Using a Circuit Builder Online with Upverter

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Any new or experienced PCB designer with a great idea for a new product will have plenty of challenges to overcome, and they need a number of tools to create a high quality design that is manufacturable. From schematic design tools to layout tools and component libraries, the best PCB design programs and platforms offer designers a large number of features for creating advanced PCBs.

Collaboration is another pain point that designers experience when working on complex products. Some design platforms make collaboration easier than others, and the price points and functionality in different programs can vary wildly. Thankfully, there is an easier way to collaborate with your design team and create high quality boards on a budget.

Why Should I Use a Circuit Builder Online?

Using a circuit builder online can help ease your collaboration pains and provide you with the tools you need to create boards that are actually manufacturable. The right online design tools will also give you access to a huge library of components and datasheets. Your team will be able to track changes to projects within a single interface, as well as prepare designs for full-scale production.

What Makes a Great Online Circuit Builder?

A great online circuit builder will include many of the same tools that are present in desktop PCB design applications. If you take a look at most online design tools, you will see that they offer limited functionality, forcing you to choose multiple tools just to create a new design. Desktop design programs have a chance of reading between data formats, but separated online tools do not have this capability.

The best online circuit design software will include the features you need to take a design all the way to production in a single program. You shouldn’t have to cobble together multiple online design programs just to finish an important project, and designers on your team should have full access to the design features required to build great PCBs. This improves productivity and eases collaboration across design teams.

  • Other online design platforms give you little to no control over your design rules, and most do not enforce any design rules at all. Upverter allows you to tailor your design rules and constraints to your specific application. This helps you meet your performance requirements. Learn more about working with constraints in Upverter.
  • Upverter’s browser-based design interface is built for collaboration. Your work is stored in a secure database and can be easily shared with your team members. Learn more about collaboration in Upverter.

Screenshot of a PCB for a watch in UpverterPCB layout for an electromechanical watch created with Upverter

Completing Your Designs with an Online Circuit Builder

There is no reason you should be forced to work with multiple design tools that enforce inconsistent workflows just to finish your design. If you’re considering using a circuit builder online, your browser-based design software should include all the tools you need to turn your idea into a finished layout and plan for production. Even more important, your online design tools should be accessible in a single interface with consistent workflow among design features.

Preparing for Manufacturing with a Circuit Builder Online

When you’re ready to plan for manufacturing, you’ll need tools in your design software that generate deliverables for your manufacturer directly from your design data. There is no reason you should have to manually copy design information into a word processor, browse distributor websites for components, and generate Gerber files in a separate program. With Upverter, you’ll have the tools you need to prepare a complete package of deliverables for your manufacturer.

Screenshot of the part creation tool in UpverterCreating custom components in Upverter

Upverter: A Comprehensive Circuit Builder Online

Other browser-based programs separate features behind multiple paywalls, forcing you to pull out your credit card every time you need to complete a critical design step. With Upverter, you’ll have greater access to the features you need, making collaboration among multiple people in your organization much easier. Upverter is the only comprehensive browser-based PCB design solution.

Upverter’s Complete Browser-based Design Platform

When you use Upverter, you’ll have access to a complete design platform with professional features in a single location. The days of trying to mix multiple online circuit design tools into a single program are over. You can have access to everything you need to create a PCB online with Upverter.

Upverter has taken the time to nurture a vibrant community of designers and wants you to interact with the community. Between the open source projects, easy-to-use design tools, and vibrant community of experienced designers, Upverter has the tools and resources you need to bring your next idea to life.

You can sign up for free and get access to the best browser-based PCB editor, schematic editor, and component database. Visit Upverter today to learn more.

Online PCB Printing: What to Know With Small or Large PCB Services

PCB production with a CNC machine

If you’re like any designer, you’ve probably spent more time than necessary trying to hammer out all the kinks of your printed circuit board before you go into making your device. But, especially if you’re not particularly part of the industry, you might wonder how exactly the “printed” gets put into the “printed circuit board”. After you’ve spent time learning the particulars of PCB design and laying out your new dream device, it’s time to bring your board to life.

If you start searching the internet for manufacturers, you will find a long list of companies with varying capabilities, prices, and turnaround times. Production sizes, printing costs, electronic component listings and necessities for audits, suppliers, and turn-around times all may vary.

So how do you pick the right manufacturer for your needs? There are several variables to consider when deciding on a manufacturer and your order size. All manufacturers follow a similar process, but not all manufacturers have the same capabilities or prices.

So You’ve Decided to Print Your Board. Now What?

If you have your heart set on manufacturing your device, it is best to take some time to learn design for manufacturing (DFM) and design of assembly (DFA) practices while you are still in the design phase. Most manufacturers can produce simpler boards without undue costs. Taking some time to learn DFM and DFA practices based on your manufacturer’s capabilities will help prevent delays, redesigns, and unexpected costs.

The next critical question involves quantity. How many boards do you need to order? Do you need them tomorrow, next month, or can deliveries be staggered? Should you order a small prototype run first? These are important questions that can have a big impact on your schedule and your wallet.

Many manufacturers will provide a short-run of PCBs. Their costs vary by geography, manufacturing capabilities, and board complexity. If you live in a moderately sized city, you can likely find a local manufacturer that you can speak with in-person. Short-runs are useful if you want to use a small group of devices for testing, if you want to get opinions about your device from beta users, or if you just want one or two for your at-home purposes.

If you are intending to start selling and distributing your device to wider audiences, you will need to order from a large-run manufacturer. Your fabrication and assembly costs per board will be lower when you order a large manufacturing run. Ordering a large-run is only a good idea if you have already thoroughly tested your board as a prototype. If you order prototypes and thoroughly test them before moving to full production, you’ll have an opportunity to change your design if needed.

