To make fast placement of small SMT components easier I wanted a vacuum pick up tool. I bought one of these basic manual ones for £1.72 and it works OK for the money but as it doesn’t have a continuous vacuum it can unexpectedly drop the component if you aren’t careful. Something better was required.
I’d seen that other people had constructed their own using aquarium pumps, nebulisers etc. so I dug out a cheap and nasty aquarium pump that I already had but its design made it too hard to reverse the operation, the part where the valves are is all moulded so it wasn’t possible to reverse them and getting to the inlet port wasn’t possible without destroying the whole thing as it was heavily glued. I attempted to seal the case the case and add an inlet to that but it was leaking like a sieve.
So the really basic ones are best avoided but the second attempt with a Hidom HD-603 was much more successful and still not expensive at only £9.75 on eBay. This one is of a much higher quality and the valve assembly can easily be removed and turned round so that the inlet and outlet ports are reversed. It even has a dial to control the pump rate which may or may not come in handy. It’s also a lot quieter than the other one which is a bonus.
Reversing the operation so it sucks instead of blows was just a case of removing the valve assembly, disconnecting the levers and rubber bellows and unscrewing the valves. The valves are located in their usual positions by two offset pins which need to be removed to allow the reversal, I just snipped them off with a pair of cutters. Then carefully put it back together with the valves upside down being careful to make sure the holes line up. The rest of the reassembly is the reverse of disassembly as they say. You now have a vacuum pump instead of an air pump.
Here are some pictures of the disassembled parts.
I decided to cannibalise the cheap eBay tool as its nozzle would be useful, I opened it up and removed the rubber bubble that provided the vacuum and the button, I connected some 6mm tubing to the nozzle and ran it through the original barrel, I drilled the top cap and put a pipe coupler in so the tool can easily be removed, not necessary but may come in handy if I want to swap tools at some point. From there the pipe goes to a t-piece and then to one of the ports on the pump.
The t-piece allows me to cover the open part of the T with a finger on my left hand to provide suction at the nozzle and then uncover to deposit the component with the tool held in my right hand. The thinking behind having the t-piece operated by my left hand instead of a hole on the tool like others I’ve seen is that it will allow me to keep the tool really steady without having to move that hand at all to release the component. It does mean I need both hands of course so I might see if I can rig something up to operate it by foot.
The only remaining problem is the 0603 components I’ll be using could fit down the nozzle if they go in the wrong way so I’ve ordered some 0.6mm internal diameter dispensing nozzles that should do the trick. Perhaps an inline filter might be wise too, just in case some debris, solder paste etc. does get sucked in.
Update: New 0.6mm tip now fitted: