This month, we talked with Ben Nyx from our Discord server. He is one of our first supporters and bought one of our first batches when they became available. Be it hobby or business, Ben keeps himself quite busy with everything he is working on.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you make.
Hi! I’m Ben Nyx.
I make cool stuff.
I’m the one-man band that is Curly Tale Games. I’ve been designing interactives professionally for the last decade and am an expert in distilling ideas into experiences that tell a story. I like to use the story as a lens to look at every decision in a project, from choosing the technology to the look and feel of the interface.
I’m a creative problem solver with a knack for blending the digital world with the physical one. I’m passionate about tactile interfaces with custom sensors that teach concepts through play.
What are you building with your LumenPnP?
I bought the Lumen to assemble my PyKiln PCBs. PyKiln is an open source kiln controller that runs on an ESP32. It's still in development. I have been sucked into the world of Pick and Place machines, and I need to get back to it. The current commercial options for kiln controllers are either really expensive or look like they were designed in the 80's. I have been frustrated with my three-button kiln controller and set out to fix it. You'll notice this is a recurring theme in the things that I do.
Did you build or buy a LumenPnP? Have you made any modifications from the original build?
I bought kit number 39 of the first 100 kits Opulo sold. Assembly was a struggle and took longer than I thought, but I got it together and moving in a few days. I'm so glad that Opulo now sells the kits as semi-assembled. I'm sure other people can get picking and placing much faster now.
I have wanted a pick and place machine for a long time. I had unsuccessfully tried to make my own pick and place eight years ago using the Shapeoko CNC as a base. I looked into some of the commercial options and they were either way more expensive than what I could afford or were questionable quality Chinese machines lacking documentation. I wanted a machine I knew inside and out and could modify and fix it if it wasn't working for me. I had been following Stephen and the Lumen project, and when it was available I jumped on it.
Oh boy. I haven't stopped modding my machine since I got it.
When I bought the kit, Opulo hadn't designed their own part feeders yet. The reason I bought a pick and place machine was so I wouldn't have to do repetitive tasks over and over again, and it seemed silly to reload strip feeders, so I looked into existing part feeder solutions and found the 0816 feeder from mgrl. I ordered the PCBs and parts to assemble them. It took way longer than it should have, and the part count was insane. So, I designed my own feeder shield PCB. The original 0816 shield had vacuum sensing and only used a handful of pins for feeders. So, I designed a new shield that used every pin available on an Arduino Mega. I called it the Max Feeder Shield since it used the maximum number of pins. I patched in "SoftServo" control in the 0816 feeder firmware and added auto detachment for servo motors so they wouldn't burn up while idle.
Next came the feeders themselves. The original 0816 feeder design uses 13 different screw sizes and lengths. The feeder is much larger than it needs to be, and assembly is not straight forward. I deleted as many parts as I could I reduced unique fasteners to 2, reduced the 3d printed gears from 3 to 2, cut out a ton of plastic resulting in a fast 1.5 hours per feeder print time, and assembly now takes less than 5 mins to put together a Max Feeder. I released the designs as open source hardware on Github, and I'm selling kits to get people started quickly. This is the first product I've made that I've sold and it's really cool to see other people use something you designed.
I'm pretty sure I have the most mods on https://mods.opulo.io As soon as I assembled the kit and learned Open PnP and placed a single board I took my Lumen apart again to mod it.
I did the wide body mod from AlanaCat, the aluminum L bracket mod from InfiniteNESLives for additional space for PCBs, I sourced the parts for a second nozzle before Opulo released that as an upgrade kit. I was planning on doing the linear rails mod from Stargirl to increase the speed of my machine, but I went down a new rabbit hole. I've been working on a pneumatically driven pick and place head for the Lumen that is affordable, extremely light weight, and supports up to 8 nozzles for placing parts. I'm still working on it, but I feel like this design is going to be a game changer much like how CoreXY has taken the 3D printer world by storm. It's really exciting to be contributing and innovating in this area and to the Lumen project.
How many boards a month do you produce with your machines?
Zero right now. I'm prototyping a new pneumatic pick and place head, so my machine isn't in a production state.
How were you building these boards before the LumenPnP?
Tweezers and dip soldering through-hole parts. Dip soldering can be a really fast way to assemble PCBs without much cost. I highly recommend buying a solder pot to dip your entire PCB in. Also, there is a really great article from Sparkfun on how to use Locking Pins, which makes soldering through-hole parts a breeze: https://www.sparkfun.com/tutorials/114
What is the single most important piece of advice for running an SMT line?
I haven't hit production yet. But simplify your parts and your processes. The best part is no part. The best process is no process. I'd highly recommend watching this two-part video series from Sandy Munro:
What's your solder paste of choice? Any advice for others?
Loctite GC 10. It's nice that you don't have to refrigerate it.
For more information about what Ben Nyx does, please feel free to check it out on his website or catch him on our community Discord.