Author Topic: What real schematic design software should I learn for small run manufacturing?  (Read 5079 times)

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Offline salil

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I'm on a Mac but, Windows is always an option... I want to prep a simple, small double sided board for manufacturing (prototype(s) first, then a run of 2,500 units).  I have the guidance of some veteran EEs (with many patents dating decades) back but right now all we have is painstakingly hand-drawn schematics.  What's the software people are using in the industry these days for small volume PCB production schematic, layouts and readying for small volume manufacture?  What are some good resources on this?  Any leads are much appreciated.  This is a very simple product but we are trying to cram a lot of components in a small space (without designing our own chips).  We're confident (as confident as you can before receiving a manufactured prototype) that the schematic logic will be good to go, but translating that into 2015 software is where we're a bit stuck.  Any leads to resources or software packages that are truly worth investing weeks learning are much appreciated.  I'm currently a student so I may have access to more software than I realize, don't hesitate to recommend anything regardless of price (just what seems most appropriate to the application and is worth investing the t ime to learn).
 

Online blueskull

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Altium Designer has $149 academic license, but it does not allow you to do commercial activities.
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Offline electrolust

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I've just been down this road.

Eagle won out for me, and bonus it runs on Mac.  (Some others do also but you're better off on Windows for them, Kicad possibly excepted.)

The competition for me was Kicad, DipTrace, CM, PCBWeb and Upverter.  There are many others in this low end range of software but I only read up on them before eliminating them.

The main reason was that Eagle is extensible via ULPs.  Other softwares in the range I was looking at are what they are and that's it.  Kind of hand-in-hand with that is that after initially using Schemeit for a few months, I then was ready to layout PCBs and found I needed real software.  However I was addicted to Schemeit's integral BOM support.  Eagle doesn't have that but through Bob Starr's bom-ex.ulp it is pretty solid for me.

Bonus it won't take weeks to learn.  Hours to learn the basics and days to learn advanced stuff.  It's well documented and well discussed on the web.  It took me far far longer, starting from zero, how to layout a PCB et al. then it took to learn the software.

I have a CAD background so the UI was easy to pick up and doesn't feel foreign.  (Although it is ancient.)  I could see how others would find it super awkward compared to DipTrace or Upverter, for example.

There were other factors that went into my decision.  There are so many software choices and so many axes to evaluate them on, it can be pretty frustrating.  I hope to post a detailed comparison in the coming week.

I think you're going to find that there is no clear answer and you'll get tons of responses about this or that software and it won't really help.  You just need to try the various packages out, they are all easy to learn.  Except Kicad. :P

It sounds like you have a single product you wish to manufacture, so I would suggest that NONE of the midrange products (Altium, for example) are worth learning.  You have to invest real time and money to learn those tools and you only have 1 board to build.  If you have that kind of budget just send your hand drawn schematic to a PCB service that can do the layout for you.
 

Offline AndyC_772

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For a one-off job, it may be worth simply hiring a designer who already has CAD software, and getting them to translate your schematics and produce a PCB. You'll save a lot of time and effort, not just in learning how the software itself works, but in board design too.

I use, and generally recommend, Orcad PCB Designer (Cadence). Last time I checked, you could rent it annually for more-or-less the cost of maintenance, which is a no-brainer IMHO.
 

Offline Simon

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KiCAD is free I've not used it in a while so can't give an opinion.

i use diptrace, free for small boards and non comercial so you can download it have a go and see if you like it. If you do and make your comercial board with it then please have the decency to buy it.
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Offline JacquesBBB

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I was in the same situation, not so long ago, looking for a software for PCB design on a Mac.

I tried Kicad, as it is praised by many, but this is not usable on a Mac because of the very wild behavior of the trackpad. Just impossible to do serious work until they fix  this issue.

Finally I end up with Eagle. Not so much mac-like, but if you look to the tutorials online, and make the effort to start, it's worth it. You will be able to do everything withe Eagle, parts are easy to design if needed, and it is free for boards smaller than 80x100mm.

The creation of gerber files that work well with PCB manufacturers is straightforward, and as it was said above the capacity of having scripted additions to Eagle is a big advantage.
More over all files in Eagle are text files, that is small files that you can read and edit if needed.
 
« Last Edit: November 03, 2015, 09:23:20 pm by JacquesBBB »
 

Offline salil

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Thanks all, I all will look into Eagle and the others mentioned!
 

