Hackaday recently pointed me to an interesting Kickstarter project, Chipsetter ONE: A desktop pick-and-place machine by Chipsetter, where the goal is to build a pick-and-place machine cheap enough for makerspaces to buy:
Few aspects of circuit board development are as tedious as placing electronics components by hand. Contractors can assemble small batches, but who has 2-4 weeks and $1000 to spend on each design cycle?
The Chipsetter ONE is the first pick-and-place machine built to satisfy the needs of today’s electronics developers. Fast setup, accurate placement, and affordability make the Chipsetter ONE the tool to help developers overcome the final barrier to rapid circuit assembly. It’s time to take control of your assembly, and get to market faster.
My free WordPress account doesn’t allow videos to be uploaded, but you can watch theirs at https://ksr-video.imgix.net/projects/913204/video-709245-h264_high.mp4
Their pricing is fairly low, about $6000 for the machine, plus about $100 per feeder. One of their ideas is that by keeping the feeders cheap, users could dedicate a feeder to each part type, reducing the time to set up the machine. I suspect that might work for small companies, but probably not for makerspaces, where every user is likely to have their own parts to use.
I’m not sure how much time such a machine would save over getting boards fabricated and shipped—there are still the delays for acquiring parts, making PC boards, and making stencils. The extra delay for getting a Chinese manufacturer to populate the boards is not very high. (Of course, if you already have in-house PC board prototyping, say with a PC board routers, and have the tools to make your own solder stencils and do reflow soldering, then the pick-and-place machine could save some time.)
I think that a makerspace at a university where there are a lot of students doing PC board design would benefit from having a pick-and-place machine like this, so that students could build their entire project without having to contract out manufacturing. Even if little time is saved over contract manufacturing, learning all the steps of manufacturing can help them with later designs. Learning respect for design rules is often enhanced by seeing what happens when the rules are violated!
I can see a small company that does a lot of board prototyping (and doesn’t use parts smaller than 0402 parts, that is, 1005 metric, 1mm×0.5mm) benefitting from being able to do their own assembly—especially if they are worried about industrial espionage. The machine could even be useful for very small batch production, if the company is making small numbers of high-value products.
For most makerspaces, I’m not so sure that this machine is a win—the time saved over contract manufacturing is relatively small unless all the parts are already on hand (and already on the feeders), and hardware makers tend to use different parts every time they make something. Still, it is a cool thing, and that may matter more than its actual utility for whether a makerspace decides to buy one.
Incidentally, the Kickstarter prices are lower than the expected final $6k—they currently offer 49 Batch 2 machines for pledges of $4k, about a 33% savings (the 10 Batch 1 machines @$3600 have sold out). Estimated delivery for Batch 2 is about a year from now.