Electronic Design Automation (EDA) on a budget


 

The basics of the process is as follows:

  • Schematic Entry
    • Usually requires the creating of symbols for the parts desired
  • Maybe some circuit simulation (e.g. SPICE) to validate the design
  • PCB Layout and routing
    • Usually requires the creation of footprints for the parts used
    • Part placement
    • Routing of the connections
  • Manufacture of the PCB

I've used a few different open source tools to do this including KiCAD and gEDA.  The learning curve of any EDA tool is pretty steep (I've used some of the bigger commercial packages such as Cadence and it can take forever to learn the basics) and these are no different.  Most recently I've used gEDA and have been fairly well satisfied with the ability to quickly create a PCB.  I know that another option that is commonly used is Eagle PCB, which is a commercial package but has a pretty generous trail version.batchpcb

Once the design is complete, we have a design where we really only want one board created.  Most board manufacturers are setup for doing an entire panel of your design, which could mean that you get 100 of your 2.5" by 2.5" design -- not something that you generally need or want to pay for.  I came across BatchPCB.com, which is a slick setup where they combine multiple designs from multiple people, assemble them into a panel, once the panel is manufactured, they cut it up and ship each design to each individual.  It is a service through sparkfun.com and makes is feasible to get a one-off of a single board for a very reasonable price.  They charge $2.50 per square inch plus a $10 handling fee for the entire order.  The downside to going this route is that it isn't overnight service as they have to wait for the entire panel to fill.  

It's pretty fun to clean up a little design you are working on with a professionally made PCB.  Have fun!