Soldering robot V2

My first iteration of the soldering machine was based on Prusa MK3 chassis. It worked well enough but the wiring was very messy and I was not happy with it. It was more of an experimental platform than something useful.

For V2 I decided to use an old MendelMax 3 chassis that I had. As 3d printer that was quite outdated, but the motion platform was sturdy and reliable.

I re-used most of the carriage design from the first version. I added a GoPro fixture, so I can mound an LED light on the carriage itself instead of the side of the machine. In theory this should provide more consistent illumination for the camera.

I was also not happy with the fume exhaust design on the V1. It was using a small 40mm fan that was very noisy, the carbon activated filter piece was very small and it looked very ugly.

For the V2 I decided to put the fan and filter on top of the machine, next to the solder wire motor/extruder. It took quite a bit of experimentation to find the right hose to connect the two. I tried thin silicone hose, that was too thin and the walls would collapse during movement. I tried thicker vinyl hose but that was too rigid and would obstruct the movement of the head. Finally I settled on a corrugated PVC hose – it is flexible enough and would not collapse on it own.

The other experiment was to find what size fan I should use. I tried 60mm, 70mm and 80mm axial fans but they would not provide sufficient airflow, when the filter mount was attached. I finally settled on a 7035 centrifugal fan. I started with 120mm centrifugal fan, but that was too big and loud.

Here is a video of the fume exhaust system in action:


QFN fail

QFN packages and I could not get on the same page. I made one prototype of the V1 design with TMC2209 drivers and only 3 out of 5 worked. I had to re-solder them 3 times just to get them to talk to the CPU. I was just thinking these are just hard on my aging hands and eyes.

I found countless YouTube videos of people soldering chips with QFN packages and it all seems so effortless. I thought I just suck at this.

Yesterday I made some driver board for the V2 design with the 2209 drivers and again had to re-solder the chips, followed the YouTube guides and no luck. Two would move the motors in very strange way and consume quite a bit of power and one plain would not move.

Here is one of the dreaded beasts

I was ready to give up, when I decided to check the driver datasheet for the recommended PCB land pattern. I thought maybe I’m missing something.

For background I downloaded a KiCAD footprint from somewhere and foolishly assumed since it was for Trinamic drivers, it should be correct. Oh well, lesson learned.

Turns out this chip has oversized exposure pad. It is so big that it would touch the pads for the pins on the PCB. It is very likely some of the pins on my board are just shorted to the ground via the die pad underneath.

This is the chip footprint I downloaded:

Looks pretty normal, except the center pad (29) is 3x3mm size. According to the TMC2209 datasheet, the pad on their chip is 3.7×3.7 mm size. Look what happens when I update the center pad size to match the datasheet:

The pin pads are almost connected to the center pad. I resized the pins to match the spec and this is the result

GRRR, All I have to say is “^@%$@^%$!”

I ordered a new set of driver boards with the fixed footprint.

V2 prototype assembled – sort of

Here is my first assembled prototype of the V2 board. I only had patience to solder 3 PCIe connectors and skipped on the Thermocouple and servo connectors for now.

Sorry about the “no clean” solder paste gunk around the fuses. I noticed it after I took the picture.

Here is a picture with the driver boards in the slots

And slightly different angle

Here I added a 40x10mm fan for scale comparison

I’m not set on the 40mm fans for cooling, I ordered some 60mm and some 50mm and will do some experimentation what would be the best combination.

Next, I’ll make some driver boards and start porting Marlin to test the contraption.

V2 prototype boards have arrived

Many thanks to the awesome team at JLCPCB. I’m really impressed by the speed and the exceptionally low prices. I ordered a set of prototype boards for the V2 design on Oct 28th and they arrived today at my door. Total 8 days including shipping from China.

Here it is 150x105mm 2 layer board:

I ordered the 2660 drivers also from JLC, but I don’t like the red mask color:

The 2660 driver is 4 layer board with “gold fingers” – this is code for the board edge PCIe connector.

The purple board is the 2209 driver. That board is from ohspark. No much difference between the two, except the ENIG finish is standard on oshpark and the purple color is dope. The JLC board comes with a little chamfer around the connector, which is nice.

This is what the driver board looks like plugged in a PCIe slot.

First prototype of the TMC2209 design

This took me whole day. Working with QFN drivers is plain PITA. It does look good though. I just hope it works.

I finally figured out how to wash most of the flux from the board. It is still not perfect, but looks really good.

I have another revision with 3 fuses. I figured that one fuse for both motors and extruder heaters may be too taxing. In my latest design I have one 15A fuse for the heated bed; one 10A fuse for the extruder heaters and one more 10A fuse for the rest of the electronics.

Soldering machine improvements

I was very confident in my soldering machine from the tests I conducted the previous week. I decided to program a whole board and try it out.

Alas the confidence was premature and multiple failures ensued. Here is an example

I tried many things, but the soldering wire was hitting the pin and was not melting. I tried re-aligning the needle to point to the solder iron tip instead of the pin. This did not produce improvements at all. I had to aim fairly high to avoid hitting the pin and now the solder was not flowing down and bulging.

I was getting frustrated and decided to look at a few videos of commercial soldering machines for inspiration.

After a few hours I devised a new mount for the soldering needle. The previous mount was allowing adjustments only in the angle of the soldering iron as well as the needle. This configuration seems quite limited. Applying maximum effort here is the new plan:

Now the syringe is mounted on this dual clamp. The clamp allows for both items to rotate. The other end of the clamp is connected to a 3mm steel rod, which adds another degree of rotation. Finally the rod is connected to the mount plate with a plank which allows both: XY movement as well as rotation.

