Abstract Due to the high degree of automation in modern printed circuit board (PCB) assembly, production planning and scheduling in this industry relies heavily on the accuracy of the underlying models of the automated machinery. In this paper, the derivation of such mathematical models is exemplified for one of the most wide-spread machine types (the so-called chip shooter). Moreover, a simulation system for practical use in the electronics assembly is presented which incorporates various types of assembly machines. It serves as a tactical production planning aid as well as a test field for the analysis of the kinematic processes of PCB assembly machines. Such simulation, tailored to the specifics of a production environment, gives reliable estimates of the achievable production volume. Considerable deviations between the performance figures provided by the machine supplier and the actual result can thus be explained, and potential assembly system configurations be compared by drawing on reliable measures. Since the equipment is modelled at a level which takes precise account of its specific kinematics, a detailed analysis of the operations of the individual machine can also be performed revealing potential bottlenecks in its design. These insights are used to optimize machine design and control. Methods based on graph theory as well as on modern numerical search algorithms have been developed for the latter purpose. They lead to considerable performance improvements.