This morning 600 circuit boards came off the line at WAi/Circuit Hub! We brought some test equipment along to check the first pieces as they came out of the machine and when that passed, the rest were cranked out in about 2-3 hours. (That’s slightly longer than it took to hand solder the first prototype.) We spot checked as they came off the line and everything went as expected!
Also, because the chip flash memory was burned at the distributor, we could plug in meters and a battery directly when the boards came off the line and watch the clock come to life, which was really cool.
Going in person to the factory is AWESOME. You get to learn a bunch, see cool machines, and wear funny clothes to protect the chips from static electricity.
Step 1: Bare circuit boards arrive. Circuit board production is an entirely separate process from assembly, so the boards are made elsewhere.
Step 2: Squeegee! A squeegee is used to force solder paste through a laser cut steel stencil. The stencil has holes that line up precisely to the pads on the circuit board, leaving little dabs of paste in exactly the right place for the next step.
Step 3: Pick and Place: A high speed machine pulls the electrical components off of reels (think the old printer paper with the sprocket feeds on the sides), and locates, orients, and places the components on the dabs of the solder paste.
Step 4: Oven. The circuit boards now have solder paste and components and the heat from the oven makes the paste melt, soldering the components to the board.
Step 5: Optical inspection. A machine with a vision system automatically takes photos of every single component on the circuit board to make sure the components are in the right spots.
Step 6: Place through hole components. To be honest, this step will be later on the factory’s production schedule, but there’s a really cool machine that makes a fountain of solder (think melted chocolate fountain. seriously). It automatically places a little dab on the components that can’t be run through the oven.
Step 7: Depanelize and pack. There are three circuit boards on each “panel” that runs through the machine. To break them apart, there’s a pizza slicer like tool!
The End Result
So… this is admittedly one step shy of the solder fountain machine, but seeing all the panels lined up was a pretty cool sight