July 3, 2006

Synthesis Technology getting out of kit biz...

by Chris Randall

Paul Schreiber has just announced that, as of 1/1/07, MOTM modules will no longer be available in kit form, as he is moving the entire production to SMT processes, and only crazy people like Adam will build SMT kits. You can read the lengthy article here. Quite frankly, I had a feeling he was going to do something like this as soon as he announced that the Frac versions of his modules would be SMT. Can't keep 'em down on the farm, etc...

In any case, there is going to be a big 15% off sale, so if you're in to the MOTM format, now's the time to stock up.



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Jul.03.2006 @ 12:35 PM
Not being an analog modular synth head , what is the difference between MOTM and SMT technology? Is there an article that compares and contrast the two?

Jul.03.2006 @ 1:19 PM
MOTM kits were you-solder-it-yourself (or available assembled, iirc). You paid your $ and you received a box containing all the parts necessary to build the module. Application of time, thought, solder, etc, turned said parts into a functioning module. I think MOTM used to mean "Module Of The Month".

SMT = Surface Mount Technology. Only the insane (and properly equipped) solder up SMT at home. Requires an even finer soldering iron, a very very steady hand, and eyes of superman (or magnifying glass). Not as satisfying as soldering human-sized components (ones you can actually read the #s on and don't require tweezers to pick up). Plus, SMT lends itself to high production techniques like wave soldering.


Jul.03.2006 @ 1:19 PM
Chris Randall
The current MOTM line is what we call "through-hole"; that is to say, normal circuits you can build yourself, using normal resistors, chips, whatever. This is the standard for hand-made and kit-built gear.

The new MOTM products will be SMT or "surface-mount technology." These are the miniature componants you see when you open a piece of mass-produced electronica. These circuit boards are built by robots. Some people are able to build kits and DIY stuff using SMT, but it is quite difficult, and requires tweezers, a good magnifying glass, and a _very_ steady hand. Adam can do this; I can not, and quite frankly, I'll happily pay a bit extra for the robot to do it.

SMT is much easier from a manufacturing standpoint; also, due to the new lead-free rules in effect in Europe, it is pretty much the only way to go if you want to sell products outside the USA.

EDIT: cool, simultaneous reply!



Jul.03.2006 @ 2:05 PM
brandon daniel
eh, depends on the pitch (size) of the SMT parts. The larger parts can, depending on your rig (radio shack need not apply), be as easy if not easier to put together than through-hole.

But yeah, it's not such a good time to be a DIYer.


Jul.03.2006 @ 2:17 PM
Adam Schabtach
FWIW: I use the same soldering iron for SMT as I used for many of my through-hole projects. (Chris has the iron I used for the majority of my MOTM kits; I stepped up to a slightly better iron recently, but it's not really that different except that it has a calibrated temperature control. The tip I had purchased previously for some fine through-hole assembly. (One or two of the MOTM kits--the VCOs, I think--have some compoents with very fine leads placed very close together.) For soldering SMT ICs I actually use a broad tip. It's the same tip I use for soldering wires to pots and jack lugs.

You do need tweezers, a steady hand, and a magnifier. Chris's hands have had much more wear and tear than mine so I can see how the steadiness is an issue. It might help if he drank less Red Bull, too. Paul (of MOTM) told me that he has a rig with rests that he places his forearms in for fine soldering. I didn't find that I needed such a thing, but he's about 10 years older than me.

However, there are things about SMT assembly that are easier than through-hole work. You don't have to bend any leads and you don't have to snip them off again. SMT ICs are actually easier to solder than DIPs.

On the hole I don't find it any less (or more) satisfying than through-hole work--just different. SMT is a given now, so it's either get used to it or stop doing DIY electronics. If you're curious, most of what I know about SMT work I learned from this page: link [www.bdmicro.com]">link [www.bdmicro.com]
(You'll note that he doesn't even use a fine tip for his work--just the corner of a screwdriver-style tip.)



Jul.03.2006 @ 2:20 PM
Adam Schabtach
Um, I meant "on the whole" but "on the hole" is kind of a pun anyway.



Jul.03.2006 @ 3:18 PM
I second Adam's comments. Having recently built an x0xb0x, I can attest that SMT isn't a whole lot more difficulty (but I only did one part). I'm in the middle of building a Paia 9700s and all that lead snipping is getting to be a bit much. OTOH, the thought of soldering SMT resistors and capacitors... hmm.

I read Paul's announcement and I get the distinct impression that MOTM stuff will continue to be built by humans. All I can say is wow. That's a lot of soldering (through hole or SMT).

In addition to the tools Adam mentions above, you'll want to add solder wick. Absolutely perfect for SMT.


Jul.03.2006 @ 5:54 PM
Thanks, that's what I thought. But I also thought it could some other kind of plugin module format for different types of modular cases . Thank you for the clarification!

Jul.03.2006 @ 6:54 PM
Actually - a correction to jdfan's first post. Wave soldering is used mainly for through-hole processes, where a physical wave of molten solder is splashed up onto the bottom side of a circuit board. It's more complicated than that, involving a pre-heater or two, plus things like hot-air knifes to trim off the excess solder as it leaves the heat chamber, but you get the idea.

SMT has three areas where it makes life easier than through-hole design: Size, robotic pick-and-place, and soldering.

Size is the thing we all know and hate - I affectionately call my packs of 0201 capacitors 'salt and pepper' bins.

Robotic pick and place is another point that makes life easier. Instead of using what is effectively a modified turret punch and lead clipper to stuff through-hole parts into a board, the new robots can gently drop the parts onto the board. Since the solder is pre-screened onto the board in paste-form, the paste will hold the component in place until it hits the soldering oven. For boards with components on two sides, an epoxy has to be put down in between the component and circuit board, or an assembly jig has to be made to ensure parts won't fall off when reflowing a 2-sided board.

Soldering is the easiest - basically a reflow oven is like a huge convection oven, that gradually warms the board until it hits the solder melting temperature and all the parts get soldered to the board simultaneously. Since the solder has been screen-printed earlier, there's no waste or energy devoted to keeping a batch of solder hot like in a wave soldering process.

I think Paul S had a video on his web site showing the whole SMT assembly process, it's very educational for those not in the know.


Jul.03.2006 @ 8:56 PM
There are some pictures on the Monome site of their surface mount system. They are apparently using a toaster oven to do the soldering after they have arranged the components with a jig.


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