As many of you are always trying to understand the level of work, investments and machinery being used in the production of the high-end audio gear this particular article highlights the history of AVM-TEC and heavily invested machinery associated with the production…
A seed was planted in Alexander Vitus when he started to work for his father in Vitus Audio at the age of 13. Alexander mainly focused on soldering by hand at the time, doing the time consuming things but slowly learning and adapting to what it would say to build High-end audio equipment. This was the daily life of Alexander for around 5 years, learning about production, 3D modelling, designing, getting better and learning more.
When Alexander started his last year in school he could quickly see that the school would take up most of his daily hours and wouldn’t be able to be at work at the office in open hours, so he agreed with his father to take home the work and work a minimum amount of hours every week. This was usually focused onto SMD soldering, and even though the components used isn’t the smallest available, solder by hand would take a long time.
After a long dialog with his father, spanning over a few weeks, they both decided that to be efficient and for Alexander to evolve and learn even more, Alexander should found his own company and invest in SMT machines.
Alexander got hold of some old used machines, an Autotronik BS383 with a Martin dispensing unit, a 4 zone reflow oven and a DEK screen printer. Not the most advanced machines but they offered a good start.
During the next 3 years Alexander got used to how it would be to run his own company, manage a production and plan for the future, and planning for the future he did.
Designing the Alluxity products was a time consuming project. Alexander didn’t know exactly where to begin but he had a few ideas. He knew he would go for a vastly different approach in design than his father; a more lifestyle oriented design, he knew he didn’t want too many mechanical parts, he knew he wanted everything to be module based, he knew he needed a different type of control than the average buttons.
Putting all these ideas together results in the products we know today, the Pre One, Power One, Int One and Media One. A unibody chassis with a powder coat painting, a module based design and a touch display on every unit, which are controllable through local network via the Media One.
Article on purchase of machines from Essemtec: link
Rough total price of machines : €365.000
Rough price on ESD equipment (tables, floor etc.) : €10.000
The Essemtec Paraquda is the second largest Pick and Place machine from Essemtec only beat by The Cobra which has another pick and place head giving it double the placement speed. The Paraquda can theoretically place up to 15.000 cp/h which is far more than what we need right now, securing us enough speed for many years to come. The Paraquda can slot up to 240 components at a time giving flexibility and almost no need to exchange components between jobs. With the large work area (400 x 600 mm) we can use trays for fine pitch components such as microprocessors, SMD ram, DAC’s etc.
Up to 240 components at a time (120 feeder slots, 240 components if used double feeders) Theoretical placement speed : 15.000 cp/h Component size : 01005 components to 40x40 mm (can customizes to 80 x 70 mm) Component height : Up to ± 18 mm (0.71”) from zero height (other heights on request) Max PCB Dimensions : 400 x 600 Rotation axis resolution 0.007° (for all axes)
Dimensions : 210 x 225 cm with feeders Height : 145 cm
Weight : 1260 – 1450 kg depending on how many feeders
Reasons to purchase
High capacity of feeder slots, decrease time spent setting up every production
Medium placement speed
Component size (from really fine pitch to huge components)
Massive place area (max PCB dimensions)
Graphical user interface
The Essemtec Fino is a small half-automatic screener that doesn’t compromise quality. It screens the board itself but you need to manually exchange boards which fits well into our machine-pack which is a batch-production*.
The Asscon VP1000-66 is the largest batch machine from the Asscon series. The machine is a solder machine and uses steam* to achieve the desired temperature. The fluid used is called Galden and have a very precise vapor-point at 240 degrees which is needed due to lead-free soldering. This machine have two separate chambers, one for loading and cooling, and another for soldering. This feature keeps a stabile temperature in the solder chamber resulting in overall better soldering compared to the smaller vapor phase machines and the reflow technology.
Cooling water Compressor cooling
Dynamic profiling* Additional cooling
Automatic work piece carrier output Data Collection*
Support rails with middle support
Basic Galden filling
66x66 solder area
Reasons to purchase
Large solder area
Separate rooms – one for loading and cooling, another for soldering
Vapor* is a better way to solder than reflow.
