2015 – The Year of Affordable DIY Pick and Place?

Over the years, there have been many attempts at a DIY Pick and Place machine (PnP). Some people have tried conversions of existing CNC machines, others have started from scratch. Either way, it is a tricky thing to do and keep it cheap and simple. There are several things that add complexity, and the task becomes one of creating a nicely integrated package, with both hardware and software.

Clearly, replicating a $60,000 PnP machine for $1500 is going to lead to many compromises, particularly with regard to speed and ability to handle bulk packaging like tape reels. I believe a slow PnP without reel feeders would be useful for hobbyists, maker spaces and possibly prototype jobs for small companies, as long as it is cheap. If you have any requirement for small production runs, then low end or second hand commercial machines go for as little as $3500 and are likely to be a more reliable proposition.

Usually PnP projects are abandoned, ones that reach a workable system come in quite expensive, e.g. £3500. These include PP4 by Volker Besmens, and DIY Pick and Place V2 Project by Brian Dorey.

Several new PnP ideas featured in Hackaday projects recent competition. The Open Source Firepick is probably the most ambitious, aiming for a wide set of features, and for $300 BOM cost. They also have a novel Delta architecture and are aiming to make many parts with 3D printer. So it could be very good, or cheap, I’m not sure both targets can be met.

Also on Hackaday projects was LitePlacer by Juha Kuusama. LitePlacer project is complete, and shipping is planned for later this year. At €1200 it is reasonably priced.

I’ve had a PnP project on the go for a while, but haven’t got much past concept stage. The main construction would borrow some ideas from Reprap 3D printers, using aluminium extrusions, off the shelf precision rods and bearings, and 3D printed parts for custom parts.

Volker Besmen’s PP4 is a real work of genius, and well worth studying. He has released the design under a Open Hardware license too, and there are detailed drawings of most of the machine. In particular, I think his design for an automatic feeder system can be used as a guide for a simple and cost-effective reel feeder. By pulling the cover tape to advance the tape, it solves two problems at once. There are very cheap DC motors available, and it would only need an Arduino with a simple motor driver as a controller.

PP4 auto feeder

I will put up some design files on my github soon.

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