PROMATION USA have launched a new automatic soldering machine called the Panda 500 CE. Trevor Galbraith interviewed Mike Goldberg to find out more about the Panda 500 Solution.
Can you start by telling us the idea behind the Panda 500, what made you go down this avenue to develop your own machine from the ground up?
We had gone out and done some industry research with some of our clients and we felt that there was a great opportunity for a new state-of-the-art, intelligent, hot iron robotic soldering solution. So we set out back at the end of 2019 to develop a brand new, innovative, solution that would be intelligent, aggregate process data, and be able to generate log file output to a local directory computer or a network drive. So the idea was to really birth a machine from the ground up, so that it would be truly innovative, intelligent, and offer manufacturers the ability to look into their process and really see what’s going on from a 10,000 foot view down to a micro view of the process.
Well, that sounds terribly exciting. So tell us about that. The machine itself.
To be honest, I’m incredibly excited today to introduce you to the Panda are an intelligent, data aggregating, soldering solution. So you’ve taken some of the best elements of the Quick soldering experience and merged it with some vision, alignment systems and software packages into this new platform called Panda. Is that correct?
Yeah, that is correct. This was a ground up approach. So, you know, we’ve been an exclusive distributor for Quick for nearly nine years now. We’ve had a lot of great success with the Quick product line. What PROMATION set out to do was to develop a new soldering platform that selected the ‘creme de la crème’ out of the Quick product line. You know, the heritage line that we’ve done so well with, and develop a next-gen technology platform that really caters to premiere electronics manufacturers looking for data control and data aggregation. Again, the key here is: “if you want it to know who was soldering product on September 3rd, at 9:04am in the morning”, the Panda machine is your machine. This machine is intelligent. It marries operator information with product and has some truly nice functions such as: auto program selection through our in-feed barcode scanning conveyor. So just a really great next-gen tech for electronics manufacturers looking for more data control and more processed data.
What’s the maximum board size. What sort of mechanism are you using to transport the boards into the machine?
And what sort of accuracy are you getting?
From a machine standpoint, we’re featuring a 500 by 500 millimeter working area. With automatic width adjust on the actual conveyor bed using a pin chain conveyor, and an 06b a steel roller chain as defined by the client. Right now we’re featuring the 06b roller chain. From a technology and repeatability standpoint, we maintain an accuracy of plus / minus 0.02 millimeters on the end effector. So that’s two, one hundredths of a millimeter accuracy. So it is extremely accurate.
From a soldering technology side, we’re featuring a 180 watt power supply and soldering iron, which also allows us to use some of our premium cartridge, real-time thermal feedback loop, solder tips for insuring soldering temperature in stability, first and foremost. Truth be told the actual articulating end effector, which we’ll go into a little bit more detail, is on a dual articulating end effector designed to really mimic the hand soldering process.
So Just a really innovative technology, even on the end effector’s mandibles Right. So they operate independently from the feeder and the soldering tip. They are separate from each other?
That is correct. There are four different stages for both the soldering iron and four different stages for the actual solder feeder. So there are some benefits to that When we talk about plunging the solder tip deeper into cleaning cycles, Expediting, you know, the soldering process and it’s movements. So a lot of benefit in more dexterity on the actual robot end effector.
And I believe it’s a four axis robot you’ve got on that system?
That’s correct. It features XYZ and full theta with the additional four stages, if you will, of the end effector.
So let’s have a look at the software side.
Obviously, programming is the first thing that comes to mind. Talk us through how you would program the system?
What really makes Panda one of a kind is the innovative front end software on this machine. When we actually have a board or panel, and the operator’s ready to program Panda: This is really where the human becomes one with the machine. Through 12 years of experience, I had a great hand in saying how I wanted the software designed. And so I’m proud to say that we own every bit of Panda. And we’ve custom designed it to really be intuitive and truly innovative for programming and the operators experience. When the actual board goes on, the conveyor will bring it in through a loading cycle, and through an edge clamp mechanism, we’re able to secure the board; And then the magic happens.
