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Need low cost pick and place machine for limited production

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Need low cost pick and place machine for limited production | 10 August, 2009

I have very little knowledge of pick and place machines or assembly, and was hoping someone could give me some advice of where to start looking. I do learn quickly so I am not afraid of challenges or learning through mistakes.

I need to produce about 500 - 1000 boards a month, each board having about 400 components total (150 unique parts) including BGA's and CSPs.

This production is too small to get good pricing from the Chinese suppliers, yet too complex to be done by the local facilities. The people that will do it won't do it at the priority level I want or at a budget I can afford.

When you also factor in shipping, VAT and import hassles doing everything in house looks attractive.

I'm in Bangkok, and operator time is essentially free. I've thought about 10 guys with soldering irons. Unfortunately, the BGA components make this impractical, and I need better process reliability than full manual assembly can provide.

What else do I need besides a pick and place machine and a reflow oven if I wanted to do this myself? I can afford to do most jobs by hand as long as it isn't delicate work. Are there places where I could outsource the X-Ray BGA inspection if I have problems, or would I need to purchase my own inspection station?

Can anyone recommend low cost equipment that would fit my needs? What is the lowest budget I could realistically get away with to acquire the necessary equipment second hand? Where is a good place to purchase it? I have considered buying at auction but I don't really know what I need.

Any advice is appreciated.


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Need low cost pick and place machine for limited production | 11 August, 2009

You are looking for a complete SMT assembly line plus possible X-Ray inspection and rework equipment.

The 3 components of the SMT line are stencil printer, pick-n-place machine and reflow oven. How small are your components? 0603? 0402? What is the pitch of your ICs and BGAs? I would recommend at least a semi-automatic stencil printer and not a manual one as applying paste properly is critical as your components and pitch of parts decrease in size. If this is the only board you will be building, you do not need a super fast pick-n-place machine but make sure it has the accuracy needed to match the size/pitch of components you are placing. With BGAs on the board, I would recommend at least a 7 zone oven if not more zones, especially if this is a lead free assembly.

A small SMT rework station and/or soldering irons will be needed as there will be occasional touch up/repair of various components on the board. You can buy an X-Ray machine and a BGA rework station but rework of the BGA could probably be outsoruced if needed.

Do not get the cheapest equipment you can find on the used market as this often also means lower quality equipment and/or harder to program/use and/or more rework time.

The SMT line we are running has a new stencil printer (2007), used pick-n-place machine (2004) and a new 7 zone reflow oven (2006). Those 3 cost us a total of about $120,00 USD with the year we bought the equipment in (). I'm guessing you will need to spend at least $50,000 USD and $75,000+ USD is more realistic for quality equipment. Don't forget about the several days of time it will take to learn how to properly program, run and maintain the equipment as well. And there will be facility expenses to run power to the equipment and ventilation from the oven.

Setting up an SMT line and learning all the aspects to successfully producing circuit board assemblies is not a small investment of time or money. While outsourcing the boards will be more expensive than producing them yourself on a SMT line, it may still be the way to go if you can not afford the upfront cost/time to get your SMT line up and running.

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Need low cost pick and place machine for limited production | 11 August, 2009

Have you looked into Sipad? They will pre-paste your BGA and other component areas with solderpaste that has an adhesive on it. You can then hand place your components and run through a reflow.

Here's their site:

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Need low cost pick and place machine for limited production | 12 August, 2009

Hand placing 200,000-400,000 components, including BGA's a month does NOT sound like fun....

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Need low cost pick and place machine for limited production | 12 August, 2009

For a small pick-n-place machine I recommend that you take a look at Essemtec.

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Need low cost pick and place machine for limited production | 18 August, 2009


You don't need X-ray and all that crap.

I would get an old MYDATA TP9 or something like that, and a manual stencil printer and a batch oven or a small inline oven. Should do the trick and be very low cost.

Should be simple to use as well. That's what we did when we started and we were putting down everything including BGA and making hundreds of boards a month. It worked for us, and was cheap so we did not need to run up huge amounts of debt paying for it.

When your a startup your spending all your money on components just to build your product, so you don't have a lot of money for elaborate SMT equipment, but for the reasons you outlined in your original post, there is many benefits from doing the SMT yourself.

You can easily use a heat gun for rework, and it can all be done quite easily.

Good luck!



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Need low cost pick and place machine for limited production | 18 August, 2009

Assuming you want to run 8 hours a day and 5 days a week, you need a sustained throughput of 2.5k components per hour. With fine pitch, futzing around, setup, etc you should really look for machines rated in the 4k to 5k per hour range. That's not screamingly expensive, but its not gonna happen with the real low-dollar stuff.

The significant problem is going to be feeders. Do you REALLY need 150 different components? A machine that takes 150 feeders of an average mix, plus trays for your BGAs is not a small machine by anyone's standards. The alternatives would be to run multiple machines, paste the board then run part of it, switch the feeders, run the second portion, etc until completed. That's inconvenient and IMHO asking for operator-induced trouble. Also you have to start to worry about how long your paste can sit. Check your design and make sure you're not trying to save $.0004 by using twelve different bypass capacitor values when two would work.

Low volume with many, many components per board is a tough one, which is why you're not getting good rates from assemblers. Maybe you could have the complicated parts done out-of-house, then put the discretes on with your army of guys with soldering irons?

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