This month, we had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Paul Molloy to find out what he makes and how the LumenPnP has aided him in being able to succeed and grow his company. The best part is that he does it all in the name of retro gaming! Even going as far as to bring games to the NES and SNES that never existed when these consoles were in their prime. We hope you find this article as interesting as we found Paul's business to be. With that, let's dive into this Spotlight.
My name is Paul, I've ran a business called "Infinite NES Lives" since 2009. I started the business as a way to make extra money to support my family while I was a student at Oregon State. I started the business as a ebay shop selling retro gaming controllers that I converted to work with USB & the Wii. After a few years I migrated the business to supplying new cartridge circuit boards to publish new games primarily for the NES, also the SNES & Sega Genesis/MegaDrive.
What are you building with your LumenPnP?
Primarily I've been making cartridge circuit boards for new NES games, but I also employ my lumenPnP for small USB microcontroller boards that are used to program & test the video game cartridge I assemble on the LumenPnP.
Did you build or buy a LumenPnP? Have you made any modifications from the original build?
I followed along with LumenPnP development when it was first announced back in early 2020. In the fall of 2021 when Stephen showed the LumenPnP assembling it's own motherboards, that video gave me the confidence to self source all the components for the machine I simply couldn't wait for the public kit release TBD 2022. My components started arriving, and I got to assembling in Jan/Feb 2022, my machine was moving for the first time when the public release came that spring.
I picked up a kit from Opulo expecting to help support them and expected I would be able to employ it as a second PNP. The majority of my LumenPnP has been unmodified since the v1 release. Most of my modifications have been with PCB panel holding & I desperately needed auto feeders so I helped pioneer some of the earliest community auto feeders for the LumenPnP in early 2021.
How many boards a month do you produce with your machines?
My max throughput is somewhere around 500 PCBs through my LumenPnP per week. Other assembly, programming, and test steps end up competing with my time though. Currently I also have full time work and family as well. So a comfortable number for me is ~1000 PCBs per month. Over the past ~1.5 years I believe I've assembled somewhere around 8,000 PCBs on my LumenPnP.
How were you building these boards before the LumenPnP?
I purchased a DIY kit PnP called the "redfrog" way back in 2013 when PCB production with my business first started to ramp up. I kind of got that machine running, but it didn't have vision or decent feeders, so it mostly just collected dust while my brother handled 100% of PCB assembly, wielding nothing but a solder stencil, tweezers, and an unmodified toaster oven. It was insane to see the thousands of boards he could crank out each year with zero assembly automation and pure focus.
In summer 2021, my brother hung up his tweezers to focus on his family & new career opportunities. I had been watching Stephen's progress on the LumenPnP, and as I picked up the tweezers myself, I anxiously awaited the day when Stephen would report MVP status on the design.
What is the single most important piece of advice for running an SMT line?
#1 Don't be afraid to employ manual methods to get the job done. Knowing how to do everything with manual processes well is a skill you can depend on when you just need to get a project out the door.
#2 You don't know what your pain points will be until you've fully employed your line. So try to avoid the temptation to optimizing everything in the process of bringing things up for the first time. Get basics working, then circle back and optimize your pain points when once you know what you didn't know at the beginning.
What's your solder paste of choice? Any advice for others?
My only real advice here is don't be afraid to spend money on paste. While budget Aliexpress solder paste might be drastically cheaper, it will cost you in the long run with rework after reflow. I like Kester solder paste from gokimco.com, but I haven't experimented with too many brands.
My best tip about solder paste is if you do recycle left over paste from the stencil, don't put it back in your fresh solder paste cup. Keep your fresh solder cup virgin. Put left over paste from the stencil in a separate cup. It gets dried out during use and can clump up. While you can revive with flux, you can't remove it from your expensive cup of fresh paste. Give your future self the option to trash the used paste, or only use fresh paste on sensitive builds especially with high pitched components. Maybe let yourself re-use paste for boards that are less likely to require re-work after reflow.
For more information about what Paul does, please feel free to check it out on his Website or catch him on his Youtube Channel and Twitter.