Oct 23, 2014

Retro Populator open source kit will turn your 3d printer into pick and place machine for home manufacturing

Retro Populator is an open source project by Eric Boyd that developed a kit for your 3d printer to convert it into pick and place machine suitable for small scale home electronics manufacturing.

Project description from
A jig and software for allowing a 3D printer to do electronics pick-n-place assembly. It populates boards, by retrofitting a 3D printer, hence Retro Populator.

Motivation: surface mount soldering is great, but the process of placing parts is tedious and requires great manual dexterity as well good vision. Doing a few boards by hand is practical, but doing more than about 20 is hell on earth. Yet it's not practical (read: affordable) to pay industry to do it until about 500 boards - the setup charges just kill you. So there is this huge chasm between what's doable for hobbyists by hand, and where industry can take over, and this volume is commonly desired in the maker community - a small run of 50 to 100 boards is in fact typical. Thus, the desire to build machines that hobbyists can own to do electronics pick-n-place. Our cost-saving idea is to retrofit similar machines that makers already own: 3D printers.

Rob Gilson
Adam Evenden
Charles Hartlaub
Eric Boyd
There are several versions of Retro Populator being developed:
Version 1.0 : Essentially complete now. CNC milled acrylic base plate, with milled tape holders. Vacuum syringe for picking up parts, vacuum supplied by SMT rework station. Milled nozzle mount which attaches to the side of the existing extruder. Z-axis rezero jig to easily change re-zero height. 3D printed cam-lock parts to holds boards in place on 10mm peg-grid base. Code parses a yml file for board & tape placement info, and then an eagle .brd file directly for part types and locations. It generate a gcode file which goes from pick to place location for all of the parts which can be populated. Support for
multiple boards.

Version 2.0: currently in planning/design. Addition of tape advancement, including plastic cover peeling. Addition of a second nozzle which will do solder paste dispensing. Software will have 'position confirm' feature where it will move to the corner of each board, and the first component on each tape, so that you can verify key locations directly before running the entire job.

Version 3.0: part rotation. Numerous other things we'll learn about as we do V2.0, no doubt...

Detailed information and instructions:

Mind map and overview of the project in pdf format:

Maybe we will soon have thousands of small electronics factories in garages competing with corporate sector ...
But first who should be afraid of this competition are companies like Adafruit ... they are in the same market as those "hobbyists" ...