Author Topic: Making the decision: CAD software  (Read 8661 times)

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Offline drewtronics

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Making the decision: CAD software
« on: August 23, 2011, 07:57:55 pm »
I work for a university in the USA and we keep arguing about which PCB/EDA software to use and teach.

There are some strong advocates for Altium (the current incumbent), some EAGLE fans, and for some reason we have a license of  Cadence/OrCad is another option, so we could renew that. 

Teaching PCB layout and design is hard and the software plays a huge role in that. Any body willing to step up and take some jabs at any of these packages or offer praise?  I'm not looking to start a flame war, but I am interested in some logical opinions.
 

Offline djsb

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #1 on: August 23, 2011, 09:29:40 pm »
I keep having the same arguments at the University where I work in the UK. The university insists on spending public money (several thousands) when free open source software could be used (Kicad). I've gotten rather tired trying to persuade people so I'm no longer getting involved.
Hope you have better luck than me.
David
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Offline Bored@Work

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2011, 10:21:46 pm »
I work for a university in the USA and we keep arguing about which PCB/EDA software to ...  teach.
...
Teaching PCB layout and design is hard ...

The above is maybe your main problem. You haven't made your mind up if you want to teach the usage of some software, or PCB design as such.

What kind of university are you? One of those where you train monkeys how to click the right buttons in the right order in some "industry standard" software, telling students this is a marketable skill? Or a university where you teach principles, engineering and the accumulated engineering knowledge of PCB design, based in science?

If you are the first kind of university the software doesn't matter. Because you will teach people clicking buttons in predefined orders. That can be done in any software. All you have to do is to tell your students that the selected software is "the best", and that everything will be fine if they just use that software.

If you are the second kind of university, the software doesn't matter, too. Because the principles and engineering you then teach should by their nature be independent of the tool used to perform the work. Your education would be successful if your students are in the end capable of evaluating the usefulness of a software for a particular job on their own.

Remember, a fool with a tool is just a fool, with a tool.
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Offline daedalus

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #3 on: August 24, 2011, 11:34:56 am »
I work at a university in the UK, and we are stuck with Orcad as someone arranged a good deal many years ago, so we have more seats then we could ever use. Management sees changing package as "buying something we already have again", and its hard to change that mentality.

I have used OSS offerings, Orcad, and Altium. I would personally pick Altium for teaching, mainly because its UI is quite discoverable, it has some nice offerings for embedded and FPGA development (something we teach our students), its training materials are good, and it has source control integration. Its not perfect, but its the best ive found so far.

The other plus of Altium is that we use Solidworks for mechanical CAD, and the back and forth interop would be quite helpful for mechatronic projects.

As for djsb's comment, if all you need can be achieved with kicad then great, but at our Uni at least, that would not cover everyone. A licence for Altium is around the £1k mark for universities in singles, and I believe Orcad was much less than that when we got onboard, and as a researcher, if altium shaves 5 days off pcb design time over 4 years, then that has paid for the seat in costs.
 

Offline Simon

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #4 on: August 24, 2011, 11:53:28 am »
well choosing an freeware/open source solution like KiCAD is not a bad idea. Not everyone will go and work for a big company that blindly wants skills in one particular package and yes the principles are always the same. Of course introducing students to an open source package gives those interested in programming something to get involved in as it benefits them directly.
 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #5 on: August 24, 2011, 12:21:37 pm »
Whilst I agree with BoredAtWork's sentiment, I also think it's important to actually teach students on the "industry standard" packages so they will at least be familiar with the packages when they leave. Sure, you could tech them using gEDA or Protel AutoTrax, but that's kinda like teaching students programming using Fortran. I think getting familiar with an industry package is part of learning PCB design too. Not as important as the techniques and technical insight etc, but certainly not something to be pissed away.
In that case I'd pick one of the top packages - Altium, Cadence, Mentor, Zuken maybe.
Eagle is more of a hobby/low end package.

Altium's big selling point IMO is the 3D capability and integration. Although kinda clever and nice on the surface, Altium's FPGA tools are not really used much in industry.

If you already have Altium, best to stick with it I think. There is no major advantage to going with another package unless you are strapped for cash, or have a very specific requirement for something.
Although IMO the long term future of Altium is quite up in the air... but either way it will survive as a PCB tool.

Dave.
 

Uncle Vernon

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #6 on: August 24, 2011, 01:49:28 pm »
Whilst I agree with BoredAtWork's sentiment, I also think it's important to actually teach students on the "industry standard" packages so they will at least be familiar with the packages when they leave. Sure, you could tech them using gEDA or Protel AutoTrax, but that's kinda like teaching students programming using Fortran.
I'll agree and disagree with you both. BAW is spot on in that the important thing to grasp are concepts not keyboard shortcuts. I also agree that a good education should be up to date with industry standards. In short education should never focus too much on any one package but equally it needs to be relevant. Fashions change, player and industry standards change over time.

Open minded exposure to a range of tools helps empower engineers to select appropriate options. I always cringe at vendor deals for educational institutions, while its great for cash strapped departments and students to get assistance, you can see the conflicts of interest emerging where only package X gets a view.
 
 

Online Zero999

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #7 on: August 24, 2011, 05:05:32 pm »
I agree with BoredAtWork and djsb.

It doesn't matter which package you decide to use, just teach them the principles behind PCB design and the current standards and you might as well use KiCad rather than wasting 1000s of pounds on software which you'll probably never use all the features of. Spend the money on more important things such as books, components and lab equipment.
 