If a company is going to charge money for a large manufacturing run, then it needs to work correctly and that will involve testing prototypes in-house. Aside from allowing you to perform some redesigns, prototypes also allow manufacturers to ensure that the fabrication and assembly processes can produce defect-free boards. Some manufacturers will also run basic in-house testing on your prototype.

Testing a PCB prototype

What Does PCB Manufacturing Look Like?

Once you get your design finished, you’ve validated it with simulations, and you’ve located a manufacturer that can produce the quantities you want, it’s time to prepare your manufacturing outputs. Your manufacturer will need certain documents generated from your design. These documents include Gerber files, Excellon drill files, a CAM draft of your design, and a bill of materials. Your manufacturer will tell you what information they need to plan out the fabrication and assembly process.

Once you get your design to the point where you want to order prototypes, you will need to supply several pieces of information about your design to your manufacturer. Whether you’re manufacturing the next great smartphone or something much simpler, this requirement goes above and beyond the board layout. Your manufacturer needs manufacturing specifications, component sourcing information, suitable component substitutes, and much more.

Some manufacturers will actually give you a discount if you perform DFM checks in advance, as this prevents the manufacturer from having to make last-minute changes to your design to accommodate your order. It also allows you to address any design issues before your information gets sent to the fabrication house.

If you are interested in ordering a larger fabrication run, the last thing you need is to receive your finished boards, only to find that they do not meet your specifications. It is a good idea to order a short run first and check that this short run meets your design specifications. This gives you the chance to implement any last-minute critical redesigns before ordering a large run.

Fabrication and Assembly

Fabrication houses need your manufacturing outputs so that they can build a step-by-step process to build your board. It’s okay if you are not familiar with all the steps involved in fabricating a PCB, your manufacturer will determine the best process to fabricate your board that fits within their capabilities. Your manufacturing outputs will help your fabricator determine the best fabrication process for your circuit board.

Designers that are serious about manufacturing PCBs will panelize their boards, even if they are only purchasing a small run. This involves arranging your PCB into a pattern (called a “panel”). These patterns are arranged through your PCB layout on large boards to have the fabrication house cut or rout the boards from the panel. This increases the number of boards you can manufacture at one and reduce your costs for production.

Once your boards are fabricated, it’s time to assemble components on your board. If your manufacturer will also perform assembly, the manufacturer will be working off of your bill of materials. This document contains component sourcing information, cost estimates, and any suitable replacement components. Effectively, it should serve as a one-stop source for your circuit board’s electronic component needs.

Automated soldering machine

Manufacturing Perils

Problems with manufactured boards come primarily from design mistakes, poor communication with your manufacturer and plain old carelessness on the part of manufacturers. Only two of these things are within your control. But, paying enough attention through the start of your manufacturing process will (hopefully) ensure that enough attention is paid from your manufacturer’s end on your circuit board and all required packaging.

Some design choices can incur significant costs and lead to serious design headaches if you don’t communicate with your manufacturer early in the design stage. Even the shape of your board can incur design costs that suddenly make your board unaffordable. Communicating with your manufacturer about how your device can be designed to match their capabilities lets you consider redesigns before your first quote and manufacturing run.

An experienced manufacturer should be able to identify common assembly issues before they begin a manufacturing run. As a typical example, unevenly applied solder paste and slightly misaligned components can lead to tombstoning while soldering components, causing your components stand up vertically and leave an open connection. If your manufacturer can identify problems like this and warn you ahead of time so that you can implement any redesigns as necessary.

No two manufacturers are the same, and finding the right manufacturers can help alleviate all these issues. Not all fabrication houses will offer to help you complete a PCB project from start to finish. If you can find a manufacturer that is prompt with client communications, can point out design issues before fabrication and recommend the best redesign steps, you will increase your chances of receiving the best boards on your first run.

From Beginner Board Design to Advanced PCB Layouts

More complex board designs like rigid-flex and multi-layer PCBs have a more extensive manufacturing process. Both types of boards are becoming the standard in a number of applications. Since these boards are more specialized, they tend to have higher costs and longer turnaround time.

Multi-layer Boards

Multi-layer boards allow connections to be routed below the surface layer, allowing you to increase your connection and component density. Fabricating a multi-layer board is similar to fabricating multiple single layer boards and the layers are overlaid and bonded together. Connecting to internal layers requires placing vias at certain points in each layer. Your manufacturer will have certain requirements on how vias should be used in your PCB.

Rigid-Flex Boards

Rigid-flex boards use a flexible conductive ribbon to connect two or more PCBs, and these boards can be used in more complex packages. The important manufacturing step involves applying a coverlay over the flexible part of the circuit, which shields the circuit from damage. As a designer, there are certain design rules you should follow if you when laying out the traces in your flex ribbon.

Just as is the case in fabricating a simple board, your manufacturer should be able to identify any design issues in more advanced boards that will create manufacturing problems. This is where communication with your manufacturer during the design phase is crucial. This gives you the opportunity to understand any design constraints before you finish designing your board and send it to your manufacturer.

If you aren’t a PCB or electronics design guru with a huge budget, you should consider using browser-based design software. With built-in component generators, automatic routers, and an intuitive user interface, IoT 360 helps you streamline your design process without breaking the bank. IoT 360 has a ton of options and allows you to export your manufacturing outputs in an industry standard format.

If you are interested and want to learn more about the capabilities of browser-based designs and product development, sign-up for our service and contact us for more information.

