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Using Automatic and Semiautomatic Pick-and-Place Systems in Parallel Proves a Successful Strategy

Apr 07, 2011

Combining an automatic SMD pick-and-place for series production with a semiautomatic placer for prototyping proves beneficial. A universal data interface developed by Essemtec ensures an easy, secure transition from prototyping into production and avoids confusion about data versions.

By Adrian Schärli, Azular GmbH, for Essemtec AG

Many electronics manufacturers use automatic pick-and-place machines for series production and other systems for manufacturing prototypes. In this way, product developers can flexibly and quickly build the required prototypes and do not interfere with the well-rehearsed procedures in production. However, it is important to note that when a prototype turns into a series product, even the final changes are taken into account. If not, there will be two different versions of the pick-and-place data and that can lead to bad product quality. The same problem also exists in the opposite direction.

Products are continuously modified, even if they are produced in series. If, for example, a component is currently not available on the market, it will be exchanged for a similar one that is available. In most cases, however, such modifications are stored only on the pick-and-place machine where their product is assembled. If the product needs to be transferred to another machine, it may be difficult to transmit the last version of the pick-and-place data. This is because of proprietary data formats and machine-specific data. Essemtec's Expert-SA semiautomatic pick-and-place can avoid such difficulties.

Semiautomatic Pick-and-Place Avoids Errors

A semiautomatic pick-and-place is best for prototyping. Software and position control guarantee that placement errors will not occur, while leaving the highly complex tasks such as placement to the more flexible human. The Expert-SA pick-and-place from Essemtec exactly measures the pick-and-place head's position by linear encoders. It guides the user with visual and acoustic aids to the feeder and assembly positions. Only component placement is left to the operator. As such, complex PCBs can be produced quickly and error-free. With the Expert-SA, it also is possible to dispense glue or solder paste and it can be equipped with a hot air soldering device for repair work.

The Expert-SA can import assembly data from almost any other system, CAD or pick-and-place. It can even digitize a board if no data is available. Additionally, if any changes were made to the data, the Expert-SA exports them in an open format.

Universal Interface

Essemtec has developed a universal interface that allows data exchange with nearly all CAD and pick-and-place systems. The only requirement is that data must be provided as ASCII text files. The input filter of the interface can be adapted to the data structure. The record order or units do not matter.

Expert SA can export pick-and-place data in an open text format. Any other system, such as a pick-and-place machine, can read these data. As such, any changes made in the prototyping stage can be fed directly into production. This ensures that only one version of the pick-and-place data exists, avoiding confusion about previous versions.

Successful Combination

A semiautomatic pick-and-place such as the Expert-SA can place components of any type and size. The machine offers optical aid for quick, precise placement of chips, QFPs or BGAs. It can use tapes and reels, sticks and trays just like any automatic pick-and-place. Furthermore, it can also work with small tape strips or bulk components.

The universal data interface allows data exchange with nearly any automatic pick-and-place, which prevents version confusion especially when a product is transitioned from prototype to series production or vice versa. Therefore, many electronics manufacturers use the Expert-SA semiautomatic pick-and-place for prototyping in parallel with automatic machines for series production. In practical use, this combination has proven to be a successful strategy.


The Swiss machine manufacturer Essemtec is a market leader in manufacturing flexible production systems for industrial users. Essemtec has been developing, manufacturing and marketing equipment and machines for all processes in the electronics industry since 1991: printers, dispensers, pick-and-place and soldering systems. Manual, semiautomatic and fully automatic systems are available. The range of products also includes transportation and storage systems, as well as software solutions for planning, simulation optimisation and documentation of manufacturing. All Essemtec systems are optimized for maximum flexibility. Users can switch from one product to another quickly, making maximum use of available production capacity. Essemtec - Be more flexible.

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