Pick and Place Machine for PCB Assembly

Pick and place machines are used for PCB assembly where they take components in reels or tubes or on flat packs and place them on the board as defined by software generated from the PCB files.

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Pick and place systems, pick and place machines or pick and place robots as they can be known are part of the success of surface mount technology.

Pick and place machines are a key element of any PCB assembly line enabling components to be automatically placed on a printed circuit board quickly and accurately.

In this way manual placement which is slow and relatively inaccurate is avoided, thereby hugely increasing the throughput and quality.

With some electronic circuit boards using over 1000 surface mount technology, SMT components, many of which are very small, and most of the components requiring very accurate placement, it is not feasible to place them manually. Accordingly pick and place machines are used that can place all the components accurately and in a repeatable fashion.

Typical pick and place machine for PCB assembly
Typical pick and place machine for PCB assembly
Courtesy Europlacer

What is a pick and place machine?

Pick and place machines are relatively sophisticated machines use for PCB assembly. As the name indicates the pick components up and place them onto the printed circuit board.

In most PCB assembly areas, boards will be soldered using infra-red reflow, and this means that prior to the pick and place process, the boards come having had solder paste applied in the relevant areas of the board.

Typical pick and place machine in use
Typical pick and place machine in use
Courtesy Europlacer

The pick and place machine is also loaded up with components. There are many feeds either side of the machine. These can take component reels, tubes and in some instances they may even be in a form of flat packaging known as a waffle pack.

The pick and place machine has a head on an arm which can reach all the reels, tubes, etc and it picks them up and then places them onto the board. Typically the head uses a small vacuum to pick the components up and then release them onto the board.

The head is very accurately controlled by the software, and uses both the accurate positioning of the board as well as optical location on some machines to ensure that everything is placed in exactly the right position.

Accurate positioning is of great importance because some components are very small, and also track widths are very narrow.

The pick and place machines are pre-programmed with the information about component positions so that they know where to place the components. This programme is normally developed directly from the printed circuit board design information.

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