Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Kit with SMD parts

In Hardware on Jan 11, 2011 at 00:01

A few weeks ago, I ordered a DDS-60 kit, because I wanted to do some experiments with an adjustable frequency generator. The kit is very interesting because it is controlled via a microcontroller, and because it works from 1 to 60 MHz, which is quite an impressive range for such a simple module:

Dds 60 (top) 400a

The other intriguing aspect was that it is built with SMD parts, so this kit needs to package a lot of very small components. Here’s what I got:

Dsc 2394

Very nice package. Not only are the parts individually labeled, they even were color-marked on one side. Here’s the SMD resistor / capacitor packaging in more detail:

Dsc 2396

What is a bit hard to see, is that these parts were actually sandwiched between a sheet of paper and a sheet of transparent adhesive plastic.

It was great fun to put together (I haven’t had an opportunity to try it out yet, but there is ATmega software for it among a long page of other options).

My curiosity was triggered because I found that the production of SMD kits such as the JeeSMD is fairly labor intensive.

We’re bound to go there more and more though, as an an increasing number of DIP-packaged through-hole chips and sensors are starting to disappear.

I’m not sure what that means for the future of Physical Computing hobbyists. It could go a couple of ways, IMO:

  • more and more “break-out boards” with the small chip pre-soldered
  • more SMD-style kits like the DDS-60, for hand-soldering with tweezers
  • a move towards low-end reflow controllers with manually-applied solder paste
  • … something else?

The first feels a bit more Lego-like to me, though it’s really an artificial distinction – as hobbyists, we’ve never manufactured the chips ourselves either, so it’s just one small “pre-fab” step extra.

Soooo… given the choice, in which direction would you want JeeLabs to go?

  1. I think the third option– cheapo reflow controllers– would be the best way to go. Now, if that were a through hole kit, all the better ;)

    It does make prototyping more difficult, since SMD components make breadboards obsolete; that’s where break-out boards become critical.

  2. more SMD-style kits like the DDS-60, for hand-soldering with tweezers

    a move towards low-end reflow controllers with manually-applied solder paste

    PLEASE not prefabricated

  3. hm, maybe cheap (!) reflow.

  4. Please do not underestimate the incompetence of some of us with a soldering iron! I for one would prefer options which enable me to never touch a soldering iron (or reflow setup) if possible.

  5. The same as Rubi, anything but prefab!

    I don’t mind soldering SMD by hand. I must admit that I had avoided it until I tried a JeeNode SMD, but it wasn’t too bad. So far they have all been successful. I should have realised that since my father taught me how to solder when I was 10 years old I might have actually got the hang of it by now!

    I suspect reflow would require an equally steady hand when placing the paste mask and components so I’d probably just opt for hand soldering because it would either be faster, or at least keep me busy until the board was done… Waiting for a timer to go ping on a modified sandwich toaster would have me wearing out the carpet pacing up and down!

  6. I really like to assemble boards myself and soldering SMD is usually no problem for me. Said that the more modern coponents tend to become smaller and smaller. In my daily job we use the size components that are a fraction of the SMD components in the kit. Components that small are very hard to handle!

    So dispite my preference to do the things myself I opt for the first possibility.

    For myself I keep using these ‘convertor’ boards I buy eg. at SURE electronics (convert SMD IC’s to through hole DIP) and old fashion wire components, but for small one-off circuits only…

  7. The first Arduino I built was a SB Freeduino with SMD-parts pre-soldered, and the rest of parts thru-hole. I think this kind of approach will even more be popular in the future.

    Personally, I’ve made some SMD hand-soldering, and I think I could handle things like JeeSMD. But I’m not sure if I want to hand-build a half a dozen or so, of those. Maybe I’ll do a reflow toaster some day…

    About breadboarding, fortunately modules like JeePlugs are very good for that also.

  8. I don’t like to handle SMD components with a soldering iron, I find it stressful compared to soldering through-the-hole components.

    A very nice thing about populating boards yourself is that you can leave things off, if you don’t want them. Break-out boards are ok, but typically only hold one item. If you want to combine multiple sensors in one project, they are quite expensive and space consuming.

    A reflow solution which is cheap but has good yield would be ideal. If you have to manually rework 50% of your boards, it stops being fun, and starts to look like real work.

  9. Let’s hope the FPGA:s are so complex in the future that we need only one chip and nothing else. :-D

    Joking aside I have tried a small manual place and soldering “machine” used for repair work. The idea is not bad but the price is to high for hobbyists.

  10. I think what I need is a cheap pick and place machine, with some kind of glue… So the machine can so all the shaky hand bit of putting the components in the correct places and aligned 100%, and then I can just solder it. The glue holds things where there should be…

    I did once lose one of the JeeNode SMD resistors, couldn’t find it anywhere… Until I looked at the end of the soldering iron! Stupid thing had come away with the iron! Lucky the JeeNode SMD has a spare resistor, I think that one might have been cooked! – So that’s why I want the new pick and place machine to include glue!

  11. Well, pick and place machines seem to be popular these days :-) (e.g. )

    But for those who want do do SMD breadboarding the team at Dangerous Prototypes offer a nice option:

  12. I see an opportunity for an Arduino controlled pick and place machine.

  13. I’m used too with soldering passive CMS components (resistor, cap, inductances, and some other sot-23 packages), but footprint with pitch less than 1mm is quite difficult without optical help (lense or binocular) and a good iron set! A good choice could be to choose resistor , caps, leds, transistors etc in CMS (0805 or 0603 package, not 0402 which is too small) and keep high-density components (microcontroler …) with a pith >1.27mm (avoiding short-circuit between pins)

    here is a board realised last week with an SHT11 ;-)

  14. i’m all for smd-kits. soldering smd is a lot easier than it seems. and maybe we can then have smaller nodes with rf12 on board.

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