 

Working with an Online Gerber Viewer and Prepping for Manufacturing

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shutterstock_1045085404.jpg

If you’ve never sent a circuit board off for manufacturing, you might not be aware of the different types of files a manufacturer requires to create your board. Manufacturers need Gerber, Excellon, and NC Drill files as these files contain all the information your fabricator needs to print conductive elements, place vias and tooling holes, and build your layer stack. With many design programs, including desktop design programs, you’ll need to work with a number of different programs just to generate these important deliverables from your design files.

When you work with the right browser-based design software, you’ll be able to generate Gerber files and other deliverables directly from your design data without importing your data into another program. Instead of working with a separate set of programs, Upverter includes the tools you need to generate deliverables for your manufacturer in standard formats, and all within an easy-to-use browser-based interface.

What are Gerber Files?

Gerber files are a standard file format that manufacturers use to define copper pours and conductive elements on each layer of your board. These files come in standard formats, with the Gerber X2 being the most recent version of these critical deliverables. This file format also contains the locations of impedance-controlled traces, definitions of different layer functions, and much more.

Other Important Manufacturer Deliverables

Aside from Gerber files, you will need to send your manufacturer a bill of materials and a pick-and-place list in order to expedite automated assembly. If your PCB contains mounting holes and vias, you will need to send your manufacturer drill files so that they can input these files as instructions into CNC machines.

  • The right browser-based design package will allow you to move through the entire PCB design process and onto full-scale production.

Learn more about working with browser-based design software.

  • If you’re part of a startup company or an entrepreneur, you can keep costs down when you optimize your board and your bill of materials for your manufacturer.
    Learn more about optimizing for DFM with Upverter.
  • Before moving on to full-scale production, you’ll need to create prototypes of your device. You’ll go through a number of design, build, and test iterations to get your design just right.

Learn more about prototyping in Upverter.

shutterstock_235336699
PCB and its printed Gerber mask

Design, Build, Test, Repeat

Successfully creating a production-grade PCB from start to finish will inevitably require several iterations of designing, building, and testing your new device. Once you’ve finished your design, you’ll need to order prototypes from a short-run manufacturer and test them against your performance standards. This process of updating your design and repeating the process is much easier when you work with the right browser-based design software. You’ll have greater ability to collaborate with team members while still having the ability to generate the deliverables your manufacturer needs to create your new device.

Preparing for Manufacturing with Online Collaboration

Complex designs can be difficult to optimize for production, but working with online design software makes collaboration easy. You’ll have control over successive versions of your design and full view of all edits made to your design. Upverter’s design, prototyping, and production tools make collaboration seamless.

  • Panelizing your board is just one of many aspects involved in preparing for a successful manufacturing run and maximizing board yield.
    Learn more about panelization in browser-based design.
  • Browser-based software does more than just improve collaboration. Your team will have access to the online Gerber viewer and generator you need to create deliverables for your manufacturer.

Learn more about generating deliverables for a manufacturer.

  • Once you receive your prototype, you’ll need to thoroughly check your board before running your first live tests in the field.

Learn more about checking your prototype board before live testing.

bill of materialsEditing a bill of materials in Upverter

The Value of Browser-Based Design Software

Not all online design software is created equal. The right browser-based design software will include a full suite of tools to take your idea from schematic to finished product in a single interface. The online tools you need should be present in a single window without the need to incorporate external tools. Online access to a full suite of design tools improves collaboration and productivity.

Upverter: The Only Fully Browser-based Design Platform

When you use Upverter, you’ll have access to all the design features you need to create a complete design in a single browser-based application. Other design tools only offer limited functionality, forcing you to choose multiple tools just to create a new design, and you won’t have access to an online Gerber viewer or generator. With Upverter, you can take a single design all the way to production with a single program.

Upverter has taken the time to nurture a vibrant community of designers and wants you to interact with the community on their forum. The easy-to-use design tools, huge number of open source projects, and vibrant community of experienced designers make Upverter the ideal choice for hobbyists, startups, and entrepreneurs to produce their next great electronic product.

You can sign up for free and get access to the best browser-based PCB editor, schematic editor, and component database. Visit Upverter today to learn more.

Three Open Source Online Electronics Projects to Inspire Your Next Design

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I don’t know a single programmer that doesn’t make use of open-source code. There’s no need to constantly rebuild the wheel, and great programmers can save themselves a lot of time by reusing great code. The same idea applies to hardware design. More designers are making their design projects accessible to anyone with a simple license, and one of these projects just might for the basis of some of your next electronics projects.

Adapting existing hardware projects can be like sticking a square peg in a round hole. However, experienced designers will be able to identify the pieces they need from schematics and cut out the pieces they don’t need. When you work with an online design platform that includes project sharing and forking features, you can quickly grab an existing project and adapt it to your next design.

How To Get Started With Open Source Electronics Projects

Working with open-source projects requires access to repository of projects that allows you to access all the design data you need to get started. You’ll need to fork the project into your own version to get started. Platforms like GitHub provide this type of functionality, but an online PCB design platform with sharing and forking features allows you to get a firsthand view of the project and PCB layout before you get started.

Once you get started, you’ll quickly find that version control features are very useful for tracking revisions and reverting to previous versions of a design, similar to what you can do with Google Docs. These features are also important if you are collaborating with a team of designers, as this allows a team leader to track revisions by all collaborators.

Throughout the process, you’ll want to take advantage of the verification features in order to check your design against design rules and constraints. This helps ensure that your board will satisfy specific performance requirements and that your design will be manufacturable. Finally, an online design environment that provides sourcing information helps you and your team cut down lead times once you start planning for production.

