Story Behind the Sketch – Chipsetter

Meet Chipsetter, a low-cost pick-and-place machine for assembling printed circuit boards to help democratize electronics manufacturing. This product will allow makers and smaller firms to assemble sizeable batches of circuit boards without breaking the bank. Alan Sawula is the man behind the innovative machine, and he’s shared some early drawings with us from when Chipsetter was just an idea roughly sketched out. Here’s the story behind them!

Chipsetter-croppedWhen Alan Sawula was taking Mechatronics at McMaster University, 3D printing was beginning to take off in a big way. Alan was fascinated with how these relatively low-cost, compact 3D printers were making it possible for the average maker to create products and prototypes quickly, cost-effectively and right in their own  home. He also saw smaller companies now being able to afford to print their own parts in-house. He realized that he wanted to do the same for small-scale manufacturing, specifically pick-and-place technology.

With components like circuit boards now running for just $3 instead of $100 like they used to, students and hobbyists – along with mid-sized companies – now have more freedom than ever to design and build their own projects. Alan realized, however, that the desire to build lots of designs is limited by the lack of a person’s tools, the very minimal pre-set kits sold by companies, and the work it takes to build something on your own. He knew their had to be a cheaper, easier solution for small-scale assembly. The idea for the Chipsetter pick-and-place machine was born.

EVENT2“At first, Chipsetter was purely something I wanted to build for use myself,” says Alan. “ I had some friends that I knew could use it too, but I had to see if it could actually be done. I started experimenting and working on a prototype right from the get-go, constantly researching to make sure I was converging on the most cost-effective design.”

In the fall of 2010, Alan’s prototype could successfully pick up a component (about the size of a grain of rice), so he decided to see if there was a market for his passion project. He made a video on and it had 6,000 views by the end of the week; this was proof for Alan that there was indeed market interest.

11232123_1043374055712777_1093380821454204091_nSince, Alan has competed in Innovation Factory’s Innovation Night and LiON’S LAIR competition – winning prizing in both – and is on track for launching a Kickstarter campaign in 2016. But getting Chipsetter to where it is today hasn’t been all smooth sailing. There were other companies with similar projects working on theirs full-time before Alan could, and competitors who have taken to Kickstarter before Chipsetter, but Alan says his competitors inspire him to work harder and he knows he has the most effective, affordable solution.

Alan’s advice to up-and-coming entrepreneurs? “Connect with Innovation Factory! (We loved this one). But also make sure you truly find out whether there’s a market for your business – that’s definitely the accelerating factor. If there isn’t, it’s just a hobby.”

To learn more about Chipsetter, visit