Offline evb149

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Try DesignSpark PCB.  It is very simple to use for anyone that knows the generalities of modern Schematic and Layout design.  It is a reasonably modern MS Windows based program and I'd say the learning curve is very reasonable.  I think it has a much more traditional sort of GUI interface design than EAGLE so the learning curve will be as simple as possible.  I don't know what kind of parts you will be using, but you may likely end up creating your own PCB CAD library footprint symbols for some of them but that's true for the majority of CAD software out there, and it isn't particularly hard to follow the part manufacturer's footprint creation guidelines in most cases.  It is free to use but isn't nearly as limited in design and capabilities as other free to use packages I've seen out there.
I have used Orcad, PADS, EAGLE, Altium, KICAD, and several other CAD packages over the years so I do have a good breadth of experience with both the free / inexpensive as well as the more costly tools and for the needs you expressed as I understand them it seems like a good idea to start with DesignSpark PCB.  I think most of the other options could be made to work, though for something that is to be done relatively professionally and simply I'd hesitate to recommend things like KICAD, EAGLE, DipTRACE, and such.
 

Offline pickle9000

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I've been using AutoTRAX DEX for small "on the side jobs". Has no real learning curve if you have used any other design package. A work of warning, the programmer is not popular on this forum. That said the software is good and very cheap for what you get. I have no problem using it, I paid for it. 49 bucks is super cheap and it's on for that price often. No limitations, use on multiple PCs, free upgrades for a year.

One other thing I asked for a couple minor features, both where implemented and worked within a month! That's nuts.

Damn, I sound like a salesman.
 

Offline LabSpokane

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If you only expect to make one or two boards, hire the talent. Learning the tool as well as good PCB design is not a good use of your time. Hiring out will be better, cheaper, and faster.
 

Offline JacquesBBB

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If you only expect to make one or two boards, hire the talent. Learning the tool as well as good PCB design is not a good use of your time. Hiring out will be better, cheaper, and faster.

The OP is a student. He will thus get much advantage of  learning a PCB design software. Right now he will do only a small board, but  he will have the opportunity to do many more. Knowing the PCB software will open him much more perspective than relying on someone else.
 

Offline LabSpokane

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If you only expect to make one or two boards, hire the talent. Learning the tool as well as good PCB design is not a good use of your time. Hiring out will be better, cheaper, and faster.

The OP is a student.

Which is why he or she should focus on the problem for now, which is the device, not board design.  Just my opinion.  Doing the schematic capture is one thing, but board layout really is time consuming starting out.
 

Offline pickle9000

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If you only expect to make one or two boards, hire the talent. Learning the tool as well as good PCB design is not a good use of your time. Hiring out will be better, cheaper, and faster.

The OP is a student.

Which is why he or she should focus on the problem for now, which is the device, not board design.  Just my opinion.  Doing the schematic capture is one thing, but board layout really is time consuming starting out.

For anyone new to electronics, I would encourage them to make a simple project to completion. That would include pcb layout, sending the designs away to be made, putting them in a case and publishing the result. It need not be fancy but it's a great education for the hobbyist or professional.

   
 

Offline Dago

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I definitely would NOT recommend eagle, it being a horrible and backwards software. It does work and is widely used but it is just very annoying and backwards to use. I would definitely recommend DipTrace as a much nicer alternative in the same price range (free version available as well with limitations). If you want to do large boards and are not willing to spend four numbers then the only choice is pretty much KiCAD.
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Offline Karel

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I definitely would NOT recommend eagle, it being a horrible and backwards software.

There is a reason that Eagle is the defacto industry standard. And that's not because it's horrible or backwards.
I have used Multisim/Ultiboard for two years. Altium designer for one year. Zuken Cadstar for six months.
In the end, what was most productive for me and produced more error-free boards was... Eagle!
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Offline Dago

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I definitely would NOT recommend eagle, it being a horrible and backwards software.

There is a reason that Eagle is the defacto industry standard. And that's not because it's horrible or backwards.
I have used Multisim/Ultiboard for two years. Altium designer for one year. Zuken Cadstar for six months.
In the end, what was most productive for me and produced more error-free boards was... Eagle!

Based on what numbers? It might be a de facto standard for hobby projects but I would not agree that it is that common in the industry (and all the ones who have been using it have been talking of migrating to something else, including our company!). For Finland I would be very comfortable to say the de facto standard is PADS based on my experience.
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Offline Simon

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I don't recomend diptrace, I was silly enough to buy it but it is not great and full of bugs, when you complain the default answer is "sorry we are a small company doing our best"

I'm actually taking another look at kicad now that they have had a relaunch and actually come up with some new software.
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Offline jolshefsky

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No matter what software you get, there is going to be a pretty steep learning curve. So consider where you want to be in the future. If you're headed in a career path toward professional development, learn the most industry-standard software (Altium, I guess—industry people help me out here). But if you're like me and will be designing a board now and then (e.g. it's not your main job or passion) then look at other factors.