This is exactly the environment Upverter® has created. There are a host of electronics projects that you can access and fork instantly. Here are some interesting projects that showcase what you can do with an online design platform:

FPGA Development Board

If you need to design an evaluation board for an FPGA, the FPGA Development Board project provides a useful base for designing an evaluation board for many FPGAs. The extensive component library in Upverter already includes many FPGAs, allowing you to tailor your board to specific applications.

FPGAThe PCB layout in the FPGA Development Board project

nRF52 Smart Watch

For the wearable electronics designers, this project features the PCB for a custom smart watch. This board includes power management/regulation, wireless and Bluetooth connectivity, serial flash memory, accelerometer/gyroscope, adapter for an LCD display, and USB connectivity. The schematic starts out nicely organized with clearly labelled nets, allowing you to quickly grab different functional blocks from the design and start working with them in new electronics projects. You can also start adding or improving the capabilities that are already built into the project with newer components.

nRF52 smartwatch PCB layout

PCB layout for the nRF52 smartwatch project

Vehicle Telematics

The Vehicle Telematics project is built on top of a PocketBEAGLE board, so it already includes USB connectivity, onboard memory, and all the other bells and whistles that come included with PocketBEAGLE, including an ARM Cortex microcontroller. The flexibility of PocketBEAGLE allows this project to be adapted as a small single board computer that runs Linux. While you may not have the same speed and memory as other single board computers, this board is smaller than your cell phone (2.625×1.625 sq. mm). Head on over to beagleboard.org to get some more ideas for using this platform for new electronics projects.

telematics

Compatibility With Other Design Platforms

Open-source hardware projects are useful for cutting down design time, and they have a distinct advantage over open-source software. Software has to be written in a specific language, and you cannot simply copy and paste code between languages. Thankfully, major PCB design software platforms can use compatible file formats, allowing designers to transfer data between different platforms.

If you use other major design tools, you can quickly import your existing design data into Upverter’s online design platform. You can also export your design data from Upverter® into a compatible file format and start using it in your desktop design tools. This gives you the collaboration features that are lacking in many desktop design programs and the flexibility to incorporate online design into your workflow.

The online PCB design environment from Upverter provides distributed teams and individual designers with the design tools they need to design new electronics projects for any application. Designers can quickly access and fork existing from other designers and start to adapt them to their own applications. Upverter continuously updates the platform with new features and capabilities that are demanded by the community.

You can sign up for free and get access to the best browser-based PCB editor, schematic editor, and component database. Visit Upverter today to learn more.

Getting Started With Open Source Hardware

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Now is the time for cloud collaboration

Open source software has helped level the playing field for students, professional developers, and entrepreneurs looking for their next great idea. With the advent of Creative Commons and MIT licenses, makers can get the attribution they deserve when their work forms the foundation of the next great business idea. The same idea now applies to open source hardware; makers can create and share their ideas for anyone to access under these same licenses, allowing anyone to create a great new product.

Entrepreneurs or makers looking to get started on a new project can get plenty of inspiration from open source hardware projects. The question is: where can you look for a community of designers that are willing to share high quality PCB designs as open source? Sure, PCB design software companies will release examples for you to use, but they don’t always match your application, and they require near total modification if you ever want to use these ideas as the basis for a new product. Your design software alone will not give you access to open source projects you can use for inspiration.

My First Open Source Hardware Project

Back in my days as an upstart musician (it wasn’t that long ago), I wanted to create my own Eurorack modules for a modular synthesizer. Within the electronic music industry, Eurorack is a de facto standard for connecting multiple audio synthesizers modules into a single package. There are plenty of open source hardware projects that can be easily adapted to a new project, allowing designers to create their own custom modules.

My original idea was to create a MIDI interface as a vertical 1U rack module for use in an existing cabinet. In the end, I ended up adapting a Raspberry Pi as my interface. The Raspberry Pi module is great for this as it already includes UART connectivity, which is already used in MIDI. Raspberry Pi also runs Linux, so it will naturally support Python, which just happens to be my favorite scripting language.

In designing the PCB, I got plenty of inspiration from schematics on the web, and I ultimately wanted to build a custom board to hold my MIDI-In and MIDI-Out connectors, as well as the supporting components to interface with my Raspberry Pi. Creating a MIDI interface is relatively easy; the MIDI-In connector needed to be isolated from the rest of the board, while the output could be connected directly to the GPIO output (Pin 8 on the Raspberry Pi) with a small resistor and a pair of inverters to clean up the digital output.

Eurorack built from an open source hardware project
Eurorack – fully customizable synthesizers

Ultimately, I drew out the schematic by hand and used a prototyping through-hole board to attach all the components. For this type of low speed application, you can get away with using a prototyping board; I never had any problems getting this thing to interface with another MIDI device. There are plenty of other open source hardware projects you can implement with a Raspberry Pi.

Using a single board computer like a Raspberry Pi or a microcontroller board like an Arduino is a great way to get started prototyping a new device using desktop or online hardware design tools. In my opinion, I got lucky with my first pass at interfacing with a Raspberry Pi, thanks to its built in features and the fact that my board operated at low speed. If you need to build something that operates at higher speed or that you intend to have produced at a professional manufacturer, then it’s best to work with a design platform that can help you navigate important design rules and constraints as you navigate your project.

Sharing Open Source Hardware with Online Design Software

There are many online design platforms, but few will allow you to take an online design from start to finish without adapting at least one external program into your workflow. Any online design platform you use should mimic the desktop environment as close as possible. This includes exporting design data for use in other programs as needed, and offering an optional desktop application that allows users to access their online design tools alongside their desktop design applications.

Even fewer online design platforms provide the collaboration and sharing features that are the foundation of open source hardware. They also don’t provide a Google Docs style interface, so you’ll have no version control or automated backup features.