Here is the final assembly after a few dozen failed 3D printing jobs

The new mounting system adds quite a bit of flexibility to the position of the needle that guides the solder wire. Hopefully I’ll be able to find a location which works in most cases.


Computer vision mishaps

I was planning to add a Raspberry Pi camera on my soldering machine. I used a camera board from China which has the M12 lens mount. There is a variety of M12 lenses and one can play with the focus.

This is the camera board mounted on the soldering head

I finally got everything set up. I discovered this very nice camera streaming web interface package here is a picture of the web interface

The UI is simplistic, but allows control of the camera settings and while streaming is consumes only 3-5% CPU. Well done to the Raspberry Pi foundation and the RPi Cam Web Interface team.

Here is an image I captured with the camera

The focus looks good and the image resolution is very nice. However the vertical blue edge of the plastic mount is supposed to be straight. Not so much on the image. The 3.6mm M12 lens I used on the camera adds quite a bit of distortion around the edged. My other lenses are more on the telephoto side: 6mm, 8mm, 12mm and 16mm. I tired the 6mm lens and the distortion was better, but the field of view was too narrow and wan not capturing the soldering head. I ordered some more lenses which claim “low distortion”. We’ll see it they produce better result.

My initial goal was to capture a series of images and then “stitch” them together with OpenCV. Initial experiments failed miserably. First the lens distortion was confusing the stitching algorithm. I know that OpenCV has camera calibration option which can correct lens distortion, but I’ll try better lens first.

The other issue with the stitching was inconsistent lighting. I tried using my LED photo light, which helped initially. Still the lighting on some spots was low and some spots were too bright and getting lots of reflection from the PCB board surface.

I constructed this new camera head, which allowed me to mount a small ring of LEDs close to the camera.

I seemed like a good idea at the time, however it makes terrible reflections onto the PCB. So back to square one. I’ll make some combination of external photo light as well as some white LED strips. The goals is to have uniform light with minimal reflection and not to obstruct the movement of the machine.

Soldering machine progress

I managed to put together the chassis of the soldering machine. The bulk of it is made from parts for a Prusa MK3 3D printer. It provides a good start point so I can experiment further.

This is what is looked like in the beginning

I also put this mounting plate to hold the connectors that I need to solder for my test board. With this plate I can insert the connectors, place the board over and get it soldered quickly, then move to the next one.

Here is a video how the head would move along the Y axis

And another one along the X axis. This one needs to hop over the pins.

I used my PrntrBoard controller to drive the motors. This is a picture of the machine in it’s current variation. I added the Prusa LCD display, but have not connected it yet.

Extruder thermal control board

For a while now I had this idea – create a small board which controls the extruder heaters and fans.

Why – you ask? Well hear my theory. I have this old printer – the RigidBot. It has dual extruder – all direct drive. However I noticed that when it starts to work my temperature readings become very noisy.

Initially I was puzzled, why the noise. After some investigation I noticed that the noise is present only after the printer motors are on. If I switch the motors off (via G-code command) the temperature line in OctoPrint becomes smooth again. It turns out the motor current is creating EMF interference with the thermisor wire.

So I was thinking instead of routing all these wires back and forth, I can build a small board with a cheap CPU that controls the temperature. I can also outsource the control of the cooling fans and even add local display etc.

All the wires needed would be power and some way to communicate between the main board and the extruder daughter board. Audio cables are relatively cheap and well shielded – I can use one for I2C or Serial communication.

In a dual extruder setup one can save quite a bit of wires: two pairs of power wires for the heaters, two pairs for the thermistors, another two pairs for the extruder fans and one or two pairs for parts cooling fans. All these could be replaced with one pair for power and an audio cable for communication – the rest of the wires are all local to the board. Well one has to mount the board somewhere close to the hotends.

Long story short, the first version of the board was not a grand success. The power supply was very noisy and the temperature readings from the ADC were so unreliable, that it was throwing the PID into a weird loop.

Here is the second installment of the board. The power is now dual stage – a buck converter to 5V and then LDO to 3.3V for the micro controller. The LDO filters the noise from the buck converter.

The brain is STM32F030 micro controller. There are 3 fan connectors with tachometer inputs, so in theory the board can alarm if the fan stops working, just like the Prusa MK3. There are 2 thermistor inputs, 2 heater MOSFETS as well as 2 thermocouple controller inputs – for MAX31855 or MAX31865 or similar.

In the next version the voltage the fans would be select-able to whatever the input is (12V or 24V) or 5V. There is a bunch of unpopulated extension pins and an LCD connector for extra fanciness.

I was testing the PID in Arduino code and it works quite well this time.

Just for fun I decided to try my thermal camera to see if there are any hot spots. The picture is with the heater 1 working.

No surprises, the heater MOSFET is a bit warm. The hottest spot is on the buck converter – 37C. Don’t be alarmed by the bright colors 37C is barely warm to the touch.

I’m still trying to figure out what should I use as software platform. Arduino is simple, but somewhat limiting. The STM32 CumeMX is another option. There is MBed and FreeRTOS options if I want to try multi tasking. Oh decisions, decisions.


The TMC2660 board was a bust

I dusted off my trusty pick and place and made one of the newly received TMC2660 driver boards.

Since it’s the first time I test this setup I populated only one of the driver chips – the X axis.

Alas it was all in vain. After fighting with it for several days, the motor would not spin properly. Either my stepper driver configuration so completely busted (although I double and triple checked) or the driver chip is fried. One of the phases works, but the other sends no current to the stepper motor.

Also I was trying to fit some automotive fuses on the board – you know for protection. Alas the fuse holders I ordered are very flimsy and don’t fit the fuses at all. Ordered a different set, but have to wait.

Bummer 🙁