I started out with Eagle because it was free. I figured it out and it worked and I produced working boards. But then I needed to design a board bigger than the free minimum size and I had to switch (I nearly paid a big chunk to buy the pro version but I couldn't get hold of someone to pay—luckily enough). I painfully learned KiCAD and run it on a Mac using VirtualBox (free) running Ubuntu (free). But because I was once a programmer, I find it useful to directly manipulate board files (which are text-based) if I want to do something the software doesn't easily allow (like positioning circuit blocks in a row—a set of trim pots and resistors, for instance). It's not perfect but it suits my needs.

So as far as I can tell, all of them are hard to learn. They all have their own method of schematic capture (with different hot keys and mouse uses), and their own method of generating nets and assigning device packages, and their own method of board layout.

The industrial process itself has a lot of factors too (e.g. design rules) as well as physical limitations (current carrying, heat dissipation, device packages not fitting next to one another, needing to fit into an enclosure, etc.)

Then there's your own in-house requirements: do you want the name of the board on the silkscreen? Will you have test points? Should components be labeled by their ID, their measure, or both? How wide are your signal traces (don't use the manufacturer's minimum)? What's your checklist before sending a Gerber—it ought to include a design-rule check (DRC), and that should include a check to make sure your design rules are at least as strict as your manufacturer.

It's not like one of them is "easy" or "best".

And all that other stuff, well, do your best but know that part of learning is getting a bad board back because you forgot some dumb thing. We all do it. We just work to do it less bad each time.
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Offline free_electron

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When talking about 'industry' there are only 3 players : Cadence, Mentor and Altium with one of their tools . 

If all you have is a schematic on paper, and you have zero experience with schematic capture, your biggest problems are going to be:
- learning the tool
- finding /creating all the part symbols and seeding them with proper , manufacturing ready, information so you can pull correct bill of materials
- the link to the PCB toolchain. Schematic is 1 thing , the PCB another thing. You can not draw the schematic in Cadence and do the board in Mentor or some other combination. ( actually you can but it is sheer insanity to work that way as you lose the integration and data exchange)
- a growth path.

I would go the free CircuitMaker route. Capture your schematic , you can pull from the massive vault and parts procurement data through octopart. IF you want to do your own PCB you can. if not you can export the file and hand it off to a design bureau who can pull it in to their environment.


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Online blueskull

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Personally I would say Altium is the easiest one to use, if you don't care about its advanced features, and don't care about doing things 100% correctly. Just for getting things to work, AD is very very easy to get started.

I started using Protel 99 SE when I was 12, then seamlessly moved to DXP2004, followed by AD6.9, finally AD15.1 now. As a contrast, I tried to learn KiCAD 2 years ago, and I didn't get a useful board laid out in 1 week, so I ditched this idea.
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Offline Karel

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When talking about 'industry' there are only 3 players : Cadence, Mentor and Altium with one of their tools . 

Wrong. You forget Eagle and Zuken.
The difference between theory and practice is less in theory than
the difference between theory and practice in practice.
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Offline Dave

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Hahahahahaha :-DD :-DD

I don't think Arduino boards and "shields" are considered an industry, mate. ;D
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Offline free_electron

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When talking about 'industry' there are only 3 players : Cadence, Mentor and Altium with one of their tools . 

Wrong. You forget Eagle and Zuken.
Zuken yes,

Eagle ? not a chance . barely better than pencil and drafting paper.
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Offline KL27x

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Eagle is painfully backwards in a FEW KEY ways.

Namely, the method of saving and opening/finding/renaming files is super weird. I still don't know if I'm doing it right.

Also, group cutting and pasting/deleting is clearly different.

There are a few other quirks, but those two things were some of the hardest for me to get over.

But once you get over those major affronts to your higher sensibilities, the meat and potatoes of the software is actually quite powerful and intuitive, and it doesn't take the latest quadcore processor to use it.

Making custom library parts/footprints is a chore, though. Grab a sheet of paper and a calculator. Every time. But you get used to that. Actually, I like using abosolute coordinates and think Eagle has this part right. Every datasheet could include absolute coordinates for the center of each pad, given any arbitrary origin or arbitrary pad as the origin. Providing a location/dimension only relative to another location, relative to another location, etc, etc, is sorta stupid in my own way of thinking.

I have heard complaints about other things, such as how polygons are prioritized. It makes perfect sense to me, and I don't actually understand how else you would expect to overlap multiple polygons are have any control over the outcome?

One potential disadvantage for a MAC user is that the right mouse click is very handy in Eagle.

Big upfront hurdle in Eagle: making library parts for your devices/components. Because making them is a PITA, but it is still probably easier than finding ones that work.

I've tried several others. The "backwardness" of Eagle is all relative, and among top design software, Eagle is in fairly good standing in this regards. They are all unintuitive and difficult if you have never used them before! If other softwares are more intuitive than Eagle, maybe it's because maybe they are more similar to each other than to Eagle?