If you’re interested in sharing your own design, there are plenty of specialized platforms for releasing your project as open source. Even GitHub is being used for sharing open source hardware, especially since PCB design data is entirely digitized these days. With GitHub being primarily the domain of open source software rather than hardware, you might consider some other avenues for sharing your design. Check out electronics forums that focus on your particular application area. Communities on these forums might suggest some upgrades that will help you improve future versions of your project.

The browser-based PCB design platform from Upverter provides all the tools you need to build your next great open source hardware design and share it with the community. You’ll be able to find plenty of open source hardware projects on Upverter to help you get started. This online design platform includes all the standard features designers expect in electronics design software.

You can sign up for free and get access to the best browser-based PCB editor, schematic editor, and component database. Visit Upverter today to learn more.

What Would You Do With an Online Circuit Simulator?

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shutterstock_1257989998Should you use a desktop or online circuit simulator?

Remember the days when you had to download an open-source SPICE package for circuit simulations? Me too… I still like to implement SPICE simulations in Matlab, but there are plenty of tools for SPICE simulations that include a user interface and that automatically import data from your schematic as inputs.

With the right online circuit simulator, you won’t have to rebuild your circuit as lines of code Some online circuit simulators will force you to send your schematic from your design software to a separate simulator module, but the best browser-based software will have these capabilities integrated into a single interface.

Who Needs an Online Circuit Simulator?

If you’re designing a new product, at some point you may need to validate your circuit design to ensure it functions as you intended. This is not so simple a task as checking against your design rules in a desktop application. Sure, your design rules are important, but they can’t tell you exactly how a circuit will function.

If you already have some simulation capabilities built into your desktop application, then great! But not everyone is so fortunate to have these capabilities. Not all desktop applications have simulation capabilities built in, and those that do may only be limited to certain analyses. Some circuit simulators are offered as addon programs for desktop design platforms, meaning they can carry a hefty price tag, depending on the capabilities you need.

If you’re using online hardware design tools to collaborate with a remote team of designers, then your online schematics and layouts will still need to be simulated. Not all online circuit simulators include the capabilities to go much farther than to create a simple layout from a very short list of components. Other online circuit simulators can only interact with certain desktop applications, meaning that distributed design teams will be unable to collaborate on a design and simulation simultaneously.

Any distributed team of hardware designers can see major productivity gains when they use an online circuit simulator. Individual designers can also see the same benefits as these online tools typically carry a lower price tag. Some have a decent user interface and will accept schematic file formats from several different desktop PCB design applications.

Individuals and distributed teams that plan to use an online circuit simulator need to carefully plan their design workflow. SPICE has been a very popular circuit simulation tool for decades, and SPICE-based or Verilog-based online circuit simulators can take a schematic and netlist and use these data to generate a complete simulation. You should start running simulations to verify your circuit design before you start your PCB layout. If you complete your layout before running circuit simulations, you put yourself at risk of an unnecessary redesign.

What You’ll Need to Verify in Simulations

Your design rules are there to make sure that you’ve properly placed components, vias, and traces so that your board is manufacturable and obeys important design standards. However, your design rules can’t guarantee your circuit will work as you intended. With simulations, you can get a direct view of how your circuit will operate in different situations without having to completely analyze your circuit on paper.

As an example, analog simulations are useful for filter and amplifier design. This allows you to see exactly how your circuit will respond to different driving frequencies and make changes as necessary. With a mixed signal simulation, you can examine how devices with pulse-shaping or signal processing capabilities will operate and how they 

Simulating a circuit driven with a series of pulses or spiked with an impulse is useful for examining the transient behavior of a circuit. This is very important when selecting bypass capacitors, designing decoupling networks, and impedance matching networks. If you want to simulate a purely digital circuit, then you need to make sure your component library includes logic models for your components.

upverter schematicA portion of Ben Jordan’s Sausage Factory schematic. This is one of many designs that could be brought into an online circuit simulator.

In the event you find your circuit behaves differently than you envisioned and you need to do a redesign, be sure to pay attention to the supply chain and replace any parts with those that are currently available. Once you go to manufacture your board, you might find yourself waiting many weeks for parts to arrive if you don’t select sourceable components.

An In-Editor Online Circuit Simulator

Not all schematic editors and circuit simulation tools are integrated. Those that offer an integrated online circuit simulator can immediately translate your schematic and netlist into a SPICE-based, Verilog-based, or other type of simulation without sending design data between different programs. This is a much better option than exporting between desktop programs, or exporting between browser-based programs. Best of all, you won’t have to rebuild a circuit schematic in a separate program or manually write out your netlist and circuit elements before running your simulation.

Online design software with a built-in circuit simulator provides plenty of other benefits. These tools will save your design in an online repository, allowing it to be easily shared or downloaded. The best design software will actually offer live collaboration and version control in a Google Docs-style interface. This greatly speeds up circuit design and allows you to run simulations instantly. You won’t have to devise an odd collaboration strategy just to perform important verification tasks. Any online circuit simulator that interfaces with an optional desktop application will allow users to access their online design tools alongside other desktop design applications.

The flexibility offered by browser-based design software with an online circuit simulator is something that other design platforms just can’t match The browser-based PCB design platform from Upverter® provides new design teams and established organizations with the tools they need to take any new idea all the way to a complete prototyping run. Upverter wants you to stay engaged and continues to update the platform with new features that are demanded by the community.

You can sign up for free and get access to the best browser-based PCB editor, schematic editor, and component database. Visit Upverter today to learn more.

Best Practices for Collaborating with a Circuit Maker Online

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shutterstock_422665894Now is the time for cloud collaboration

No one knows the absolute importance of collaboration better than remote teams. More and more startups are being formed as a collaboration of people from around the world, established companies are becoming comfortable moving development teams online, and new technologies are coming to market that enable this transition. This is happening in both hardware and software design in every industry vertical.

