Assembling a single electronic board using SMD parts is doable using simple tools with tweezers and a fine tip soldering iron. However, it can become tedious after a few boards or simply if you start an actual production yourself.

Also, some parts are really hard to solder by classic means, and I ended up building a reflow oven to “bake” my boards.

If you’re not familiar with reflow soldering, I suggest you have a look to this wikipedia article for details.

Reflow Soldering

For large boards, placing the SMD parts on the solder paste can really be an issue since your hands must travel above the board to reach the part location, with risks to drop the part and mess all your solder paste stencil work.

The SMD pick and place station is meant to help the operator traveling above the PCB, pick parts using vacuum, and place them with a straight, smooth and accurate vertical movement to the exact spot where it’s suppose to land.

Surprisingly enough, that station can be assembled with many classic hardware parts available for cheap.

Project Steps

Get started : parts to get

To build the pick and place station, you’ll need a 30-35 cm furniture leg (square section), a TV rotary stand, a pair of ball bearing drawer slides, a set of 6 assembly plates/strips, M5 screws and nuts (with self lock), a 10 cm piece of aluminium hinge profile tubing and 2 meter of L shaped aluminium profile. You’ll also need a wooden plate or a plank. I used a left over filler plank from my ikea kitchen. It’s covered with heat resistant vitrified coating which makes cleaning very easy.

The station is composed of a rotary stand to help orienting the PCB when working on it. It also has a traveling dolly mounted on the drawer slides as an arm rest to maintain it above the board. Finally, it has a small crank attached to the vertical leg with a vacuum pen mounted on a vertical spring loaded slide. This allows to pick the the SMD part using a hand or foot controlled vacuum pump then released and placed on the PCB.

Cut the board. I wanted the station to be a table top compact tool, so I kept the dimensions within 45×35 cm.

Install the furniture leg and a set of L shape profile.

To drill the L shaped profile, use a punching tool to pilot the drill bit.

Trim the screw length on the L rail then place the ball bearing slide and mark the alignment.

Mark the ball bearing slide position all the way of the L rail. Do the same for the other rail.

Then drill the L rail and screw the slides with M5 screws, nuts and washers.

Trim the screws.

Make sure the slide is leveled, eventually fine tune its position.

Then, using some more L profile, cut the traveling dolly mount that will be attached to the slide. You’ll need 2 pieces, just like for the mount attached to the base.

Mark and drill the attachment holes for the dolly mount.

Cut another piece of wood plank to build the dolly top and attach it to the L mount you attached to the slides in the previous steps.

Make sure the whole attachment slides properly. Fine tune the slides horizontal position eventually, then a dab of Vaseline oil on the mechanism won’t hurt.

Take some time to admire your work !

Build the crank. The assembly metal strips didn’t have a central hole so I used a drill press to get that done. Make sure you drill them at least by pair (“twin drilling”), both (or more) strips being attached by a screw and a nut at each end during the drilling operation. This way you make sure the central hole is perfectly centered and identical for each pair.

Cut the hinge profile. I used small pieces of about 2.5 cm / 1″ long.

Use 2 hinge pieces on the vertical leg. I had some M5 threaded rod in the shop as well as some brass blind nuts, so I used that to attach the hinges.

The central part of the hinge is a simple piece of steel rod. You can find that in the hardware store as well.

The small hole in the hinge piece will be used later to lock the rod using headless screws.

Drill and tap both the hinge part and central rod.

Install the other hinge parts on the central rod then lock the latter with the 2 threaded holes you made just before. I used M3 screws for that.

Now you can start assembling the crank on the mobile part of the hinge.

Cut another 2 hinge parts to attach at the end of the crank

Place a piece of metal tubing at the end of the crank as the base of the vacuum pen. You can also use junk ball-point pen bodies for that purpose.

At the bottom of the pen I placed a spring salvaged from a retractable pen so that the vacuum pen retracts when released.

Build the vacuum pump.

I bought a 10€ aquarium air pump at the local pet supply shop. It can easily be turned into a vacuum pump because, obviously, air that is pumped out must be sucked in from the other end of the pump.

On the first picture, you can see the hole near the red coil that runs the membrane pump at AC mains frequency (50 or 60 Hz).

The pump was provided with a small air flow tap/limiter which I decided to re-use. I placed a piece of plastic tubing to allow the pump to suck air from the outside of the pump.

Then I drilled a hole on the top lid to allow the tubing to exit the casing.

Finally, I used some epoxy putty and 2 part steel epoxy glue to seal the air intake.

Final touches :

I first tested the pump using the vacuum suckers I got with a manual pick and place pen

Then I used a medical syringe needle as the end of my vacuum pen. I cut the needle with a dremel then mounted the vacuum suckers at the end of the syringe. You can find vacuum sucker sets at, or just buy a cheap manual vacuum pen and re-use the suckers.

I recycled the needle protective cap as well, to make a mount and spacer for the air flow tap. The pump came with a nice 3m long silicone flexible tube that mounted perfectly on the protective cap I cut. You can fill it with some disposable tissues or anything that could act as a dust filter.

Pump control switch:

The pump is a mains-powered device, so I used a junction box to hold a sturdy, momentary pushbutton switch used to turn the pump on and off. A foot pedal switch could be used, but I found having everything on the table and using my other hand very convenient.

Final touches:

A milk bottle cap was deep enough to hold the station accessories like vacuum pen tips and suckers.

Add some rubber tape or mat under the station so that it’s totally steady during operation.

And you’re done! Time to assemble some PCBs!

I hope you enjoyed this guide and project!