Pick and place robots are software programmed mechanical arms that can grab components and put them somewhere else in a precise manner. This technology is used extensively in manufacturing for PCB assembly, bin picking, packaging, and inspections. When exploring the evolution of pick and place technology, you’ll quickly see how vital it is to keep up with the high demands of modern manufacturing processes.
Pick and Place in the 1980s—1990s
As the computer and tech industry was growing in the late 20th century, early versions of pick and place technology emerged as a solution for quickly assembling circuit boards. The original process required the use of two machines. First, the empty board would be fed into a high-speed machine, called a chip shooter, that would rotate the PCB around a turret. Here, the board would move rather than the robot. The initial device wasn’t precise, so it was used for the placement of large components like capacitors and resistors. The machines worked incredibly quickly, capable of placing 15 parts a second.
From there, the board would get sent to a second machine. This next stage was focused less on speed and more on precision, so it was used to place small parts that required a more meticulous hand. Using verification cameras, each component was placed one at a time in an exact manner. This machine was also capable of working on oddly shaped boards for unique assemblies.
Early 2000s evolution
Technology never stops growing, so it’s only natural that after a couple of decades, the process to make it would also need to grow and expand to accommodate the new needs. The two separate machines weren’t fast enough, and they weren’t flexible enough to perform every task that would be required for the assembly of emerging technologies. This is why modern, all-in-one pick and place robots were first developed. These modern machines could be adapted, reprogramed, and reassembled to perform various tasks, moving them closer to being a complete replacement for human labor.
This next stage was focused less on speed and more on precision, so it was used to place small parts that required a more meticulous hand.
Advantages of Pick and Place
Robots never get tired and never make mistakes. By using pick and place technology in place of human labor, your process’s efficiency has the chance to increase exponentially. If programmed correctly, the machine won’t make mistakes unless in need of maintenance. Also, it can work 24/7 so your facility never has to stop production. This way, you can be making money even in the middle of the night.
The machines don’t require years of training, but instead, all you need to do is upload the necessary program to teach it a new function. Therefore, the technology can be used for remedial and repetitive tasks like bin picking, or it can be used in the high-skilled process of PCB assembly.
Pick and Place for PCB Assembly
Pick and place technology is used for the PCB assembly process. It is a machine that picks up components and places them onto the circuit board. The PCB assembly process requires exact precision, and while it can be done by a human hand, you want to use a robot to ensure that every circuit board is identical during mass production. Inconsistent products will lead to the loss of time and resources, which will ultimately hurt your bottom line. The efficiency at which pick and place robots work is an important reason why technology is so readily available today at prices that make it accessible to everyone.
Gone are the days when computer enthusiasts like Steve Wozniak assembled the Apple 1 by hand with tools in his garage. Those boards would take hours to build, making advanced technology expensive and only available to a select group of hobbyists and enthusiasts.
Modern machines have feeders full of the components and an arm responsible for placing all of them onto the board. As each element is ready to be slotted into position, a slight vacuum in the head of the arm picks up the pieces and then precisely places them on the PCB.
The pick and place technology relies on software in which the machine is pre-programmed to build a particular product. The device isn’t AI, so it can’t learn and adjust its processes on its own, but it can get reprogramed to assemble a variety of different boards, and its programming can be adjusted to teach it new methods.
Pick and Place for Bin Picking
Automated bin picking is the process in which AI machines control a pick and place arm to pull products from a bin. The machine relies on a 3D camera that scans the container to interpret an image like a human eye so that the robot can grab a particular item from the bin. This way, valuable trained employees don’t have to waste their time on the tedious task of sorting through a mixture of components while looking for the right one.
This technology can be used in various industries, but one emerging use for the tool is in logistics. Particularly for massive packaging warehouses, the pick and place technology can grab products from a bin of goods without human assistance. This way, the entire packaging process can be easily automated.
Pick and Place for Packages
For shipping and logistic companies, pick and place robots are used to grab packages off moving conveyor belts. Much like bin picking, the technology here isn’t used to assemble a product, but rather to identify and move something. The robot acts as an adequate substitute for human labor because it will move packages without requiring any breaks. This reliability is extremely important for modern shipping facilities that need to operate at all times to keep up with the growing demand for online orders.
The evolution of pick and place technology has mirrored the growth of computers and other modern developments. As technology has advanced, the process of manufacturing has naturally been forced to evolve to keep up with the demand. Whether it’s for PCB assembly, bin picking, or other needs, our experts at Control Systems Design can guide you through the robotic installation process if your manufacturing facility could benefit from pick and place technology.