Cabe Atwell @ eetimes.com:
There’s nothing better than “free” when it comes to just about everything, even PCB software. Just because some software is more expensive doesn’t make it better than some of those free PCB packages found on the Internet. In this round up, we will take a look at some of the past popular platforms that are still consistently being supported and updated. One criteria… some sort of update has to be present on the software’s support website in the last two years.
First on our list comes from Mirko Bruno Sortini with his ZentiPCB platform, which features several freeware programs to help users design their own PCBs. ZentiCapture allows users to quickly and easily design schematics using an easy-feature tool set, which allows users to place parts (component symbols) using the orthogonal locking and snap to pin. Once the schematics (in netlist form) are finished, they can then be ported over to ZentiPCB.
10 free PCB CAD programs - [Link]
After my initial PCB success with Maker Studio, I uploaded the design files to three more board houses. I had planned to try four or five more, but I started to get the impression that many of the China-based sources used the same fab house, so I stopped at three.
Elecrow’s basic board fab service supplies 5 or 10 PCBs for $11.90, with a basic international shipping cost of around $7 for 5 boards. Although I haven’t been paying close attention to delivery time for these reviews (too many variables), I will say that Elecrow was significantly slower than the other three sources.
Quick-Turn PCB shop review project: Elecrow - [Link]
DipTrace is a sophisticated schematic and PCB layout software. I had it installed on my computer for over a year but have never really used it. Since I needed a super simple PCB for some 78XX / 79XX type linear regulators, I decided to use this opportunity for my first steps with DipTrace.
DipTrace offers different prices for different packages. The cheapest version, DipTrace Starter (300 pins, 2 signal layers), is available for $ 75. DipTrace Full offers unlimited pins and unlimited signal layers for $ 895. All versions of DipTrace come with a humongous parts library and 3D models for a large amount of general purpose parts. In case a part or footprint is not included in the libraries, DipTrace offers both a component editor and a pattern editor for custom parts.
I needed a super small PCB for 78XX type voltage regulators. This mini project was perfect for my first steps with DipTrace. Please be aware that this article is going to be extremely coarse as it is supposed to be a general overview of the DipTrace software. The functionality of this software is rather complex as this is a professional design tool. More detailed articles will follow.
PCB layout design with DipTrace – An overview - [Link]
Peter of Cytec BG writes:
My idea was for pcb designers to be able to quickly, without too much hassle, check their board for correct footprints (especially for connectors) and collisions between components. Currently one can change soldermask colors, silkscreen layers, move and rotate components around, change component models and import step files.
3D Eagle BRD Viewer - [Link]
Diyouware TwinTeeth is an open-source PCB mini-factory targeted to the electronic hobbyists. It is an innovative fabricator of Arduino™ shield-size PCBs which will help you to make PCB prototypes at home.
It includes the following functions:
- UV Laser photoengraving on sensitive film or presensitized boards using an ultraviolet laser.
- Drilling vias and holes using any mini-rotary tool like Dremel® or Proxxon®.
- Dispensing solder paste with precision on SMD PCB pads.
- Plotting circuits with a permanent pen-maker (if you prefer this method).
- 3D printing knobs, casings, front-panels, even print circuits with conductive filament, or make circuits supports.
- Milling/Carving soft materials or etching PCB copper with a v-bit (if you prefer this etching method).
- And much more… because it is extendable and you can use any other tool you can fix on it.
Diyouware TwinTeeth: The PCB mini-factory - [Link]
By Chris Glaser @ ti.com:
Especially for switch-mode power supplies (SMPSs), the printed circuit board (PCB) layout is a critical but often under appreciated step in achieving proper performance and reliability. Errors in the PCB layout cause a variety of misbehaviors including poor output voltage regulation, switching jitter, and even device failure. Issues like these should be avoided at all costs, since fixing them usually requires a PCB design modification. However, these pitfalls are easily circumvented if time and thought are spent during the PCB layout process before the first PCBs are ever ordered. This article presents five simple steps to ensure that your next step-down converter’s PCB layout is robust and ready for prototyping.
Five steps to a great PCB layout for a step-down converter - [Link]
Whether it´s a prototype or a whole production batch of PCBs, Kontakt PCC cleaner will manage any residues after soldering.
