Makers, electronics tinkerers, and hackers spend a lot of time with a soldering iron in their hand. Soldering is an indispensable skill, and through-hole components are actually pretty easy to solder. But that doesn’t mean soldering can’t become tedious, particularly if you’re doing PCB assembly and soldering the same boards over and over again. That’s why YouTuber OpenScan converted a 3D printer into a soldering robot.
3D printers are really just robots designed for one specific job. And that job requires that they be very good at positional accuracy. That’s exactly what you’d want in a soldering robot, so OpenScan started this project with a Anet A8 3D printer. The Anet A8 is based on the popular Prusa i3 open source design, but has had every corner cut to make it as cheap as possible — even as low as $80. It’s hardly a high-quality 3D printer, but it did provide everything OpenScan needed to build their soldering robot.
The first step was to design a 3D-printed mount for a TS100 soldering. The mount positions the soldering iron at an angle, just like how you’d hold it yourself while soldering manually. They then modified a Bowden filament extruder to work with solder. The solder feeds through a tube and comes out right at the tip of the soldering iron. No changes to the printer’s firmware or control electronics were necessary, OpenScan just had to write custom G-code to move the soldering iron tip between points to solder. That G-code is sent to the printer via OctoPrint running on a Raspberry Pi. Writing the G-code file does take time, but the results are fantastic and this robot would be great for assembling large quantities of PCBs.