After a lot of wringing of hands trying to decide on a model and figure out the right combination of reels, holders, options, etc., we finally took delivery of an MDC 7722FV Pick and Place machine last week (sold under the Manncorp label if you are in North America). After a few days at the airport working it's way through customs, this sufficiently daunting looking crate ended up in reception. It was a herculean task to open it up -- and no small task to dispose of the box afterwards -- but at least the machine itself is just under 80cm wide and fits into most elevators and doorways.
It was surprisingly easy to set everything up (probably about an hours work, aside from the physical labour involved). The mechanical construction and attention to detail is impressive, and definately lets you breath a sigh of relief after spending so much money on an 80x80cm box of metal parts.
Once we had the air compressor connected (a Michelin MCX 20), we had the camera whizzing around in no time trying to learn the software (which took a few days to start to understand, but P&P software kind of stinks universally). You can see the inside of the machine on the photo to the left, with the bottom vision visible in the upper-right hand corner, some cut tape feeders on the bottom right, and two lonely little 8mm reels on the left (we've since added many more).
The actual head that picks the pieces up (which also contains the top vision camera) can be seen to the right. There's a large hole visible where an optional paste dispenser can be inserted, but we opted to stick to manually applying to paste with stencils since the automatic dispenser is fairly slow, requires nightly cleaning, and allowed us to put a bit more money into the reels, which are what you really want to get as many of as possible.
Our first trial with a real board had mixed results, and there were a few misses, and the cut tape feeders weren't properly configured (meaning we had to manually adjust the position during assembly), but after a couple small adjustments we had the LPC1343 Reference Design Base Board assembling in 114 seconds ... and impressive change from the 30 or so (dreadfully dull) minutes it would take by hand.
It will take a bit more time to learn the ins and outs of the software, but it's nice to have the option to effectively make small runs of boards (30-40 at a time) without having to resort to tedious manual placement (generally, outsourcing assembly only becomes cost-effective at around 250 boards, though it depends on the profit-margins and number of components). It also opens up a number of possibilities such as using BGA components ... most ARM9 chips, for example, are BGA only. You can expect to see some fun new products in the next 6 months or so thanks to that added in-house capability (though BGA reflow with lead-free solder is still non-trivial).
We'll try to post some more details on the machine as we get used to working with it ourselves, particularly because there isn't a lot of information out there for 'micro-manufacturers' trying to setup a basic assembly line (with restricted budget, and possible limited physical space). Until then, though, here's a video of our first (somewhat successful) attempt at assembly: