FirePick Delta - Introduction and Overview

A project log for FirePick Delta, the Open Source MicroFactory

An affordable electronics manufacturing system for hobbyists, students, & small businesses. Inspired by RepRap. Powered by OpenPnP/FirePick.

Neil JansenNeil Jansen 05/05/2014 at 03:571 Comment

Welcome to the first installment of the $300 Pick and Place project build log.  This is the first of many build log entries that we will be posting over the next few months.

The official name of this project is FirePick Delta.  We felt that the name "$300 Pick and Place" would be a better name for our Hackaday Projects page, since it better conveys to the world what our project is truly about.  Nobody knows what a FirePick Delta is (yet), but most of the regulars at Hackday know what a $300 Pick and Place machine is.  If not, don't worry.  We've got a section below just for you :)

Introduction in Plain English

We are developing a really cool robotic machine that is capable of assembling electronic circuit boards (it also 3D prints, and does some other stuff!).  It uses a vacuum nozzle to pick really tiny resistors and computer chips up, and place them down very carefully on a printed circuit board.  A lot of the parts are really tiny (sometimes only 0.6 mm x 0.3mm).  Sometimes they are really big, but the adjacent pins are so close together that the risk of two pins shorting out makes assembly difficult.  Our design uses a tiny digital camera board and custom computer vision software to ensure that the parts are being placed correctly.  Computer vision is really hard.  Especially if you're not a math major.

There are existing machines that do this today, but they cost a LOT of money.  They range from $30,000 on the cheap end, to several hundred thousand dollars.  Large businesses are more than willing to pay these prices, because they produce millions of boards per year.  But what about the small business?  What about the the would-be tech startup?  What about the hobbyists, the college EE undergrads, hardware hackers, and makers?  It's pretty depressing actually.  Most resort to soldering every tiny component by hand (under a microscope if they're lucky enough to have access to one).  A few hobbyists and hackers went off and tried to make their own machine and failed miserably.  It's an incredibly complicated project by standards, so this wasn't surprising.

The Holy Grail

We are chasing the holy grail of rapid prototyping and electronics manufacturing.  Here are a few examples of the benefits that our project would provide:

Design phase:

Manufacturing phase:

Life Cycle Management:

Significance to the Open Source Community

A Bit of History on the RepRap Project

The 3D printing landscape was in the same place, one decade ago. Thanks to Adrian Bowyer, founder of the RepRap Project, an entire ecosystem sprang up to figure out a way to put 3D printing technology in the hands of the consumer.  The solution was to leverage the power of open-source.   A lot of really difficult problems were overcome through sharing, collaborating, diversity, and sometimes, sheer brute force.  The RepRap community has now surpassed the dinosaur industry in cost, availability, support, and in some cases, quality.  Personally, I really like market shakeups, they're a good thing.  It keeps the greedy suit-wearing types from resting on their laurels for too long.

I think we can all learn a lesson from the RepRap project.  In several contexts, a sum can worth more than the sum of its parts.  Some cheap hardware parts, some clever software, and a spool of plastic, when put together properly, can make beautiful things.  And when a community people come together and collaborate, truly magical things happen.

About the Developers - Neil Jansen

I'm an alpha nerd, and I'm no stranger to a build log.  I've created some truly wonderful things in my time, and this project will be no exception (I'm also quite modest, lol).  I'll be listing some of my previous projects on my user page in the coming days/weeks/months.  The project below had two custom Nixie displays, 500 orange-amber PWM-controlled LEDs, two Arduino-compatible processors, and seventeen custom circuit boards with mixed SMT and through-hole components. 

2011 Mini Cooper S Amp Rack

Project log for the above amp rack detailed here:

My role in this project is the entirety of the mechanical design, a lot of the underlying architecture, and the systems-level testing.  I'm also writing all of the build logs on  Any grammatical or technical errors found are solely my own.

About the Developers - Karl Lew

Karl is the resident software guru and architect.  He has been perfecting the OpenCV-based FireSight module that performs the necessary computer vision.  He's also creating a frontend for the machine operation, and doing a bunch of backend stuff to make all the various modules work together.

 Our Other Developers

FUN FACT: The age span of our team varies from 16 to 58 :D

Special Thanks


Although not directly part of this Hackaday Project, we wanted to say thanks to Jason Von Nieda for making his OpenPnP project available to all.  He has spent the last few years creating a modular framework for Pick and Place machines, and we wouldn't be where we are today if it weren't for him.

Melbourne Makerspace

Also thanks to everyone at the Melbourne Makerspace, for being awesome and keeping it real.  If you're ever in the spacecoast area of Florida (east of Orlando, on the coast), stop by and say hello, their open houses are Mondays at 7:00 PM.  If you let me know in advance, I'll even bring the $300 pick and place prototype :)

Thanks to Push Plastic, because they're an awesome filament distributor that has bent over backwards to help me as their customer.  Their stuff is USA made from virgin plastic, and it's all I use in my machine.  

Lastly, some name dropping for people that have donated to our project: THANK YOU GUYS SO MUCH!!

Stay tuned, and thanks for checking our out our project!  

And please comment if you love it, or hate it!  We want to hear from you!