From our entry software, we’re able to tie down application name, solder tip size, solder feed angles, Even recipe information, directly here on the application side. From there, we can go and easily create a vision map. One of the things that we really like about Panda is through its camera, which is actually integrated into the Z axis shaft we can take photos of the board and we’ll stitch them together into a map. So first and foremost, all of your programming controls are right here in front of you. And then we’ve really broken out the camera controls into a secondary monitor, to make that experience significantly more visceral. Once you’ve captured all your application information, we then go into our smart settings. And so again, the keyword here with Panda is Intelligence.
We offer what we call three different smart control settings. The first one being a dynamic vision alignment, which allows users to look at two different locations or fiducials and offset the soldering head based upon part to part discrepancy.
The second smart setting we incorporated on the Panda machine is what we call a keymark or an
orientation validation. “Is the proper part loaded? Is it in the proper orientation?” And this helps to mitigate any operator error, adding Poke a Yoke to the soldering process. Last, but not least, we have what we call a good, “nogood skip function”. If a manufacturer has, let’s say a 30 up panel of product, we understand that at the end of a production run, you may not have 30 products. So the machine is intelligent enough to go along a multi-up array non-symmetrically. You can load them in that pallet, however you want, and actually make an assessment, “is our product there or not, instead of soldering thin air and wasting materials”. So better regimented materials, improved cycle time and obviously, you know, making the machine significantly more simple for the operator and the day-to-day manufacturer.
Once the vision has been added, we actually go into our recipe function. So from here, we can see, we have our vision map here. Which of course, all of this is touchscreen, which we really like, as you go through the vision map, you can click on different areas of the board and the machine will hover to those locations. Again, you can see this brilliant display of witness camera and center mount camera above the recipe touch screen. Through our global bank system, What we found is that: we really wanted to build a library of different values for manufacturers that are soldering families of products.
Product A, B, C, or D. Some of them may use the same layers, the same components. And so what we really wanted to do is build a global memory bank system or recipe bank system; For operators to select from a dropdown menu. Clients can look at their different values in these banks and then select and apply them to actual points in the software. Of course the software features some really nice copy and paste functions for non-symmetrical arrays. We do have an array function for symmetrical product layout. So some really good. Innovative soldering tech here. One of the things I really like is: we’ve come to learn that sometimes product can become, a lot of soldering points, a little bit overwhelming. So as we actually select from our list here, we have reticles that actually populate on the vision map. And as you select these, you know exactly what location you are currently modifying. For example, if it’s the first pin that needs a little bit more heat: We can, of course do that and diagnose that very quickly with nan actual visual aid. So again, just a rally nice technology. And again, having that touch screen just really kind-of brings the operator into the soldering process as well.
So, all these recipes are put together into a program, then the board comes in and does a fiducial check and then basically applies these different recipes to solder the board.
Yeah, the beautiful thing is that all of this information is then tied down to a log file. So, as I mentioned, the machine is data aggregating. So this machine is generating data based upon what it’s soldering, how long it took, which leads to a better regiment of materials or spare parts. This is a really great function for the manufacturer looking to lean out manufacturing and really dial in their manufacturing process. So as we solder of this product, we are generating a log file, which then every single action that robot’s doing, it’s taking a bank of that action and then generating a log file: either to the local directory folder or an MES network for some additional data traceability.
That’s great traceability. It really is. It’s just lovely. And I love the two cameras that you’ve got up at the top there. So you’re getting a real good view of what’s actually happening inside the machine. That’s really cool. And of course the touch screen aspect is quite neat, too.
Let’s talk about the applications for this. Mike. Where did you see the key applications for using this? Is this going to replace hand soldering on the line? Presumably, this is going to be at the end of the line or into the final box build area?
That’s a great question. Well believe it or not and truth be told, the majority of what we do happens to be – I’ll say 97% of what we do – happens to be “wire attache” and “battery attache” applications. So most clients that come to us are either looking for these sorts of applications or, you know, some odd form component right before final assembly. And then everything in between. So we really see quite a variety of different applications here in our lab. And with our complimentary lab work that we do for clients, they bring in an application and we’ll provide a risk mitigation assessment.
