re: "I tried a bit of googling, but couldn't find any actual PnP accelerations."
I've been told that some of the newest machines run so fast that the heads are only barely subsonic. The drive electronics has to accommodate elasticity of the mechanism and place the component right as the component swings back over the proper spot on the board.
There is going to be a flash poll that will be posted here soon. Make sure to add your votes for the size. The commentary, though is equally valuable as to understanding why we want to do a certain size.
I would vote for either 15x15 (6x6) or 20x20 (8x8). I think that would cover a large percentage of hobby boards. It would be a good compromise between desk space and capabilities.
I might be a little biased because of where I work - you might also say I've got extra insight because of where I work - but I say that if we're going to make it a personal device, we should really design it around personal use. Convenience and the ability to fit it into small workshops should outweigh the rarely used need for larger boards.
If boards are large and sparsely populated, bigger components and hand placement is an easy option. If the boards are bigger and densely packed, then it's better off going through a commercial shop.
That is great advice if it will work for the board needs. A lot of my boards are very space constrained, and 0402s are the smallest I feel comfortable working with without having a lot of rework.
I have seen a manual pick and place machine over the last few days that has looked pretty interesting for doing smaller components. That seems like an interesting concept, and perhaps something that could be part of the modular approach that we are looking to use in this project.
@Aeroengineer improving the throughput for hand assembling SMT boards.
Design in the largest components that fit on the board, 1206 are a lot easier to manually handle than 0402. If ICs come in more than one package size use the widest lead pitch available. Use the widest copper etch possible for physical robustness.
On a side note, I would love to hear any other comments that you might have on improving the throughput for hand assembling SMT boards. I am sure that there are valuable lessons that can be learned while we are contemplating these next steps.
I appreciate you input, and yes it is ambitious. Here are some of my personal motivations behind it. I usually travel a lot. I also have a handful of hobby boards that I produce. The problem is that when I am home I do not want to spend the time building a bunch of boards by hand when I could be with my family.
So, I looked into what it would cost to have these boards assembled for say 100 or 1000, and the cost was on the order of $10-20 per board. The boards only have 10 components on them, and they can sell for about $15, and have $5 in BOM costs. This makes it financially not viable.
But if I have a machine that costs me $500, and in my first round of 100 boards, this means that the cost to me was only $5. This is an acceptable cost, and gets paid for in the first round of production. At 20 boards, it is at least break even with having it outsourced. So from a cost perspective, it makes sense.
Now that the cost perspective makes sense, the time also falls in line.
For a person that only does 1 small board per year with under 20 components, then this may not be for them, but if they do a single board with 200 components, then there is value in having a machine that is more likely to place the correct components more accurately.
I've read through all of the various posts and comments so far, and learned quite a lot! But I gotta say: a fully automatic desktop pick and place with the kinds of parameters you're talking about is a pretty ambitious way to go about addressing the need to populate a few prototypes once in awhile. While there would certainly be a "cool!" factor having such a machine, perhaps a more practical approach would be to simply improve the method of manually populating boards so that it is less tedious and more efficient. I researched this challenge a couple of years ago and came across a great product from Abacom called EZpick, which we now use. In fact we use it for low-volume manufacturing as well, in combination with low-cost laser-cut mylar stencils from Pololu, and a retrofitted toaster oven for reflow.
I have come to peace with both systems of measurement. Each has their advantages. As you mentioned, you can get a whole lot of common hardware in Inch. Many scientific calculations end up being easier to do in metric except when it comes to derived units, then it can be just as hard because you never remember what the derived units actually are in their proper combination of units.
McMaster is one of the greatest stores ever. Here in the states, they have great service and a lot of things at a reasonable price. There are a handful of other sources I use, but they are a big one.