Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Assemblers Weigh in on Pick-and-Place Systems

SMT’s September/October issue will include a pick-and-place round-up article, the third annual component placement round-up article I’ve written. Overall, it has been an interesting experience working with worldwide users of placement equipment. Judging by their workload, and current news, I’d say that the industry is gaining strength.

Users complain about the cost of nozzles, and that pick-up nozzles don’t always match the size of miniaturized packages, nor do their vacuum and shape fit for large dense connectors. Custom-made nozzles from a third-party supplier may work for the components, but the machine software might fail to recognize these custom ID markings. Assemblers also say that many manufacturers are hesitant to provide access for custom nozzle markings to be input into placement programming by the customer. Also, there are not enough nozzle connections for many jobs, especially with facility’s the existing equipment, which may be older.

Some SMT line operators have complaints about feeders and trays: the changes coming from the package design world are not in sync with pick-and-place systems. This forces users to buy custom feeders at a high price. Different weight of components may require a different rate of vibration, so in some cases a stick feeder is required for a single IC — taking out up to 8 positions on a placement machine for a single part.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Some parts require too much time to program into vision software because image data is not available to suit the configuration, especially with ball grid arrays (BGAs), chipscale packages (CSPs), and fine-pitch quad flat packs (QFPs).

The more I study the pick-and-place sector, the more interesting this round-up cover story becomes. Though most users acknowledge that business is not booming, all said that economics have not stopped or slowed their business. Responses came from the Ukraine, from China, from U.S. military contractors, and other widely dispersed production engineers.

Looking at the current news, some areas show fairly steady growth. Amsterdam-based TomTom said that Q’02 shipments (and prices) are up. As a user, I can certainly understand that. Even my new Nokia E71x phone has a GPS in it, just in case. How did we ever find our way around without GPS devices? Intel has had a pretty good year, since mobile internet devices (MIDs) and other small computers using their Atom processor have sold well. LG is considering additional LCD production for flat-screen TV panels as the LCD industry slowly recovers with healthy TV sales.

All of these products have SMT components in them. Though engineers using pick-and-place may have legitimate complaints, the complaints are usually because they want more efficiencies, better software, more nozzles, and up-to-date component handling. Perhaps they’re anticipating future growth.

Gail Flower, editor-at-large

Read the 2007 and 2008 Round-Up articles on Pick-and-Place:

Annual Pick-and-Place Round-up 2008

Pick-and-Place: Users and Vendors Speak Out

Look for the 2009 Round-up on Pick-and-Place in the September/October issue of SMT

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