Should you build your own personal SMT line?

Joe Menard returns to HDDG18 to talk about the trials and tribulations of building a personal SMT line in his garage.

Supplyframe’s mission is to create more access to information about electronics design and manufacturing. As such, we do a meetup in San Francisco called, Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic. These events include talks by industry experts in hardware and software. The speakers are often building hardware for recreation or as part of their employment. The common thread is that they want to give a view “under the hood”.

At HDDG18 on January 26th, 2017, Joe Menard returned to give a second talk about his journey building out a personal SMT line. Joe had previously given a talk about designing IoT systems from scratch. The decision to purchase and operate an SMT line was directly connected to that effort.

Joe goes through some of the basics of SMT assembly:

  • Dealing with fine pitch parts
  • Working with stencils and solderpaste
  • Tuning the reflow profile (how fast the oven heats up)
  • Panelizing PCBs
  • How larger scale SMT lines work and how his setup differs
  • Working with feeders and reels of components

Like anyone trying to bring industrial-level components into the home shop, Joe had some issues with the user interface on the software. Also dealing with the details of individual placements can quickly become a job of it’s own.

Joe ended up learning a lot about doing SMT assembly, but not saving much money over going out to an external assembly service. Over time he will be able to lower costs by becoming more efficient with setup times, but amortizing the cost of the equipment will continue to take many years.

Have you considered buying and operating a “personal SMT line”? Do you have one now? Let us know in the comments.