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A Guide to Low-Cost PCB Tools

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David Ashton
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PCB Tools
David Ashton   10/28/2013 3:16:22 PM
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Hi Adam...I really look forward to your blogs on this subject.  As I said in my DIY PCB article, I've been using a program which is essentially a PC version of Bishop Graphics - totally manual.  But it works well for what I do, and is very easy to use.  Your comments about footprints is what has put me off getting into something else, as I use a lot of non-standard bits.  So you will have at least one avid reader....

Max The Magnificent
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Funnily enough...
Max The Magnificent   10/28/2013 3:21:23 PM
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@Adam: Someone just emailed me asking if I could recommend free PCB tools -- it was great being able to point him at your article rather than enumerate all of these myself.

I think this is going to prove to be a very useful series of articles for a lot of people.

Aeroengineer
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Re: Funnily enough...
Aeroengineer   10/28/2013 3:25:02 PM
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Max, I am glad that this was able to point them to a useful starting point.  All have their own opitions, but this was a good starting point for me as I was trying to narrow down the choices that are out there.

Aeroengineer
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Re: PCB Tools
Aeroengineer   10/28/2013 3:26:27 PM
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David, I am glad that I have at least one reader ;)  I do really hope that this is useful to others.  It is always hard to decided where to start with jumping to this world so hopefilly this gives people an idea of what is out there.

tom-ii
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PCB Tools
tom-ii   10/28/2013 3:38:36 PM
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I have, generally, had good luck with FreePCB.

 

One thing that all of them need is better integration with a spice program.  It would be nice to pull a schematic capture from, say, LTSpice, and use that as the netlist for the PCB CAD software.  Or visa versa...

docdivakar
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Re: PCB Tools
docdivakar   10/28/2013 7:41:25 PM
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@Adam: you certainly have more than one reader! I think I commented on an earlier article of yours while proudly claiming my mechanical engineering background.

You may have seen another thread last week in EE Times on public domain EDA tools where KiCAD was also mentioned:

http://www.eetimes.com/author.asp?section_id=36&doc_id=1319744

MP Divakar

Aeroengineer
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Re: PCB Tools
Aeroengineer   10/28/2013 7:46:51 PM
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MP, I am glad that you have enjoyed the articles, and yes I have seen that I have a few mechanical guys and gals following along.  I really do appreciate the support.  If there are topics that you would like me to write on, please let me know.  I am always open to considering new things, or perhaps I may already have some experience in these areas.

 

As to the mention of KiCAD, I had not see that thread that you mentioned.  Thanks for pointing it out.  I look forward to seeing the promised blog posts.  I have heard that KiCAD is planning on making a few upgrades.  I had heard that they upgraded their 3D viewer and I hear that they will soon have a footprint generator.  This was the biggest thing for me.  I am not a fan of having to go and dig up something similar to make a new part.  It is just a poor workflow.

Aeroengineer
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Re: PCB Tools
Aeroengineer   10/28/2013 7:53:44 PM
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I had not come across FreePCB before, I will take a look.  What are the features that you like about it?  How does it compare/contrast to other software packages?

 

I believe that some of the tools that I mentioned had the ability to push to a spice simulation, but I am not too sure about the import.  I will see if I can look into that.

TonyTib
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How good are PCB 3D models?
TonyTib   10/28/2013 8:33:12 PM
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Where does the PCB software get its information for the 3D model?  Also, can they output the 3D model is a useful file format (e.g. STEP, not just STL)?

At work, I design our PCS (which are pretty simple) in Eagle PCB, and then pass a DXF footprint over to the ME's, who use 3D models from the manufacturers (typically STEP or IGES) to model the board (occasionally they have to model a new part)   This process works well for us; the ME's can model a board pretty quickly, and we don't do it that often.

tom-ii
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Re: PCB Tools
tom-ii   10/29/2013 6:53:52 AM
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FreePCB has been around a long time.  I don't think it's updated any more, but:

 

1) up to 14 layers

2) it can import a PSPICE netlist (with some work)

3) it has a tie-in to a Java-based autorouter (which is helpful for little things)

4) The footprint editor is fairly easy to use.

I've found it to be a really useful tool for smaller PCBs that I do at home, and sometimes even work....

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