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Interview with Curt Couch, President of Count On Tools

Posted by Z.Shook on 12/30/2015 to Count On Tools News

Count On Tools has been a manufacturer of high-quality, low-cost nozzles and associated components for the SMT industry for more than 24 years. Proven manufacturing and engineering expertise, coupled with commitment to service excellence and investment in the latest production equipment, has ensured that innovation and competitiveness is applied to all of the company’s extensive product range. We recently sat down with Count On Tools’ President Curt Couch to learn more about the company, and its products and services.

Curt, we understand that Count On Tools recently was awarded its second consecutive Service Excellence Award from Circuits Assembly magazine. Please explain to our readers what this means to your company and customers.

As with last years’ service excellence award I am always humbled by recognition of this caliber based solely on customer response. It is not by chance that our dedicated, caring and responsive team always places our customers’ needs first. Service is not a product that can be created; rather it is a culture and attitude towards others. We treat customers as we would like to be treated ourselves. I believe this award is a true testament to the caliber and dedication that our team brings each and every day.

We hear a lot of customers talking about Count On Tools’ Custom Nozzle Engineering division. Can you tell us a little bit more about that part of your company?
It all started with our nozzles. We have been at this for more than 24 years now and we have always strived to provide customers with solutions to any issue they have when it comes to placing components. Customers come to us with problems that they experience, such as having to hand place odd-form components. We see every opportunity as a challenge to prove that we are capable of producing solutions at every level of the SMT assembly process, especially nozzles and tooling. The technology that we developed over the years has allowed us to design and manufacture custom engineered tooling for any pick-and-place equipment and for any kind of component. The real key though is our team’s openness to be creative in all situations, drawing from past experiences as well as new technology and ideas.

Count On Tools recently announced that it expanded its manufacturing operations for its Custom Nozzle Engineering division. Can you explain this expansion and how it benefits your customers?
Over the last several years, we have experienced tremendous growth in our Custom Nozzle Engineering division. Most of this growth was fueled by the success of our LED nozzle solutions for solid-state LED components from companies such as Cree and Lumileds. Our primary goal is to supply customers with fast turnarounds and significant cost savings on custom engineered tooling for their equipment. The addition of new equipment and more trained staff will keep our delivery times to a minimum while maximizing our ability to stay competitive and innovative.

Count On Tools recently launched the StripFeeder Mini system. How does this system differ from the original StripFeeder and what benefits can customers expect from the more compact system?
After launching the StripFeeder platform, we received a tremendous response from customers regarding the design and function of the device. From this feedback, we decided that it made sense to offer a smaller package system that would have the features of the larger system but would accommodate smaller strips of components (2-4"). The more compact design is ideally suited for smaller prototype and rework machines as well as most SMT pick-and-place equipment. It offers increased lane capacity with the ability to run two StripFeeder Minis in the same space as one original StripFeeder system.

So, by offering these automation tooling products, Count On Tools is moving beyond just SMT Nozzles and Consumables. What other types of solutions can you offer companies in this industry?
As I mentioned before, our company has been successful in part because of our ability to take on new challenges from customers and find solutions to common industry problems. Along those lines, we are currently working to develop a new product similar to our StripFeeder system that will allow us to convert customers’ loose, unpackaged components into a custom machined matrix tray. This service will have a 24-28 hour turnaround and will be the most cost effective way to repackage loose components and get them back into the assembly process. The new QwikTray system is scheduled to launch later this year, so keep a lookout for more product information around that time.

Most customers in this industry know Count On Tools for the nozzles and other SMT consumables, but you also offer precision contract machining services. Can you tell readers more about that part of your company?
We are more than just nozzles. At its core, Count On Tools is a precision component manufacturer. All of the nozzles and tooling we offer are manufactured in our Gainesville, GA facility. We operate advanced CNC Swiss-Type Automatic Lathes with multiple-axis and multiple turning capabilities, precision machining centers, lathes, mills, quality, finishing and secondary tools. Our expertise has allowed us to expand our capabilities to manufacturing other parts for our customers in this industry and many others as well. We offer a variety of job shop services for a wide selection of materials, from standard to exotic. Whether our customers need fast turnaround, single parts, small lots, large quantities or a long-term supply with on-time deliveries, we are able to supply them with the highest quality and service. Our focus is to pass these advantages and capabilities onto our customers and, in so doing, create long-term relationships, which we believe will enhance and add value to the end user's products and services.

Does Count On Tools have any plans for continued expansion or any new product updates during the remainder of 2015?
We recently acquired an additional 5,000 sq. ft. of production facility that will be used over the next several years to expand our manufacturing operations. We are always looking for ways to expand our operations so that we can continue to prove excellent service to our customers and to continue meeting demands both now and in the future. We see the potential for tremendous growth with our existing product lines and look forward to launching the new QwikTray system later this year.

Interview with Jeff Lancaster, Engineer at Count On Tools, Inc.

