I'd say that desktop pick and place machines are about where 3D printers were about five years ago. I think the pick and place will come in faster though, since many of the problems were solved with 3D printers.
Krisi - The contrast: "more time than money" vs. "more money than time" is a big factor in the future of this sort of thing. Today, there are a lot of hobbyists and makers that simply don't have access to machine assembly.
They might be able to carefully do it by hand, but that's pretty limiting. These desk-top pick and place machines will helpe considerably. I work for a place that is very proud of our service and abilities in the pro world. A lot of people simply can't afford to pay for the expertize of a professional. Desktop PnP machines may very well be the answer for those folks.
I like the Squink idea a lot, except for the pic and place idea. Making PC boards with conductive epoxy put down as well is super, but pick and place requires a vision system and additional capabilities not needed in "mere" print heads. I believe the home hobbyist can easily put a chip or SMD in place on conductive epoxy manually using his internal vision system!
Instead of pic and place, how about adding the ability to deposit insulating layers to build up multi-level PCBs??
@CarlosOs: We do use computer vision to align and correct placement.
Hi Carlos -- I'm Max -- one of the editors here at EE Times -- can you keep me informed as to any developments with Squink, including when you eventually make it available with multi-layer support (my email is firstname.lastname@example.org)
Wb2mjg - It is possible for a hobbyist to hand place a lot of components. One of our customers, a while back, told me that he and his engineer buddies used to have contests to see who could hand solder the smallest component.
He was able to hand solder 01005 passive parts. That's pretty amazing. The reason companies like mine and this emerging desktop PnP machines have a place is that it's hard to do that. Not everybody can, and not everyone enjoys it.
It's a bit like auto mechanics. The tools are around such that just about anyone, theoretically, could repair their car. Most don't, though.
My first thought when reading the headline for this piece was, "excellent!" My next thought was, "but what a hobbyist really needs is a way to solder those placed components." Surface mount parts can be difficult to place, but even my 66-year-old eyes can do it (with a nice big magnifier). Where I work we only recently switched from all hand placing and soldering SMT parts when the volumes got over a few hundred boards/year. The passives and SOIC parts were no real problem but now too many ICs only come in BGA and other forms not hand-solderable.
But the Squink system promises to solve that, as I learned by reading further. That's quite exciting. I wonder what sort of current-handling capacity that conductive ink and epoxy has, though, and how it behaves over temperature. Such a device should be quite valuable for prototyping by companies of all sizes, as well as hobbyists.