Other machines + environment
The three previous mentioned machines are the three basic machines for soldering, but there are many others in a typical high quality SMD production if not to mention that the environment for the machines is of most importance.
First of all you need a full ESD safe room where everything inside is of the same static value so you don’t ruin components by touch because of a discharge.
We use a dry cabinet to store components. When you open up a wheel of components they will start to breakdown and become tougher/worse to solder on/with. Chips will start to store moist inside the house and when heated up it can ruin the component. This is why you need to store any type of component in an environment with low humidity. The dry cabinet we have offers heating too to bake* the components.
Ultrasound stencil cleaner
We use an ultrasound stencil cleaner in our production to clean the stencils to perfection. If you clean a stencil by hand with special cloths and use a microscope to check the quality, you will see that the edges of the holes are filled with residue. If you use an ultrasound stencil cleaner you will clean off the residue stuck at the edges. See the picture “Screening and Cleaning”.
Batch production* is when every step in the production is separated from the other steps. We do screening of the paste on one machine, manually move the board to the Pick and Place machine and finally manually move it into the solder machine.
In line production* is the opposite of batch production, in this case all machines are linked with a conveyer and machines are 100% automatic. This type of production is for high-runner productions and doesn’t utilize the feeder potential of the Pick and Place machine as two of the feeder sides are removed for the conveyer.
Dynamic Profiling* is a feature which allows you to adjust your solder program with temperature marks, making sure your whole PCB or a specific part, that you measure on, does not exceed a specific temperature.
Data Collection* is a feature that allows you to monitor the process, in this case our solder process. This allows us to save the data for the solder process of every single PCB / production run we ever did.
Vapor Phase soldering* is so far the best known type of soldering available. It solders with steam from a special fluid called galgen that have a precise vapor temperature. The solder chamber is filled with steam giving different temperature in the chamber depending on what height your PCB is placed at. This is more precise than the reflow technology as you can move your PCB up and down with ease adjusting the temperature completely and when preheat is done and you want to solder, the PCB is placed at the correct height and sensors measure when everything has reached the desired temperature. This type of soldering makes everything on the PCB the same temperature avoiding shadowing.
Reflow soldering* is a type of soldering that can be compared to a large toaster. Small reflow machines have 4 programmable heating zones while the more precise can have an indefinite amount of zones but 13 is the largest we have heard of. Each zone is programmed to head the PCB and the more zones the more precise a soldering is achieved. Typically you have a lot of preheat zones, one very small solder zone with a very high temperature achieving liquid solder, and a few cooling zones making sure the solder isn’t cooled down too rapidly. This type of solder technology can give shadowing.
Shadowing*is a process happening in reflow technology and is when you have a large component next to a small component. As the reflow technology is moving around hot air, the larger component will suck up more heat than the small component and this effect can give a bad solder on the small component if you’re unlucky.
Tray* is a little container with components. Usually used in cases where your components has bended legs like on chips (microprocessors, digital converters etc.), when you don’t purchase enough to get on full wheels.
Baking* is a term used when heating the component for a long period of time redoing the breakdown of the components.
AVM-TEC – Paraquda upgrade
The choice of upgrading from the old P&P (Pick and place) to a newer machine was taken late 2012. We knew that in order to keep moving the way we’re currently headed, we needed to do something.
The first thing we focused on was the screening part. As we have many but small production runs, we were not sure if we were headed for a screen printer, dispensing-system or a paste printer. We thought that it would suit us quite well if we had a hardcore P&P machine with a dispensing-system build in, but after numerous test on screen printing, dispensing and paste-printing we knew that we had to go into the screen-printing technology.
During all these tests we had not forgotten about the P&P machine upgrade. We knew there are a synergy and a balance to everything, and knew that upgrading the screening part of our production would up our quality a lot, but we had to also upgrade the P&P part as well. We were therefor in a planning mode – trying to figure out what we needed from a screen printer in order to justify the upgrade of a P&P machine.
With the information we learned during the thorough test phase – both on the screening part but especially also the P&P part - we were now able to narrow down the search of what type of screen printer would benefit us the most and what criteria we had for a future P&P machine.
