Whether you’re a hardware or software person, you’re probably ingrained with that entrepreneurial spirit. You’ve got the vision and the knowledge you need to turn your electronics dreams into reality, but you’ve still got one more obstacle to overcome: you need to build it.
Sometimes budgets don’t measure up to the overall vision of your device. Unless they have the cash to spare, entrepreneurs have to operate on shoestring budgets and need to find the most cost-effective ways to reach their goals. Since the circuit board forms the central nervous system of your electronic device, you’ll need access to PCB design software that can meet your device requirements without breaking the bank.
That’s why online PCB design software might be the best choice to start designing your device. So what is the best way to get started? How do you get from a design on paper to creating deliverables for a manufacturer? The road from concept to product can be made smooth with a great online PCB design software platform.
Which Platform is Right for Me?
If you start searching for an online design platform, you might be unsure which platform is the best for you. So how do you pick the right platform? First things first, avoid the freemium sites. No one wants to spend hours designing their device, only to be told that they need to pay in order to keep their schematic.
When you find a platform, you should make sure it takes you all the way to generating your manufacturer deliverables. An online design platform should actually be a complete platform that includes schematic, circuit board layout, and bill of materials features. The platform should also be integrated with a thorough components library.
Just because an online platform is free doesn’t mean that it can’t contain advanced design features. The most powerful online design software should include rules checking and design constraint features. This will ensure that your designs will meet basic quality standards. Other features like a 3D viewer are extremely useful.
One great way to break into PCB design and bring a new device online quickly is to use a development board. These boards are very versatile and contain many features that can help expedite your design process. The documentation on these boards is very thorough, and tutorials for using these boards can be found online. These boards also mount easily to PCBs and make it easy to interface with other components.
Schematic and Layout
Whether you’re designing online or you’ve spent a bunch of money on a software package, you’ll start designing your product by drawing up a schematic. Your schematic will contain all the electronic components and display your connections between components. You can also write some important notes for yourself in the schematic. Think of it as a blueprint but without all the measurements.
At first glance, it may seem unnecessary to build a schematic of your design. Why not just jump straight into a PCB layout? Why should I have to build the device twice? Once you complete your layout, it may not be obvious how components are connected. This is where schematics are invaluable: they give you a broad view of your device. It is easy to see how components connect to each other, while these connections can be less obvious on a finished PCB layout.
Once you finish your schematic, your layout should be automatically captured and generated based on your schematic. The generated layout will include all the components in your schematic and will have pre-mapped connections between components. You’ll still need to route between components, place copper pours for power and ground, and arrange components to your liking.
When you view your layout for the first time, you may find that it is not how you imagined. Components might appear in odd places, and connections between components might not appear as you imagined. The layout might not initially meet your form factor requirements, and the schematic gives you the opportunity to rearrange your components to fit your packaging.
Once you are inside the layout, you might find that it becomes useful to use more advanced design and routing techniques to save space in your design. Placing traces in multiple layers is important in PCBs with a large number of components but strict form factor requirements. An online platform should include via placement capabilities so that you can route between multiple layers.
Enforcing Design Rules
PCB design is one of those fields where it is easy to start building simple devices. When you are not worried about high speed, high frequency, low power, high current, high temperature, RF communication, or mixed-signal capabilities, most designs you create will likely operate just fine. Designing in consideration of these other requirements is difficult to master and requires adhering to a specific design rule or many.
If you have not designed devices in any of the above areas in the past, you may not have all the relevant design rules memorized. That’s why your online design platform should have the capability to enforce standard design rules for different applications. Not all design rules are set in stone, meaning that certain design rules are meant to operate as constraints. Certain constraints on feature sizes and clearance need to be met in certain applications.
Certain features, especially those appearing in multilayer boards, should also be customizable in an online design platform. Trace sizes, pads, via dimensions, and copper pour areas should all be customizable. This is especially important if you work with certain parts like development boards, as the footprint of these devices cannot be changed. You will need to design your routing and copper pour features to accommodate development if you decide to use them.
It should go without saying that you should always build and test a functional prototype of your device before you start ordering fabricated prototypes. Ordering a large-run is only a good idea if you have tested your functional prototype and your fabricated prototypes, followed by completing any required redesigns. All prototypes should be thoroughly tested before moving to full production, and this will give you an opportunity to fix any problems in your design if needed.
Once you finish your design, checked that it meets standard design rules, and decided you are ready to fabricate a prototype, it’s time to prepare deliverables for your manufacturer. Your design platform will need to generate certain documents based on your board layout. A great online design platform should quickly generate your manufacturer outputs. These documents include a bill of materials, Gerber files and Excellon files, and CAD/CAM files of your device.
All of these files will tell your manufacturer the information they need to plan out the fabrication and assembly process. The bill of materials is important as it contains sourcing and pricing information for components that appear on the board. It should also contain acceptable substitutes for your components in case there is a problem with sourcing. Always check with your manufacturer and get a list of required deliverables.
If you are putting together a team of designers or you are working in a remote organization, an online PCB design platform is perfect for team collaboration. A great online platform gives the design owner the power to add collaborators and document design changes. You should be able to switch between versions easily and download different versions of finished layouts.
Collaboration is extremely smooth and easy in an online PCB design platform. This type of collaboration is excellent for new designers as it gives multiple people an instant view into a project. When more people are collaborating, there is a better chance that design problems can be caught before a board goes to production.
You don’t need to be a large company with a massive budget to jump into PCB or electronics design. Now you can have access to the tools you need to build your dream device with browser-based design software. IoT 360 helps you achieve your design goals with built-in a ton of built-in components and an intuitive user interface. IoT 360 gives you the power to design professional-level devices while helping you stay within your budget.