Offline djsb

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #8 on: August 24, 2011, 09:47:56 pm »
Another issue is software piracy. Students in the UK can't afford to buy software unless it's on special academic pricing. Just today I've seen a drawing produced using Catia. As far as I know the university does not use it, and how can a cash strapped student afford to buy a license! You can guess the rest.
I've been trying to get across the fact that Kicad can be used ANYWHERE as it can be installed on a usb stick. When students are not in the lab using the university computers they could be using Kicad on their laptop in their halls or in a coffee bar.
We thought of using Cadence PCB (together with capture and pspice) but I had visions of students running screaming from the labs.
Any way I've come to the conclussion that as long as an application can produce a Gerber and Excellon file thats fine by me.
I use Kicad and Altium designer and they are my apps of choice for personal use.

David.
David
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Offline drewtronics

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #9 on: August 24, 2011, 10:14:02 pm »
First of all, thank you for the responses.

Upper management at our school insists that free/open source software doesn't get used in industry for PCB layout and simulation. Regardless of the argument, they sign my paycheck and make decisions. So, they want/require that something be bought.

I've actually never used KiCad, but I will check it out. While my boss may make me buy something, I can certainly present the option to students to use what's installed in the computer labs or use free software if they like it better. 

I'm getting ready to teach a PCB design class and I'll probably teach concepts and do a few demos with different pieces of software.

 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #10 on: August 25, 2011, 05:07:48 am »
I agree with BoredAtWork and djsb.

It doesn't matter which package you decide to use, just teach them the principles behind PCB design and the current standards and you might as well use KiCad rather than wasting 1000s of pounds on software which you'll probably never use all the features of. Spend the money on more important things such as books, components and lab equipment.

Money aside, I can't really agree with that.
I see much value in using the same tool that will be commonly used in industry, and that also offers modern refinements like 3D model integration and supplier part search capabilities.

If you are going to use a tool then at least make it relevant to the industry I think, unless you absolutely can't afford it, but that's a different argument.

Dave.
 

Offline Simon

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #11 on: August 25, 2011, 05:49:41 am »
drewtronics idea of teaching/making available both is a good idea. at least students can compare then. the problem with commercial software is that it costs a fortune and the students with real potential are those who will be doing projects at home as a hobby so showing them how to do this for free is a good idea. I learnt bugga all at school although it was a bit of a special case, so have tools to work with on my own was vital and unfortunately just not available just a few short years ago.
 

Offline JuKu

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #12 on: August 25, 2011, 06:30:09 am »
As one who regularly employs designers, some fresh out of school, I'd like to comment:
-A student saying they used Altium (or other high-end package) gets a plus, as they have had exposure to an industrial strength package. (We use Altium, so they get a couple of extra points for that, but that is irrelevant in general.)
-A student saying they have used Kicad, I'll ask why. If the answer is that it can be used on a hobby projects, too, the student is pretty much hired: He or she does hobby projects: s/he will love the job and has invaluable real life, hands-on experience. Besides, s/he understands and respects software ownership.
-I once did hire a student in spite of him having used archaic methods in the college: AutoCAD for PCB layout, ferrochloride (!) to make a PCB. However, the whole department got a huge minus for its students in my mind.
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Offline Simon

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #13 on: August 25, 2011, 06:42:03 am »
the ones doing projects at school are the future engineers, if they have no interest they are no good. You can't take a commercial product home with you to play with.

I don't know the differences between KiCAD (which seems to be the only viable open source platform) and commercial programs, I once used OrCAD in dos (yea shitty school) and windows and frankly I think KiCAD now can easily do what those packages did then, if you know two packages you start to see where the standards and good practices end and where the software takes over - a bit like having windows in a language other than english and software in english or using both windows and linux
 

Online Zero999

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #14 on: August 25, 2011, 08:16:33 am »
Another issue is software piracy.
Why is that an issue?

As long as the university doesn't have pirate copies of the software installed on its computers I don't see the problem. Many students will of course pirate it so they can use it at home but it's not really your problem. Many CAD software companies don't really care if students and hobbyists pirate their software because they benefit from it in the long run because one day the students and hobbyists who pirated their software will get jobs at companies which will have to purchase their software.

 

Offline westfw

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #15 on: October 04, 2011, 09:38:54 am »
Quote
the important thing to grasp are concepts not keyboard shortcuts.
+1, but there's also a lot of value to using something industry standard (or "more widely used.")
(I'm not sure what counts as widely used.  There are some BIG packages used by BIG companies, but actual user count may go to smaller companies with tighter budgets.  Not that even the really expensive packages are all that expensive compared to the cost of hiring the engineer to use them.)  (And on the third hand, the small companies are less likely to be hiring directly out of your school...)

How many students?  Dedicated machines?  Isn't a school extremely likely to have to negotiate some sort of special license of a CAD package?  You can't expect each student to buy a $5k software package, though I suppose you can (painfully) stick the package on a limited number of locked-down "seats" in a lab somewhere and meet traditional license requirements, with a certain amount of resource contention (which is a source for education in itself.)  Which vendors acknowledge the academic environment?  Which will offer a good deal?  Some vendors are very aggressive about getting their overpriced software into schools to "lock in" mind-share (microsoft comes to mind.)

Students will learn a LOT more if introduced to at least two different CAD packages, so they can see first hand how some of the concepts are same and some of the details or features are different.  Put expensiveWare on the dozen lab machines and have the students install/use freeWare (EAGLE, KICAD, gEDA, whatever) on their personal systems, and you would have a superior class, IMO.  Time permitting.  Even if whichever tool is designated "secondary" isn't used very much...  (10 weeks on expensiveware learning principles, 1 week on EAGLE, 1 week on KiCAD...)
 

Offline Neilm

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Re: Making the decision: CAD software
« Reply #16 on: October 04, 2011, 06:23:39 pm »
Show the students a couple of different packages. Then you can do the "industry standard" I deep getting at work, I have done the schematic capture in one package but the PCB layout house that is the current package us a totally incompatable "industry standard".

Neil
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