One of the main things with the upgrading of machines, was to decrease time spend on setting up the machine. We knew that if we went into in-line systems, it would take away a big amount of the feeder space on the machine. In-line machines were therefor not what we were striving for. A batch solution was in our case the best solution.
After a while of thinking, debating and more searching, we found that a fully automatic screen-printing solutions was not much more effective than a small half-automatic screen printer, and with the upgrade of a P&P machine in mind, we couldn’t justify paying so much more for an automatic system than for a small half-manual screen printer, that kept the quality at a high level. Our focus was now on finding THE absolute best in this category, and this was the Essemtec FINO with no doubts at all. It does not only compete with the bigger models quality wise, but the design and the build quality of this small machine was to us in its own league.
With the money saved on the screen printer, we could now start to really dream about the P&P upgrading. We of course knew about the Essemtec P&P machines, but none of their minor models really intrigued us. It was either the Paraquda og the Cobra. These machines seemed but too big an upgrade at the time, so we didn’t want to rush things and end up with an unsatisfied solution.
We needed different things of the P&P machine, and as explained earlier, setup-time improvement was an absolute must. We had other criteria as well though:
High flexibility in component size
High capacity of feeders
Massive place area (to be able to produce boards with a larger footprint than before)
As high a speed as possible without compromising the first three criteria
This was essential for AVM-TEC due to the enormous flexibility it would give both me and my customers. It would not only affect my production time and ease, but also especially my customers because they would be given the opportunity to redesign their PCBs.
I would be able to redesign my whole production as well, ranging from the types of components used, to a more module-based solution in my products. The PCB size the machine had to be able to handle would make it possible for me to produce many more at a time and save me a lot of time.
As we had already gathered a lot of material on different P&P machines and seen many machines, we came to the conclusion that it was hard to find one machine that could handle all these criteria. At that time, we had spent so much time looking for other machines that we completely forgot about Essemtec’s biggest P&P line – the Paraquda and Cobra. We were luckily reminded.
The fact that the Paraquda is able to pick and place components with the dimensions 100x100 and a height up to 18mm (please re-check some of the specs because I’m not 100% sure if I remember right), makes it perfect for using the special capacitors we had in mind – but also the large microprocessors I had already designed into my control-circuit in my products (Alluxity is the brand name).
If you ask us, the Paraquda and Cobra is in a completely different league than most other machines out there. The fact that you get so much in one machine is amazing. Sure we knew about other machines that could spit out PCB’s many times faster than the Paraquda and Cobra, but then I would need to place big the capacitors by hand, and this would eliminate the speed of the machine instantly.
The software, user-interface and the PCB Visualization feature makes it easy to triple-check if everything is as it should be. Everything is easy to comprehend and understand – as an example: It did not take me more than a day of training to get into the software – followed by a couple of days “feature” introductions – and I was in production. Surely, there are many more details, features and “tricks” to learn – but the most important thing was ramping up overall production fast – in total one week off installing and training – and production was back online at much greater speed and quality then the week before.
The number of feeders the Paraquda holds (240 components if 8mm double feeders is used on every feeder space), was also necessary. The experience of changing components on feeders on the old machine made it a must that the replacement machine would be able to hold at least 30 more 8mm single feeders. This was due to the time it took to set up a new program. We have yet not invested fully in feeders, as we currently are not aware of which feeders we need in the future, so we started with filling up 50% of the machines feeder capacity.
To sum things up. The reason we choose the Essemtec Paraquda and Fino, is their very high quality, flexibility and speed. On top of this – geat local support from HIN and Essemtec who comes across as one highly service minded team. The jump from the old machines to Essemtec is not a small jump, but it was the right jump. The fact that we can use the quality-jump in our marketing is priceless. There is not anyone else (whom we are familiar with), who has such equipment in our ‘small’ high-end consumer audio business. It’s a sales point, a thing our distributor may be able to use to close a sale. A production-jump speed-wise, making it possible for me to currently stay a one-man-business, and produce most things myself.