their selections for the 10 finalists.

    1. How open is it?

    Everything but the head design and software are open currently. We might end up making the head open source, but we are at a stage where we are changing the design of the head so much it doesn't make sense to yet. As for the software the machine could easily work with OpenPNP software available now.

    2. Wow factor.

    I look at what is currently available on the market today, and at the cost of those machines. Then, I look at what we have done, and how fast it has come along. I'm definitely wow'd by our progress and the machine, and I hope you all are too. Remember we have been working on this project on and off only since January. We finally started really hammering down long hours on the machine in mid April!

    3. Does it solve a wide range of problem?

    As of now we are working very hard on the Pick and Place aspect of this machine, and this is our main focus, but we have some family in the medical field who have shown interest in the machine. The idea is they would use this machine in their medical lab to prepare samples for testing. Their are machines available currently now that can do this, but much the same reason we took on this PnP project is that these machines are very expensive.

    4. Is the project reproducible and could the work be extended for other uses?

    The hardware is very much all reproducible, there is readily available software, and as we said in point 3, there are other applications we will be looking into.

    5. Is it innovative.

    It is a Pick and Place, and these have been available for some time now, but we do believe it is still innovative. We are always introducing new features to the machine. Currently I believe we are the only PnP with 2 downward facing cameras.

    6. Is it usable in the real world?

    Absolutely! We were actually the first customer for this machine. We use it everyday to build the boards we currently sell on our website.

    7. Will others want to continue perfecting on this well-documented idea?

    We are using closed source software currently, but I don't think this will stop others from wanting to help perfect our product. We are always looking for ways to gather feedback from the community and implement ideas and features they want for the machine.

    It's a great honor just being a semifinalist. To have a group such as Hackaday acknowledge your work, and tell you they think it's great, is an amazing thing. We are extremely thankful for all of those almost 150 makers who have followed our project and over 50 makers who have given us a skull!

    Back to work!

  • New Head

    ProtoVoltaics09/16/2015 at 00:00 0 comments

    This new head design will eliminate all of the backlash that we currently have. It also brings rigidly mounted cameras that will allow us to move faster. Previously, we had to run slower than top speed just so our cameras wouldn't move off target due to rapid accelerations and decelerations.

    Right now we have to waste a bunch of time over the upward looking camera while we confirm that our rotational correction has been applied. This is because of the backlash in the system. The computer vision tells us that we have to rotate, say 5 degrees, to have the part properly aligned, however when we tell the motor to turn by 5 degrees it really doesn't turn 5 degrees because our belt system has slack in it. Some of the motor's movement is just to take up the slack in the belt instead of actually rotating the part. We end up needing to use the computer vision to confirm that the part was actually rotated correctly and this means having to hang out over the upward camera until the part is actually fully rotated to the proper orientation.

    The new head will eliminate all of this wasted time. The new design has no belt, so we'll be able to take an image of the part, and then immediately start flying to the place location. On our way there we should get the feedback from the computer vision saying what the angular offset is, and we can correct it on the fly. This is the first major step to getting us to over 1000 cph (components per hour).

    The new head has been mounted on our prototype, but we need a bracket to mount a limit switch to so that we know when we make contact with the pick-up tip. We have time scheduled late tomorrow with the laser cutter, so we should be able to start running trials with the new head design on Thursday.

    We're also trying a NEMA 23 motor on the z-axis to see if there's any speed difference versus the old NEMA 17.

    The last change we applied today was a new feeder divider that will allow us to reconfigure the incoming feeders for the various types of SMT reels out there from 8mm to 44mm.

  • KickStarter, KickStarted!

    ProtoVoltaics09/15/2015 at 11:57 0 comments

    The KickStarter is now live! We had a lot of interest at the Orlando Maker Faire so we decided to go ahead a launch our KickStarter and let it run through the remaining Maker Faires we will be attending.