Even design teams that are clustered in offices can benefit from these same technologies and the collaboration they provide. When it comes to hardware design, the tools used to collaborate on a project resemble those used in software development. This allows similar processes to be implemented throughout the design process. Let’s take a look at some best collaboration practices for hardware design teams:

Live Collaboration, Forking, and Revision Tracking

Online hardware design tools are excellent for live collaboration, where two or more designers can work on the same project in real time. When two or more team members are collaborating on any project in real time, it is always best to keep some line of live communication open, either by phone or a chat application. Designers will be able to understand what changes are being made and why they are being made, and they will be able to check that any change was applied correctly during the design session. Keeping live communication open during collaboration ensures that everyone is fully aware of all changes as they occur, and designers can discuss changes to a PCB as they are implemented.

For those in the hardware realm that are not familiar with forking, it is important to distinguish it from revision tracking. In short, revision tracking keeps a list of edits to an existing project and tracks who made the edits. The idea behind forking is to replicate an existing project, allowing it to be modified as a new project under a new name. The right circuit maker online will enforce revision tracking for forked projects.

If someone finds an error in the design or a large number of edits need to be undone, then you can quickly revert the project to a previous version. This is preferable to going back and undoing every single edit manually. The best revision tracking features will everything right down to the exact changes made to a PCB, as well as which team member made those changes. In the event that a team member made a mistake, a project manager knows who to address to ensure that the mistake is not repeated.

In contrast, suppose that you currently have a hardware project to the point where all the bugs have been addressed, the intended functionality has been checked against design rules, and your team is ready to start adding new features. This is where forking becomes useful. Forks allow teams to create and control their own variations of an existing project without compromising a working version of a project.

When Should You Fork a Project?

Forking is useful whenever you want to make changes while keeping a copy of the original, unmodified data. Any time someone on a design team wants to experiment with adding a feature to a working design, the project should be forked so that it can be modified as needed. Another time to fork a project is when a product reaches the end of its lifecycle and will form the basis of an entirely new product. This allows you to create a new project and modify in any way you can imagine without changing the old design data.

Using forking to experiment with new designs or new features from existing designs is a much better option than relying on revision tracking. With revision tracking, you only have a single copy of the project, and you will need to track changes throughout this single project. Forking a project provides any designer much greater freedom compared to working with tracked revisions.

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Gettings started with a forked project in Upverter

What About Enterprise Teams?

What if some or all of your design team is clustered in an office space? Are any of these features useful in this setting? When you use a circuit maker online that provides these collaboration features, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” Even teams in an office need version control, revision tracking, forking, live collaboration, and automatic backup features.

Compared to large software projects, the only portion of a hardware project that can be broken out into different sections is hierarchical schematics. This makes it difficult to collaborate on a single project using legacy desktop applications for PCB design. With these old platforms, only one designer can work on a board at any time, and most do not offer any features like revision tracking/version control. Forking and revision tracking both require manually making copies of design files and working on the copies, and you won’t be able to merge changes in the same way you would with a platform like GitHub.

Online design software with live collaboration features allows multiple designers to work on all parts of a PCB project without being clustered around a single computer screen. When your design software automatically backs up revisions and forks to the cloud, designers anywhere on the planet can access their portion of the project instantly. Any circuit maker online that interfaces with an optional desktop application allows users to access their online design tools alongside other desktop design applications.

Online PCB design software is here to help your design teams collaborate and design the best new hardware projects quickly and easily. The browser-based PCB design platform from Upverter provides all the tools you need to design new electronics from anywhere. Upverter also continuously updates the platform with new features and capabilities that are demanded by the community.

You can sign up for free and get access to the best browser-based PCB editor, schematic editor, and component database. Visit Upverter today to learn more.

Agile Hardware Design with Online Circuit Builder Software

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Upverter Expert Makers10 (1).pngNeed to speed up NPI? Try agile development with online circuit builder tools

If you’ve ever paid attention to software developers, then you’ve probably seen the word “agile” thrown around a time or two. Anyone that confines themselves to hardware or software design likely views someone in the other camp as rather odd. Each group uses different tools, design methodologies, and workflows. With agile methodologies having proven themselves in software development, should they also be applied to hardware development?

Even though hardware designers are supremely innovative and constantly push the limits of technology, there seems to be little to no debate around improving design methodologies. Hardware designers tend to thrive on process-based methodologies, and the hardware development process can be viewed as rather linear. However, rethinking hardware design as a collaborative and creative process has the potential to improve outcomes and productivity.

What is Agile Development Anyways?

Agile development actually encompasses a number of different variations. Within the software industry, these include scrum, lean, Kanban, and feature-driven development. Any of these ideas could be easily adapted to hardware development by simply replacing the word “software” with “hardware” in literature and blogs on agile development.

While hardware development and PCB design are often viewed as a purely linear processes that progress from schematic design to PCB layout, verification, and production planning, changes are often required at different points in the design process. No product development process is purely linear as issues surrounding signal integrity, sourcing components, manufacturability, and changes in customer requirements may require changes to earlier portions of the design. Agile development stresses adaptation and responsivity to changes in order to deliver the best possible product to the customer.

Agile processes break a larger project into smaller pieces that can be developed in successive iterations. Each iteration lasts a specific amount of time and is developed through collaboration among members of a project team, and even with the customer. The goal is to prioritize what needs to be addressed during the current iteration and get it working properly. By reducing the size of each portion of a project and stitching it together as the design phase progresses, each portion of the final product can be brought to production level in succession. These iterations are repeated until a working design or product is finished and ready for manufacturing.

