Sunday, June 24, 2018
Publication Date: 03/1/2008
Archive >  March 2008 Issue >  Special Feature: PCB and Assembly > 

Small-Batch Automated System on a Budget
The versatile entry-level gem system.
If your customers need short runs that call for highflexibility, plus a mix of lead-free and leaded assemblies, it'spossible to satisfy their demands with a six or eight differentsoldering systems, many of which would sit idle, waiting for theorder targeted to their capabilities. What has been needed is asingle, versatile, low-cost machine geared to the short run.

Pillarhouse, in addressing this problem, has introduced a low-costmachine designed to meet the needs of the small batch manufacturerwho requires high levels of production flexibility and large boardsize, up to 508 x 508mm (20 x 20-in.) with the added benefit of wavesoldering and rework capability.

The latest innovation from Pillarhouse is called the "Gem" — alow cost, multi-faceted machine for the low volume market. The entrylevel Gem has many standard features that are normally seen only onhigher-priced selective soldering systems. The new machine combinesselective soldering, wave soldering and a through-hole rework systemthat makes it an appropriate fit for small-to-medium-sizemanufacturers.

System Operation
The user-friendly, intuitive operation of the Gem incorporates astandard single button programming selector with LCD window readout.The fluxing and soldering speed, height, frequency and time, alongwith an extensive array of board speed and height parameters arecontrolled via this button. Simply turn the button to the desiredselection, then press down to activate and the system has beenprogrammed to flux and solder.
System size is large enough to accommodate two PC boards at a time.

The fluxing and soldering position points are selected by astationary top side laser guidance alignment system for precisepoint selection. The laser illuminates the points on the board thatyou wish to flux or solder and by moving the frame-mounted, simple-to-operate joystick, the operator achieves full X and Y axismaneuverability of the large 20 x 20-in. board carriage. Once the Xand Y coordinates are chosen for that specific selected point,separate foot pedals to flux and to solder are utilized.

For populated boards, the company has equipped the machine with aninnovative top board overlay system. This system allows the operatoran uninhibited view of the selected soldering and fluxing points onan "active" board with components, by using a top side "inactive"board without components as the template.

The versatile board carriage has the ability to tilt -7° from90°, allowing the PC board to be angled while being processedthrough a dedicated, (up to 6-in. wide) wave solder nozzle. Thetilting capability can be accomplished by releasing two springloaded pins in the front of the machine, allowing the carriage to beprepared for wave soldering or rework in minutes.

The transition from a selective to a wave-soldering nozzle canquickly be made by simply removing the four screws on the nitrogenshroud and replacing it with the wave soldering nitrogen shroud.Turn the wave shroud 1/4 turn CW, insert the wave nozzle, turn itback 1/4 counter clockwise and the machine is ready for wavesoldering. The entire soldering process is enhanced by a hotnitrogen curtain, providing an inert atmosphere for the solderingprocess and assisting in the prevention of oxidation and thermalshock to the localized components.

Another part of the entry-level philosophy for this system is anewly designed quick change, low maintenance solder bath and pumpmechanism. By removing eight screws, the baths can be changed inonly minutes.
The bath bottles used to purge the system.

Continuing with the versatility of the Gem is a newly automatedpurging drop jet fluxing system which allows the system to purgeitself for easy cleaning. The flux is removed from the drop jet fluxbottle and replaced with solvent. The system is then set via thecontrol knob to purge the system. The solvent is pumped through thedrop jet fluxing system by opening a valve into the secondary emptybottle.

Nozzles & Tips
Once the baths have been changed, all commonly used solder types canbe applied using the single point AP-1 nozzle design with availabletips ranging in size from 2.5 to 10mm (two tips are supplied asstandard).

Along with the proven single point nozzles, the company hasdeveloped a new range of nozzles previously not available for thesmaller bath systems. The large wave nozzle, available from 40 to150mm, is used where there are few or no components located on thesoldering side of the PC board.

The jet tip single point range nozzle that fits the current AP-1base, makes the soldering of longer pins easier and with fewerprocess problems. This range also enables the soldering of areaswith larger surrounding components which are usually inaccessiblewith industry standard tips.

The most recent addition is the small jet wave range nozzle usedwhen cycle time and quality are fundamental issues with theprocessing of the PC board. The current available sizes are 3 to40mm and more additions are expected in the future.

Recording & Playback
The company maintains a continuous improvement policy in all of itsmachinery, which is based on customer feedback. This led to theintroduction of a "record and playback" function on the Gem whichgives the machine the ability to remember the movements of theoperator. The simplicity of its functions makes it very quick toprogram.

The operator simply selects the record function using the twocontrol buttons before starting to process the board. Afterprocessing the first board, the operator replaces that board withanother board that needs to be soldered. The operator then choosesthe playback function and presses any one of the three foot pedals.The system will then mimic the process that the operator has justbeen through and solders the board without needing any furtherinput. This system has the ability to store up to 50 recordedprocesses in its on-board flash memory for future use. This hasproven to be a very simple way of getting reliable and consistentresults with very little training.

Electronic Control System
The Gem's new, single-board, electronic control system has beendesigned specifically for the Gem. This means that spare parts arekept to a minimum and allows for quick and easy repair, should theneed arise.
Joystick controller used for programming.

As with all of the company's machinery, there are options that canbe added to aid in the process and operation of the machine. Theseinclude the ability to have selective preheating via heatednitrogen. This option gives pinpoint heating of individual points onthe PC board where ground planes and high thermal mass componentsaffect the soldering process. Another addition is a viewing camerasystem that allows the operator to see the live processing of the PCboard on an arm-mounted screen above the board carriage.

search login