    We are now making the changes to increase operating speed of the PnP. We believe this will get us up above 1000 components per hour. The biggest change we are making is with the rotational alignment. We are currently rotating the parts with a stepper motor and belt. The problem is the belt has slack in it, so when we say rotate 3 degrees it might rotate 2 degrees. Due to this we have to remain over the upward looking camera to double/triple check to make sure the part got rotated properly. With the new way we will be doing this we will know the part is going to rotate 3 degrees, and we will not have to sit over the camera. We can apply the correct on the fly over to the place location.

  • Month of Maker Faires!

    ProtoVoltaics09/10/2015 at 18:28 0 comments

    We will be be leaving today for the Orlando Maker Faire which starts on the 12th! We will be attending a Maker Faire every weekend from now till Mid-October! If you have a chance to go to any please stop by!

    Orlando Maker Faire --- Sept 12th, 13th

    Maryland Maker Faire --- Sept 20th

    New York World Maker Faire --- Sept 26th, 27th

    Atlanta maker Faire --- October 3rd, 4th

    Pitssburgh Maker Faire --- October 10th, 11th

  • Release Video

    ProtoVoltaics09/08/2015 at 12:07 2 comments

    Here is our official project video! You can see it all here! Auto tool changing, multi-board placement, IC placement, small part placement, placement of caps, Software/UI, computer vision, and more. Please take some time to watch the video and let us know what you think. This is only the beginning! This is a product we will be using ourselves and we will be continuously updating the software and hardware to keep the machine as awesome as possible!

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George I Fomitchev wrote 08/12/2016 at 16:09 point

anyone who would like to improve machine let us know we can supply with powerful diode lasers (Endurance)

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Victor wrote 06/11/2016 at 05:17 point

What camera are you using?

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Oskar Weigl wrote 05/05/2016 at 20:30 point

Hey! I'm working on a project to develop a really cheap brush-less servo motor controller, that should allow the use of cheap brush-less motors that heavily out-perform steppers. This may be useful if you want speed and/or avoid step-skipping. Check it out ;D

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bruce mellen wrote 08/19/2015 at 01:14 point

We've been looking for an affordable desktop pnp machine,
just found your project, viewed the videos, and have a couple thoughts.

1) Are you making use of the multiple fiducials on the PCB shown
and/or looking at the target pads to finalize alignment?

2) Your tape feeders are pretty complicated if you want to
fully automate placement of a non-trivial board.  One would have to buy many and each does not
look cheap to make.  Have you, instead,
thought of a simpler single mechanism feeder, such as that used on the CHMT48V,
even though it would slow placement a bit? 
Yes, there is a trade-off between price and speed, but I expect many of
us can't afford more than a few of the feeders prototyped – which is contrary
to your goal of walking away and letting it run.

3) Are you aiming to accurately place things like .4mm pitch
UFDFNs? 0402 and SOD-923? 144LQFP (20x20mm)? 
SMT caps and inductors? Different tape widths?

I look forward to following your progress….

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ProtoVoltaics wrote 08/19/2015 at 13:01 point

Hello Bruce, Thanks for the comment.

We are only using the fiducials to find where the PCB is in the PnP. We are using our CV to see the target pads to finalize alignment. 

The largest amount of feedback we received was from those who had feeders similar to the CHMT48V, and their complaint was that it was too hard to swap reels out. If they ran out of parts in a reel from the middle of the stack it was a lot of work to replace. Our solution was to make a completely modular system. Just pull the individual feeder unit up and out of the stack and replace reels. The units we have are actually pretty cheap for us to make. We have access to a 4000W laser cutter which we use to cut the frame and gears. I believe the largest cost of the unit is the pancake motor. 

We are aiming to be able to place as many different parts as possible. We haven't tried many types of parts yet. On our current test board we are placing 0603's, 0805 caps, and .65mm pitch parts. We are working on some simple solutions for different tape sizes.

It might be cool to add a "parts placed" list to the details. It will be a while before we get to that though. Still a lot to work on!

