What is an SMT Pick and Place Machine?
An SMT pick and place machine is a type of automated equipment used in the electronics assembly industry for the assembly of surface mount technology (SMT) components. It is designed to pick up small electrical components—such as capacitors, resistors, and integrated circuits—from a component reel or tray, place them accurately onto a printed circuit board (PCB) or substrate.
The SMT pick and place machine is a highly precise piece of equipment that can rapidly pick components from reels or trays, inspect them on the fly and place them accurately on the bare PCB. This makes it an efficient tool for businesses that need to manufacture large quantities of electronics components quickly and accurately.
Types of SMT Pick and Place Machines
SMT pick and place machines are available in both batch and in-line automated versions, allowing businesses to choose the one that best meets their needs. The cost of these machines can vary widely depending on size and features, making them accessible to all budgets. In addition, they offer a high degree of accuracy and consistency for surface mount technology components, making them ideal for assembly line production. With the right machine, businesses can produce highly reliable PCB assemblies in house.
Batch pick and place equipment is best for low volume SMT requirements when high speed is not necessary. These types of machines require an operator to load the bare PCB into the machine but the workplace and components are all organized for some level of process control. More common are fully automated in-line pick and place machines where the components required for the particular PCB are loaded on the machine and the component pick up and placement is done automatically by a robotic vacuum head. The machine is programmed to optimize the pick and placement for each PCB, knowing what components are required for that PCB, where the components are located on the placement machine and where the bare PCB is located in the working area.
Why Should I Use Pick and Place?
Pick and place equipment can provide manufacturers with the ability to control manufacturing and deliveries of final product better than when PCB assembly is outsourced. By automating the pick and place process, manufacturers are able to reduce overall labor costs as well as improve productivity. Automated pick and place systems can also help to control inventory and order fulfillment due to its ability to quickly respond to changing demand for final product. Manufacturers that use pick and place automation are often able to reduce their production costs while improving efficiency and accuracy. The reduced overhead and improved productivity lead to increased profits for manufacturers, allowing them to better compete in their respective markets.
In summary, having the ability to build PCB’s in house with pick and place equipment provides manufacturers with several significant cost-saving benefits that enable them to remain competitive in their respective industries.
What Are The Main Components of a Pick and Place Machine?
All automated pick and place machines have some basic elements. There is the ability to hold the bare PCB in place so the robotic head can accurately place the components, the machine also needs to hold a wide range of components on tape and reel or in trays. And then there is the pick and place head, some machines have only 1 pick up nozzle and some have 15 or more. The more pick up nozzles the faster the machine can assemble components on the PCB.
Higher speed machines will automatically transport the bare PCB into position in the machine and ready the board for placement by accurately locating the board using a top-down camera for alignment. Typical machines will hold a minimum of 100 individual components feeders and some room for components that come on trays and not on reels. Some machines can hold up to 200+ different component types when they come on reels.
The main factor of all pick and place machines is the head, the head generally has a quantity of individually controlled vacuum pick up nozzles that are mounted on an X-Y gantry. The entire head assembly moves over to the feeder locations to pick up the required components, then once those components are on the head they travel over to the bare board location and they are individually placed onto the correct location of the PCB. This happens very fast with slow machines placing between 1,000 and 5,000 components per hour and fast machines placing upwards of 90,000 components per hour
It is important to remember that each PCB must have its own program or instructions as to which components are to be placed in which locations on the bare PCB. This instruction set will let the operator know what components should be placed in each feeder location on the machine. It will also enable the engineer to know how long it will take to build or assemble the components on each PCB. In this way they can know how many PCB’s can be assembled in each shift or day.
Once the in line pick and place machine is set up, it can build PCB’s in a “hands-free” mode with bare PCB’s transported into the machine automatically and once all components are placed they fully assembled PCB transports out into the next stage of assembly, this is either automated visual inspection or directly into a reflow oven where all components are soldered into place.
How Do I Select SMT Pick and Place Equipment?
When selecting SMT pick and place equipment, consider the following factors:
Speed: The speed of the machine is an important factor as it will determine how quickly you can assemble PCB’s as well as the ability to change from one PCB to another. Make sure you choose a machine that has a high enough cycle rate to meet your production needs.
Flexibility: This is another key factor when selecting a type of pick and place machine. Some machines are “built for speed” and others are designed for maximum flexibility. You need to understand the requirements of your own companies production requirements. Machines can sometimes be considered designed for High - Mix, Low volume (maximum flexibility) or for high-volume and low mix (generally very high speed and not designed for switching to different products multiple times / day.
Accuracy: Accuracy is a critical factor when selecting SMT pick and place equipment. Almost all pick and place machines are highly accurate but if the build is for semiconductor and die placement a very high degree of accuracy may be required. Most pick and place machines are accurate to 1 or 2 thousands but die placement machines need to be accurate to 10 - 15 microns. Choose a machine that meets your accuracy requirements.
Support: Adding pick and place equipment without having the required level of support could make the investment in equipment ineffective. The best machines in the world are useless if they are idle and not producing PCB’s. Companies must make the necessary investment in trained personnel and in proper support from all departments in the company. You will need full support from a variety of departments in your own company including engineering for accurate and updated data about each PCB to be built and the revision level, purchasing so that you have all the components in stock that are required for each build, material handling and management so that the right components are delivered to the machine when it is time to build PCB’s and manufacturing so that they are trained on how to use the pick and place machine effectively.
Features: Each SMT pick and place machine offers different features. Some machines offer additional capabilities like solder paste or glue dispensing, electrical testing of chip components on the fly, some offer placement inspection cameras. Consider what features are important for your application and select a machine that offers them.
By considering these factors, you will be able to find an SMT pick and place machine that meets your needs. It is important to understand your companies needs and select equipment that meets the majority of those requirements. With the right equipment in place, you can ensure your production line runs efficiently and effectively.
How Much Does a Pick and Place Machine Cost?
The cost of a SMT pick and place machine can vary significantly depending on its size, features, and capabilities. While cost should not be the only factor in deciding on an SMT pick and place machine, it is an important one to consider. In general pick and place machines start at approx $150,000 and can go up to $400,000. This is without the additional investment in component feeders which can add up to 50% to the cost.
The total cost of ownership (including maintenance and consumables) should also be taken into consideration when selecting a pick and place machine. By choosing the right size, feature set, and capabilities for the specific application, it is possible to get the best value for your money and ensure that you purchase the right pick and place machine for the job.
By investing in automated pick and place equipment, manufacturers are able to reap the benefits of increased efficiency, improved deliveries, reduced inventory and improved quality control. All of these factors lead to improved cost structure and both tangible and intangible benefits of in-house production. The improvements in automation, the lack of qualified manual assemblers for PCB’s and the reshoring of PCB assembly from overseas to the US makes this a great time to evaluate bring SMT and PCB assembly back in house.