Quote
Based on what numbers? It might be a de facto standard for hobby projects
I have heard this bandied around, as well, and I don't see how any software could be considered the "standard" in the industry. The only standard are Gerber274x files. So I always thought this "defacto standard" thing is meant to be applied to the actual manufacturers (rather than designers like you or me). Not that manufacturers necessarily need pcb design software, but it seems like some of them will accept design files, directly, with EAGLE.brd files being the main one. Maybe I'm totally wrong.
« Last Edit: November 04, 2015, 08:43:50 am by KL27x »
 

Offline Simon

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and it doesn't take the latest quadcore processor to use it.



No software should unless it is a) written by an idiot or b) doing hard core calculations, I can understand autorouting taking lots of power but anything else in any electronics CAD software should be low usage.
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Offline free_electron

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and it doesn't take the latest quadcore processor to use it.



No software should unless it is a) written by an idiot or b) doing hard core calculations, I can understand autorouting taking lots of power but anything else in any electronics CAD software should be low usage.
try interactive push-n-shove on a 32 bit bus while maintaining all design rules intact, including length matching... your quadcore is going to break out a sweat very quickly...
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Offline c4757p

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and it doesn't take the latest quadcore processor to use it.



No software should unless it is a) written by an idiot or b) doing hard core calculations, I can understand autorouting taking lots of power but anything else in any electronics CAD software should be low usage.

You're very quick to declare people idiots for being unable to achieve something you haven't attempted.
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Offline Simon

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That classes as hardcore processing. I'm just saying that people think fast computers make their programs work better. We have £1000 graphics cards at work for out 3D-CAD, yet me home machine runs the software faster on a £22 card...... because in this case it's more about the processor not the graphics card. More grunt where you think it's needed is not always the answer
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Offline Simon

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and it doesn't take the latest quadcore processor to use it.



No software should unless it is a) written by an idiot or b) doing hard core calculations, I can understand autorouting taking lots of power but anything else in any electronics CAD software should be low usage.

You're very quick to declare people idiots for being unable to achieve something you haven't attempted.

If anyone writes software in excruciatingly slow flash then they are an idiot, I don't need to try it to know, I've suffered the consequences.
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Offline Simon

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in fact 15 years ago i used OrCAD on a 400MHz machine and it only too 5-10 minutes to complete, try running some peoples software on a 1GHz machine, if it was written with something lazy the machine is rendered useless.
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Offline John Coloccia

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I actually really like DipTrace for basic schematic/PCB design work. It's very simple to use, and so far I'm using it for all of my products. It's really lacking in many of the features/interactions that you expect from software in a production environment, though. For example, it's very easy to make new patters/components, but then managing them, propagating changes, is complete crap. The library management is crap. Their "grid", especially as it pertains to switching between metric and imperial, is complete and utter crap. There's a lot of crap that pisses me off about it.

But all that said, I use it and really like it because the core process of creating a schematic, laying out boards, making my gerbers, etc is a joy to use. If I were doing anything moderately complex, or working in a larger environment, I probably wouldn't consider it, I'm afraid. I'll bet it would work very well for a large percentage of the work that most of us do.
 

Offline Simon

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they made a good effort, but the last version came out riding on the addition of 3D model exprt. In this version they claimed to have improved library management (where ????) added differential pair routing (don't use it) and added support for the latest gerber format (who gives a toss) the actual software that we all agree needs work on has remained untouched. I have had enough of it, I'm feeling taken for an idiot. The autorouting with copper pour is mad, if I choose that a net connected copper pour is a keep out area (because I want to preserve it as a heat or current carrier) even the tracks from the net it's connected to fail to connect to it so autorouting fails. If you allow traces through it just cuts the pour up and it was pointless. Completely mad, yet they refuse to see a problem.

I know many people claim that you should not use an autorouter but I find it very useful. My boards are not overly complex, they don't have high frequencies etc and I lay components out in a sensible way so that the autorouter can do a decent job, I will do some manual edits (because their autorouter is shit) but on the whole the autorouter can be trusted to connect all those components that are right next to each other or have an obvious path and save me hours.
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Offline John Coloccia

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I can't argue with anything you've said. If you've read the boards over at DipTrace, I'm sure you've read my own frustrations at the garbage and their refusal to fix anything. I have absolutely zero intention of upgrading to the new version. I haven't even tried the beta. They won't see another dime until they start fixing the problems, and I am actively looking for a different solution. I can name SO many problems with DipTrace, but the fact that I keep using it sort of speaks to how crappy everything else is!

I'm going to check out KiCad again now that they're getting close to some sort of release. Eagle is just a non-starter, IMHO. I've tried it a couple of times and it's just a steaming pile of dog turd. Maybe KiCad will finally win me over.
 


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