[Erich Styger] owns a Charmhigh CHM-T36VA pick and place machine, which he describes as well-built and a great value of hardware for the money. However, the software end is less impressive, with a proprietary controller that is functional but not great. The good news is that it is possible to retrofit the machine to use the OpenPnP framework, which is open-source and offers more features. Even better, [Erich] has already done and documented all the hard parts!
[Erich] does not recommend this conversion for anyone who is not very familiar with electronics, or has any worries about voiding warranties. Barring that, he suspects the conversion could be done in about a day or two’s worth of focused work. It took him two weeks, including time spent fine-tuning the first production job. He says the bulk of the time was spent on configuration, but he has shared his configuration on GitHub in the hopes that it will save a lot of time for anyone using the same hardware.
After populating some 300 boards and placing over 7000 parts, he’s very happy with the results. The machine places between 600 and 700 parts per hour, so speed might not be amazing but it’s perfectly serviceable. [Erich] finds that while the machine runs a little slower than it did with the original controller, it also runs much smoother and quieter overall. In return he gets what he truly wanted: a pick and place machine whose operation and configuration is entirely open and accessible. You can see it in action in the video, embedded below.
Putting affordable pick and place machines into the hands of hackers and home shops is a huge step towards enabling people to reliably and effectively assemble more than just a handful of boards at a time. There have been some wonderful steps towards that recently, such as these re-imagined component feeders and efforts at making low-cost open source pick and place machines a reality.