Manual intervention to a PCB is usually always visible. With modern „No-clean“ fluxes it´s not that obvious as in the past. But still it doesn´t make resulting look of a PCB better. However, probably more important is the fact, that soldering residues are a potential risk, especially in humid environment – as they may cause a corrosion and leakage currents.
A PCB can be cleaned by various solvents (often also ecological ones – water based), but some residues are often simply too persistent … That´s why we need a solvent, which is relatively “as strong as possible, but safe for solder resist, marking and components with plastic packages at the same time.
Spray Kontakt PCC is developed specially for these purposes, what´s raised by a fact, that it´s equipped by application brush, helpful for a fast dissolving of thick layers. To maintain ESD safety, it´s necessary to moisten the brush by short pressing the valve before touching a PCB.
Kontakt PCC dissolves all types of fluxes without leaving residues. When cleaning thick layers, it´s necessary to wipe wet board with a paper tissue or similar. In result we gain perfectly clean PCBs resistant to leakage currents formation. Naturally, to obtain a long-term protection it´s advisable to use some of protective coatings like for example Plastik 70, Urethan 71 or Silisol 73 and other. Thanks to a strong effect, Kontakt PCC is also suitable for cleaning of various connectors, sockets, contacts, commutators of electric motors, …
Kontakt PCC is safe for majority of plastics except a few very sensitive types (e.g. polystyrene, polycarbonate). If a whitish coating appears after cleaning, usually it means, that the board was already treated by a protective coating (lacquer) before. In this case it´s possible to restore perfect look by application the Plastik 70.
Even your PCBs can look professionally - [Link]
Vassilis over vpapanik.blogspot.gr has build a nice and simple tool to help him soldering tiny SMD parts on a PCB. The tool consists of three metal parts you can easily find on your parts box and it can be proven to be really helpful as it keeps the SMD parts steady while you solder them. The build is easy, all you have to do is to bend the main rod, file the tip to conical shape and drill the other two rods. All steps can be done in under 30 minutes without special tools. Sure it can be your third hand while assembling your PCBs. He writes:
I ordered this awesome N|Watch kit the other day, which requires some serious SMD hand-soldering skills. There’s always the easy alternative to use a reflow oven, but guess what, there is no stencil included (and no, I don’t have a paste dispenser). In a desperate need of a third hand (!) in order do a neat job, I saw some similar DIY solutions (thumbs up for Google images) and managed to build my own version in less than 30 minutes, just using junk metal parts : the SMD beak !
The SMD beak - [Link]
Drilling holes in homemade PCBs is greatly simplified with an computer-driven coordinate table on a drill press.
The clue is the on-the-fly calibration technique, so it does not matter where exactly the PCB lies on the table. You only need to move to two drill holes by hand, then the computer knows how to drive to the other holes.
(semi) Automated drill press table for PCB manufacture - [Link]
If you´re deciding whether it´s worth to use a backup battery, we bring you a few remarks why to go for it or not.
Lithium battery Xeno Energy with a lifetime of over 10 years and rules for their usage were brought to you in our article „10 years of operation for 1 battery?”. They´re usable as a “main” power source for low power consumption devices and the second main field of their usage is a power supply backup. In contrast to the smallest cells used for PC memories backup (BIOS) for example, the types, which we keep in stock feature capacity of several Ah and they´re also able to provide a relatively decent current. That enables to use such battery also for a real operation of the device (MCU) during the power supply dropout.
Probably the main reason why not to use a backup battery is a doubt about higher production costs of a given device. However, when we look at the sales price in our e-shop, we find, that common PCB types like for example XL-050F AX (LS14250CNA) or XL-060F AX (LS14500CNA) are available for the price of max. 4 Eur/pce. At the same time, using this type of batteries eliminates the need for a battery holder, charging chip, etc.
The newest contribution on the field of PCB lithium batteries in our stock is the type XL-210F/STD 5,5mm, what´s the disc with 33mm diameter and only 6.6mm height, with leads to be soldered to PCB (THT). Low profile enables usage even in slim devices and everywhere, where common cylinder types are not suitable.
Further information will provide you the Xeno short form catalogue as well as detailed datasheets of Xeno batteries. In the Xeno production portfolio can also be found special batteries with a higher pulse capacity and type for extra high temperatures -55 to +130°C.
Backup battery soldered directly to a PCB? - [Link]