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Glenn wrote 08/17/2015 at 16:10 point

Hi Folks how about another update?  Projected Kickstarter date - don't want to miss this one?

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ProtoVoltaics wrote 08/17/2015 at 16:42 point

Hi, yeah we've got a little behind again. Our goal is to have the KickStarter up during the first week of September. We have a large list of Maker Faires we will be attending soon, so we have been working on getting the machine as awesome as possible before we hit the road. We had planned on starting the kickstarter, and then adding all these small features later, but now it seems everything happening at once. We think this will be beneficial having the kickstarter open while we are at all the Faires. Thanks for the comment we love to hear from the community, I will do a quick update just for you :)

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Glenn wrote 08/17/2015 at 20:31 point

Thanks for the update. I am currently sourcing a project for assembly that will produce the funds to enable the purchase of my own PnP machine. So looking forward to hearing more about your machine.

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ProtoVoltaics wrote 08/17/2015 at 22:09 point

Awesome! Hope we can be the solution you are looking for!

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Glenn wrote 08/23/2015 at 17:51 point

is there a list somewhere we can get on so we get notifed when the kickstarter is about to go live?

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ProtoVoltaics wrote 08/23/2015 at 18:55 point

I will make a post here for sure. We have a mailing list as well if you would like to join that you can send me a private message with your email.

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papyDoctor wrote 07/23/2015 at 09:12 point

Very nice project! CV was lacking on all those cheap P&P machines. I saw also that you can change pick head automatically, nice feature. Hope the feeders are not mechanically too complicated. Keep us in touch here for your kickstater campain.

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ProtoVoltaics wrote 07/23/2015 at 11:52 point

Thanks! I will try to post updates as much as possible. Is there any concern you'd have with the feeders being to complicated? Right now they are gear operated, and they look a lot more complicated than they really are. Always looking for advice on how to make them better.

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Jack Laidlaw wrote 07/13/2015 at 20:46 point

Cool project, How much has build cost been so far (only if you want to disclose)?

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ProtoVoltaics wrote 07/13/2015 at 21:21 point

The majority of the project cost has been man hours to build and program. At the moment we are discussing a sale price for the unit. We may publish a BOM in the future.

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Jack Laidlaw wrote 07/13/2015 at 21:35 point

Cheers I look forward to seeing the finished product

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ProtoVoltaics wrote 07/13/2015 at 21:54 point

We are so close. We had a lot of delays in June, but we should be finished with our first units this week!

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Viva Penguinos wrote 06/18/2015 at 14:42 point

Hi, What software do you use to create your GUI?

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ProtoVoltaics wrote 06/18/2015 at 18:36 point

Viva Penguinos, we are using QT for the GUI.

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npupp wrote 04/10/2015 at 14:36 point

Very nice! Looking forward to the UI video and future updates *watches liek a hawk*

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ProtoVoltaics wrote 04/10/2015 at 15:48 point

It's been a heck of a day here already. I will get that video up right after lunch, so maybe like an hour. Thanks for the support!

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Thinkerer wrote 04/10/2015 at 11:32 point

Nicely done - if you find that you're getting vacuum pump failures from too many start/stop cycles you could go to a constant-on w/solenoid & muffled bleed port arrangement.

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ProtoVoltaics wrote 04/10/2015 at 11:43 point

Thanks for the tip! We haven't run it enough at this point to have any problems with the vacuum. We will for sure try to break it in the future. If it doesn't hold up we will try something like this out, and honestly the pump itself isn't all that loud.

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hebel23 wrote 04/09/2015 at 18:03 point

Nice project! Excited to see the next steps...

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ProtoVoltaics wrote 04/09/2015 at 19:49 point

Glad to see interest so soon after posting! We will be posting a video of the UI soon. Boards for the next version of our tape feeder are in, and we will be putting the finishing touches on that. The feeders are listed as a different project on here if you'd like to check them out. 

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