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You can take your Kanban tasks off a whiteboard with online circuit builder tools

Agile Methods in PCB Design

Agile methods can be easily adapted to PCB design by breaking up each design phase into its respective components and addressing them in successive iterations. While there is no universal way to break up every project, an agile approach to PCB design might break up a project as follows:

 

  • Schematic design: This lays the foundation for your PCB. If you are working on a complicated design that includes multiple functional blocks, each block could be considered its own sub-project and placed in its own hierarchical schematic. These schematics can be linked together into a top-level schematic.
  • PCB layout: This phase is usually separated from the schematic design phase, but working with design software that synchronizes changes in each document is ideal for agile design. This allows you to quickly implement product changes in each iteration of the agile process as necessary.
  • Verification: Once each sub-project is completed, it should be checked against your design rules and constraints to ensure it will meet your customer or industry requirements. Simulations also come in handy when verifying the functionality of your new product.
  • Production planning: With PCB design, this is obviously the final step in the product development process. However, as you start to work on sourcing components for your board, you may find that some components are obsolete or unsourceable, and you will need to choose replacements. This then forms another iteration of the project, where the layout and schematic are updated with the appropriate replacement components. Note that you can avoid changes by checking sourcing information during schematic design iterations.

 

Throughout the process, you’ll want to take advantage of the verification features in your PCB design software to ensure that each portion of your design obeys your design rules and constraints. Whenever an individual sub-project does not pass muster, it should be included in the next iteration. Sometimes, portions of a design may need to be triaged based on changes in customer requirements, depending on the dependencies between each aspect of a design.

Agile Hardware Development with Online Circuit Builder Tools

Online collaboration tools have been a boon to software developers. They provide real-time collaboration, revision control, access control, automated backup, and sharing features that improve efficiency and productivity. In contrast, hardware developers have lacked the same tools, and these features have normally been integrated into desktop-based software. Data management and sharing features often require a central server and plenty of oversight from an IT team in order to provide network uptime, data integrity, and access control.

When one looks at the benefits seen by software developers, particularly in agile development, hardware designers can see a big productivity boost when it comes to implementing a design workflow that requires collaboration on a complex design. Placing these tools online provides additional benefits, including storage on the cloud, sharing and release management, and access control.

After a quick scan of search engine results, one quickly finds that the online PCB design landscape is fragmented, and most online software only contains subsets of the features required under agile hardware development. Teams are forced to use multiple online and desktop tools, rather than working on an entire product in a single platform. Instead, the right online circuit builder platform will help you take a design to completion and onwards to manufacturing.

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The online circuit builder software from Upverter® provides distributed teams all the tools they need to design new electronics for any application. The design features in Upverter are flexible enough that they can be adapted to any development methodology, including agile hardware development. Your design teams can have access to design features that allow collaboration, provide revision control, and allow forking and sharing directly from your browser. Upverter continuously updates the platform with new features and capabilities that are demanded by the community.

You can sign up for free and get access to the best browser-based PCB editor, schematic editor, and component database. Visit Upverter today to learn more.

Going Remote? Here’s How Online PCB Design Software Can Help

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shutterstock_173535041Who wouldn’t love to design new electronics from an island beach?

The idea of remote teams used to be anathema to tech giants that were committed to office life. How do teams collaborate? How can you possibly motivate and supervise people on your team? How do you manage projects, data, access to tools, and communicate with team members on-the-fly?

With new cloud-based technologies coming online every day, more and more businesses are allowing team members to work from afar. Some businesses are creating entirely remote teams in an effort to attract younger workers and broaden their talent base. Other companies are even transitioning all their business operations to a remote model.

Radical Change in PCB Design

With such change occurring in software-driven industries worldwide, one should pose the question: will the PCB design industry be able to keep pace with this level of change? Printed circuit design and manufacturing represent something of a paradox in high tech industries. While PCBs are responsible for facilitating many of the technological advances that make modern life possible, many PCB design tools have lagged behind software in other verticals that emphasize collaboration, open-source sharing, and access from anywhere on any device. PCB manufacturing has generally lagged behind all other industries in terms of automation and transformational innovation, and it is only now catching up to the rest of Industry 4.0.

The number of employees working remotely increased by 115% since 2005. 37% of U.S. workers were telecommuting at least part time in 2015, and these numbers have only risen over the last 4 years. Information technology was by far the industry with the greatest number of remote jobs in a recent survey. However, electronics design and the PCB design industry were not even a blip on the radar. This goes to show how such an important high tech industry has continued to lag other software-driven verticals, primarily due to the lack of collaborative tools.

Collaboration with Online PCB Design Software

Now cloud-based design platforms for PCB design will need to emphasize a number of important design, collaboration, and version control features in order for remote design teams to work successfully and create the best new electronics. Hardware startups and larger enterprises can greatly benefit from these design capabilities as it allows them to expand their talent base, provide designers with greater work-life balance, and reduce overhead.

First, design teams and entire organizations can benefit from a design platform that combines GitHub-esque sharing and forking features with a collaborative interface that mimics the capabilities of Google Docs. Bringing these capabilities into an optional desktop application allows users to tailor their experience and access online design tools alongside other desktop design applications.

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With online PCB design software, you won’t have to work on a chalkboard

Just as Google Docs and GitHub allow users to download their data to a personal device, an online PCB design platform should provide the same capabilities. This allows any designer to take their data and bring it into their favorite desktop-based PCB design application. This also allows data to be shared with other members of an organization that may not be part of the design team. You’ll also need these files as deliverables for your manufacturer once you plan on producing your design.