Posted by Z.Shook on 12/1/2015 to Count On Tools News

Solid-state lighting has the potential to revolutionize the lighting industry. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) — traditionally used in signs, signals and displays — are rapidly evolving to provide light sources for general illumination. This technology holds promise for lower energy consumption and reduced maintenance. Continued growth in LED technology and solid-state lighting has provided the electronics manufacturing industry with viable solutions for today’s electronic devices. As a result, companies in the surface mount technology (SMT) industry are expanding their manufacturing capabilities to meet this demand. The range of new and potential applications for LEDs in electronics is practically endless.

Count On Tools has realized this trend and worked to quickly develop a line of nozzle designs that allows customers to accurately and consistently place LEDs with existing SMT pick-and-place equipment. By working closely with LED component manufacturers such as CREE and Lumileds, Count On Tools guarantees secure picking of all fragile components and accurate placement on circuit boards.

We sat down with Jeff Lancaster, the Design Engineer behind the LED and custom nozzle program at Count On Tools, to discuss the growth of LED technology and how Count On Tools has overcome the issues that many contract manufacturers have faced with implementing this technology into their production capabilities.

Recent growth in LED technology and solid-state lighting have provided the electronics manufacturing industry with viable solutions for their use in today’s electronic devices. Have you seen an increase in demand for nozzle and tooling for LED components?
Yes, we have seen considerable growth for custom LED nozzles and tooling as well as high-volume repeat orders for tooling lines up for production. We constantly receive requests to build nozzles for the newest LEDs, some even before they hit the LED manufacturers’ customers.

We understand that the transition to high-power LED components, such as those offered by Cree and Phillips Lumileds, are more difficult to handle in the pick-and-place operations. What makes these LED components more difficult to handle than regular components?
As with all technology, everything has to get smaller yet more powerful — this holds true for LEDs as well. The die inside LEDs currently being made is staying close to the same size; however, the substrate is being cut closer to the die to reduce the footprint. This is done in order to increase LED population. The problem with the reduced substrate is that it makes the LED so lightweight that the tacky silicone dome literally sticks to the nozzle. This is where we have to get creative about how we approach picking the LEDs.

What problems do the stickiness or tackiness of the LED substrate cause for manufacturers attempting to place these components on boards?
Problems can start at presentation of the LED in the feeder. Because of the sticky silicone-based substrate, the dome of the LED can stick to the cover tape, causing the LED to flip on its side or even stay with the cover tape if the feeder is not set up properly. If the LED does get picked but does not release from the nozzle at placement, the machine could possibly start stacking the LEDs to each other and to the nozzle itself or start faulting out the machine with high reject counts.

How has Count On Tools been able to overcome these LED component problems for customers?
We have invested a tremendous amount into materials and nozzle designs to get the results that our customers need. We have tried ideas from wood nozzle tips to custom formulations of Teflon, and all have had varying levels of success. Our go-to material is urethane even though it is very difficult to machine to the fine details that are required for the smaller LEDs. Tip geometry places a huge toll also because what works great for one machine may not work at all for another. That is why we work with the customer to see which design will work best for their exact situation.

We also have recently seen a transition to smaller LED packages. How has Count On Tools been able to adjust its nozzle designs to accommodate these components?
The smaller LED packages have been a big challenge but we have stepped up with innovative designs. For example, we now can break the LED away from the nozzle tip after the vacuum has been turned off by building in vacuum leaks around the pick surface. This helps to stop the buildup of pressure that makes the silicone stick to the nozzle. Of course there are some things that the machine operator can do, such as minimize placement pressure and feeder, depending on their particular situations.

Count On Tools also works directly with LED component manufacturers on nozzle designs, specifically for new LED products coming to market. What does this mean to you to be able to stay on the forefront of this growing technology?
LED manufacturers come to us because they know they get quick turnaround and a lot of experience in the LED placement arena to get their customers up and running fast. We work closely with the manufacturers to get the best design that we then apply to other machine types and customer situations. It enables us to guarantee safe and reliable handling of the LED components for the pick-and-place operation.

Is there any other information you can give customers regarding handling LED components in the pick-and-place operation, especially first timers?
Do your research on the LEDs you are placing because most manufacturers have comprehensive documentation on their websites regarding information from machine setup to temperature and humidity levels, which play a significant role in how tacky the silicone can be. You can always call us and we will do our best to solve whatever issue you may run into.

Conclusion
Count On Tools’ LED nozzle technology was developed to provide a consistent and reliable platform for the placement of solid-state LED lighting components in the SMT assembly process. The company’s technology is based on an exclusive urethane material coupled with its precision machining capabilities, which has allowed it to manufacture tooling that not only overcomes the tackiness of the LED substrate but also offers better handling of the sensitive shapes and profiles of the many different LED designs. Count On Tools’ LED nozzles and tooling is available for all brands of SMT pick-and-place equipment. Additionally, Count On Tools generally can provide a finished nozzle within 1-2 weeks while saving customers up to 50 percent or more over OEM designs for custom nozzles. Volume discounts are available for orders of more than 50 nozzles. There are no design fees and Count On Tools provides free quotes based on the equipment and type of LED being placed.