And should they say, you know, we really enjoy working with PROMATION and we’d like to pursue a purchase: this machine can come in with a recipe that’s 90% ready or more. Tuned for manufacturing right out the box. So it really is a turn-key solution from experts that have been around for over a decade now in the industry; a lot of expertise has been incorporated in the Panda to really make the automation uptake significantly less complex and easier.
That’s interesting. I mean a customer could essentially send you a board – a real board. You could run it through the system and give them back the TAC time and evidence of the quality of the soldering and stuff like that, so that he could make a real assessment as to whether it’s worth investing in?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s paramount in our world because as I often tell our clients, “there’s no sense in making a lot of bad parts”, right? People come to us for solutions and they want to make sure that every product coming off the automated work cell is a quality product. And so we do that as a complimentary risk mitigation assessment to make sure that every product coming off the line is a quality product and that makes the return on investment for our clients significantly better. And quite honestly, I think that’s why we do so well and clients continue to come back to us. I think it’s just a testament to the service and support that we offer our clients.
Now you did mention before we started that you’re planning to roll this product out globally. So going into places like Europe, for example, you’ve got to be CE certified.
Have you got the necessary documentation for this?
Yes. So the Panda 500 behind me here is already CE certified. We already have units spilling into plants in Europe right now. We have sub distribution going throughout Europe. Mexico, the US/North America market and then we’re also approaching several groups out in Asia to carry this product line for us.
Okay. And then just finally, I guess it’ n the roadmap at some point, you will be going towards the IPC CFX certification for the product?
So right now, our unit does feature an upgradeable barcode scan auto recipe selection, where we can place a barcode scanner on the in-feed conveyor – and the machine will auto select a program. Inherently with more autonomy becomes more challenges. And one of the challenges we’ve had to face, like the many other solutions out there is: although we can take protocols from, let’s say a master PC, or a master software, and select programs – there’s still operator intervention to confirm the proper solder has been loaded. Has it been calibrated?
It’s one thing to auto change out a solder tip, but to make sure that it’s calibrated still requires, additional resources. So with that being said, Cobots and collaborative robots could be the next-gen solution that ties into Panda. We’re chasing it down. I always like to say that there’s more autonomy to be pursued. But this is a great leap forward and we hope to be pursuing these next-gen levels of autonomy in the very near future. So it is on the roadmap for us. Yes. And I believe you’ve got a range of cobots as well, that you can use to integrate with this as well. Is that correct?
Yes. So PROMATION has actually, just as of this year, been signed on as an exclusive collaborative robot supplier for Techman collaborative robot; Specifically catering to the electronics industry. That’s where all of our experience is – And so that’s where our primary focus is. With the rising costs of labor with the lack of skillsets, you know, we feel that now’s the perfect time for cobots and robots to enter the workforce. And so, as we often say, cobots and robots are really the next best new hire for manufacturers.
And so we’re delighted to introduce not only the TECHMAN product, but yes, doing autonomous machine tending, test cell loading and unloading – really the sky’s the limit with cobots. And we’re excited to bring that online as well.
Well, you know, It’s very exciting to see this new machine launched from you, Mike. And I know your a father Gary pretty well. He must have been involved in it pretty heavily too. Final question. I mean, it is available now and if so, what’s your lead time? That’s a great question. The machine is on sale now. We have several actually being built simultaneously due to high demand and pre-orders. Lead time on the machine is ranging anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks, really based upon customization factors. But we do have in-stock inventory coming online and available for some of our clients here in north America and Mexico. So again, we’re incredibly excited about this new machine and it is, quite elegant and beautiful.
We really tried to make it appealing, for those of us who really view our technology as a showpiece, we brought in the panoramic roof and some of these really nice features such as Illuminated work cell in an effort to really make and showcase our technology our clients and to our customers – we hope that has been well received and making a mark within the industry.
Yeah, certainly it looks great from here and that’s for sure. So anyway, I’m excited for you and I want to thank you for coming in today and showing us a new machine from Panda.