Gimbals for Easy, Automated Double Sided Board Handling

One of our high profile customers in the US, a large manufacturing giant, set us a challenge to optimise the handling of its high density PCBs on Mascot workstations. The assemblies are double-sided legacy defence boards, comprising a mix of surface mount and through-hole components. It’s fair to say that they are quite bulky. During the Mascot guided assembly process, the boards must be flipped over at nearly every single assembly step. Operators need to be able to do this while armed with a soldering iron in one hand. As most operations process engineers will know, this is fraught with problems and presents for too many opportunities for human error. We came up with a great solution: a gimbal-mounted frame that holds the board by its edge. It features multi-axis movement too, mainly because the customer’s boards are too large to flip over without lifting them away from the table surface – yet another challenge for the poor operators! Then we extended the functionality even further; As the operators already have their hands full, we automated the vertical axis movement by adding a foot pedal to drive a height-adjustable actuator - it seemed a natural progression! So there are three pedals in the system – one to step on in the Mascot assembly programme, one to raise the board holder and one to lower it. Couldn’t be simpler! Also, when the operators flip the board over in its gimbal mount to access the other side, the Mascot software automatically switches to display the relevant auto image corresponding side of the PCB while the laser head mirrors its coordinates to highlight the exact spot on either side of the board. The first gimbal mount system was installed at the customer’s site just a couple of weeks ago by EAP, our US agents. However, this week our intrepid development engineer Martin Laidler, has crossed the pond to the US to visit the facility and optimise the installation. The customer has already ordered three more gimbal mounts based on our initial prototype and have ring-fenced a budget for a further three systems. That makes seven in total, all destined for installation in a post-wave work cell designed for hand assembled components.
gimbal2 The Mascot double sided gimbal allows turning of the PCBDouble sided gimbal allows flipping of the PCB