Why Should We Consider Smart Feeders?

Why Should We Consider Smart Feeders?
In selecting a new pick and place line, why should we consider smart feeders? How can we justify the added cost?
Board Talk
Board Talk is presented by Phil Zarrow and Jim Hall of ITM Consulting.
Process Troubleshooting, Failure Analysis, Process Audits, Process Set-up
CEM Selection/Qualification, SMT Training/Seminars, Legal Disputes
Phil Zarrow
Phil Zarrow
With over 35 years experience in PCB assembly, Phil is one of the leading experts in SMT process failure analysis. He has vast experience in SMT equipment, materials and processes.
Jim Hall
Jim Hall
A Lean Six-Sigma Master Blackbelt, Jim has a wealth of knowledge in soldering, thermal technology, equipment and process basics. He is a pioneer in the science of reflow.


And welcome to the Board Talk. This is Phil and Jim, the Assembly Brothers pick and place coming to you from high atop Mount Rialto at ITM Consulting's Towers in the Board Talk War Room. What serious question do we have today, Jim?

Well this question comes from T.R. In selecting a new pick and place line, why should we consider smart feeders? How can the added cost be justified? Good question.

Let me answer a question with a question, T.R.

On your previous and existing pick and place line, have your operators ever put the wrong component feeder in the wrong location, and how many times has that happened? And as a result, buying wise, how many wrong components have you put down in the wrong locations as a result of that?

And finally, what did it cost to repair them? There's your justification. That's putting it in profound terms.

When we look at any of the assembly equipment in the line and we look at pick and place, I mean statistically the most frequent error that pick and place machine attributed to pick and place operation is the wrong component and the wrong place, and it's usually attributed to the operator putting the wrong feeder in the wrong place.  Human error.

Oh brother of little statistical knowledge. What my brother says, what my brother means to say is that the most significant number of defects generated by placement machines result from putting the wrong wheel in the wrong feeder place.

The most frequent errors in placement machines are probably feeder jams, but you typically don't even lose a component, they just shut the machine down for a second.

Sometimes that's because the operator's so frustrated because he put the feeder in the wrong location somewhere else, and he's jamming it in you know and he's breaking those feeders.  I see that all the time you know. You ever heard of road rage?

Here's pick and place rage. It's a tough world we live in you know.

Although I hate to do it, I absolutely agree with my brother. I think that that is the most important thing, a reason for smart feeders, but I have to admit that you know avoiding mistakes is sometimes hard to justify in monetary dollar terms.

So I would offer another advantage of smart feeders, and that is increased productivity. This new pick and place line that you're going to spend a lot of money on regardless of whether you buy smart feeders or not can only make money for you when it's placing parts.

It can't make money for you when you're setting it up, changing it over, installing feeders, and so forth.

And smart feeders may give you, depending on your environment, a significant reduction in setup time by streamlining it, certainly by allowing you to do all your feeder setup and confirmation offline so that if your feeders are loaded and with a barcode or whatever other mechanism the smart feeders use you've loaded the component part number into the feeder so that then when you plug it into the machine the machine knows exactly what part is in what feeder location and you can't have the mistakes that my brother just enumerated in great glowing detail.

Spoken like a true lean six sigma master black belt, which you indeed are.

So the biggest in terms of dollars is just to keep those placement machines running, get them up and running fast because that's the only time. They're what's controlling your line. You're not building anything on your surface mount line if your placement machines aren't running.

So by streamlining setup and doing more your setup offline while the previous job is still running so when you have to actually stop the line, stop building boards, stop making money, you can throw those smart feeders right in there very quickly without any additional crosschecking or anything else.

The machine can read them, know exactly where what parts are and start building boards with minimum downtime, so increased productivity, and that can definitely be cost justified.  All you have to do is check the numbers out.

You know it's interesting because we think back and again both Jim and I have been involved in pick and place for what seems like all eternity. Hey, we are pick and place, and you know actually the conception in mention of smart feeders was one of the first you know innovations that was applied to pick and place, and we're going back over wow 20, 25 years, so I'm almost surprised that T.R. has a machine that doesn't have some semblance of smart feeders.

And we've seen the technology evolve. You know originally there was like a RAM memory, and then we went to - I think the most common right now if there is a barcode verification, and then the last few years we've seen a number of machines out there offering RFID verification, which is very cool.

Yes, I agree. But the reality of the marketplace though, Phil, is that you do pay extra for smart feeders in most cases.

So I can understand you know in looking at that big price tag for new surface mount line, new pick and place line, that you know justifying extra feeders, justifying smart feeders is a big chunk of money, but think of productivity.

Think of the ability and remember that that machine is only gonna make you money when you're placing parts.

And by the way, we still advocate that even if you have smart feeders, the latest greatest technology, we feel it's still a very good idea and a best practice to have the buddy check system, you know have a manual check of a second person going through you know with the bomb and again verifying everything's in the right place.


Right, but you can do that at a feeder level offline.

As long as you've got the right, if you barcoded the right part number into that feeder, and that can be buddy checked, that can be done offline, and again it doesn't have to slow you down and lose your productivity.

Okay, I think we have beat this proverbial horse to within an inch of its life, Phil.

Well spoken my moodifying buddy, and we thank you for turning into Board Talk.  And stay tuned for future issues and questions, and -
And whatever you do whether your feeders are smart or stupid or just out to lunch, don't solder like my brother.

Oh please don't solder like my brother.


I just want to confirm what Cristopher Karl mentioned. It's rare but it happened to us once in the last 10 years where a reel of resistors was wrongly labelled from the distributor/manufacture. Luckily our board assembler contractor noticed it before all the boards were assembled. Only a limited number of boards needed to be reworked.
I am surprised you did not mention the trade-off in speed and optimization. When you place feeders anywhere on the table you are not optimizing the program so the feeders with the largest number of placements have the least table travel distances.
Jeff Avitabile, BittWare, USA
It's always a good idea to physically check the part value that comes on the reel. It is the rare occasion where the reel is incorrectly identified when it comes in from the distributor/manufacture.
Cristopher Karl, CARDONE Industries, USA

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