Staying Synchronized During Online PCB Design

Currently, the online PCB design platforms you’ll find with a search engine query contain only a subset of the features required to take a design to production. This forces you to use multiple tools rather than working in a single interface. Instead, a great online PCB design platform will let you take a design completely through to completion and help generate your manufacturer deliverables.

Your schematic editor needs to integrate directly with your PCB layout editor using a schematic capture tool. You should also be able to designate netlists in your editor, as this helps you trace out connections as schematics and layouts become more advanced. This also helps you track which components appear in a given signal net, or vice versa. All of this should happen directly in the cloud as this allows instant collaboration on a single design; you shouldn’t need a desktop application to act as an intermediary.

Your layout and schematic need to stay in sync, meaning changes in one document should be reflected in the other document. Changes can include component replacement, switching connections between components, defining new nets, or any other change you can think of. Keeping schematic and PCB editing on the cloud in a single platform ensures that the two documents can be quickly synchronized and checked as you design. This also allows your routing and layout choices to be checked against your design rules before you finalize and release your project.

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Online PCB design in 3D with Upverter

With online collaborative tools becoming more important as more workers go remote, PCB design software will inevitably catch up to this trend. Online design tools are now on the market that allow designers to undertake a number of important design tasks from anywhere. However, a complete browser-based design interface that allows users to take a design straight from an idea to a manufacturable layout has been lacking until only recently.

Now your design teams can have access to remote tools that emphasize collaboration, version control, and universal access when you use the right online PCB design software. If you’re a founder at a startup or you work for an established organization, the browser-based PCB design platform from Upverter provides all the tools you need to design new electronics. Upverter® continuously updates the platform with new features and capabilities that are demanded by the community.

You can sign up for free and get access to the best browser-based PCB editor, schematic editor, and component database. Visit Upverter today to learn more.

Circuit Drawing Online: Moving to the Cloud

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Everywhere you look on the internet, it seems that every legacy company is transitioning their services to the could. Programs that used to be relegated to desktop computers have gone mobile, are redesigned for collaboration, and have a mobile version that is accessible from your smartphone. Finally, and thankfully, circuit design software is starting to catch up.

Online software has progressed far beyond file sharing, data sharing, and chat programs. With greater computing power becoming accessible from the cloud, more enterprises are moving critical business platforms online, with 69% of enterprises moving enterprise resource planning capabilities online. Plenty of other cloud-based applications and capabilities are sure to follow.

Who Needs Cloud Applications Anyways?

Now cloud capabilities and distributed computing offer everyone from data scientists to circuit designers advanced simulation capabilities. Whether you’re a hobbyist designer, part of a hardware startup, or part of an established organization, you too can take advantage of the greater collaboration afforded by online design.

With more organizations going fully remote, everyone from hardware startups to larger enterprises need to seriously consider the benefits of using applications for circuit drawing online. Research from Gartner shows that businesses in every vertical are becoming more open to allowing employees to work remotely. Hardware companies are no exception, and collaborative tools for PCB design will continue being invaluable for collaboration on new products.

Developing Online PCB Design Platforms

Without a doubt, more applications will continue to move online, and developers in this area are a hot commodity. According to Crunchbase, at least 236 companies that produce cloud-based applications have received investor funding since May 2019. Developers and founders looking to create new browser-based design software hardware design capabilities are sure to have their platforms be well-received by the market as long as they include the right features.

Developers planning to create online circuit drawing applications should keep a number of points in mind when designing new applications for these platforms. The best online circuit drawing features integrate a number of capabilities from other cloud-based platforms like Google Docs and GitHub. This allows collaboration, provides version control, and enables control over sharing or privacy. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the essential features that should be included in any cloud-based hardware and PCB design platform.

  • Sharing and forking: This GitHub-style feature allows designers to create new versions of someone else’s project and start modifying it immediately. Designers can choose to share their designs so that others can fork them and create new versions or entirely different products.
  • Live collaboration: Startup teams aren’t always clustered in a single office. With more teams going fully remote, collaboration tools are a necessity rather than an option. Live collaboration mimics the capability of Google Docs, where multiple authors can work on a single project in real-time.
  • Integration with component tools: Designers need instant access to a broad range of components, and they shouldn’t have to import models from their desktop just to include them in their designs. A great cloud-based design platform should include component search, creation, and management tools.
  • Data export: Just as Google Docs and other online platforms allow data to be downloaded to a personal device, so should an online circuit design platform. This allows any designer to take their data and bring it into their favorite desktop-based design application.

Data Export Capabilities

This ability to export design data is about more than just importing data into a desktop-based design application. You’ll need these files if you want to plan for production and create a working prototype or finished product.

The important design data formats any designer needs to plan for production are Gerber files, XYRS data for pick-and-place machines, a bill of materials, Excellon files for CNC drills and a drill chart, and assembly drawings. A complete netlist and a collection of component models allows you to import your design into SPICE-based circuit simulators for verification during design.

Getting Started with Applications for Circuit Drawing Online

Working in an online design environment should make collaboration on new designs painless and while providing the tools you need to move from idea to full-scale production. All of this should happen directly in the cloud; you shouldn’t need a desktop application to act as an intermediary. Instead, an optional desktop application allows users to tailor their experience.

This all starts with schematic design, where your components and electrical connections are defined. Netlists that designate specific connections in your device need to be defined in your schematic editor, and your PCB layout can begin with a schematic capture tool in your application.

Once you’ve located your components and you’ve created your initial layout, you’ll need to check your design against standard design rules and verify its manufacturability. Once you’ve verified your design against standard design rules and through simulations, it’s time to start thinking about creating a prototype from your design. After several design, build, and test iterations, you just might be ready for full-scale production.

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You can design PCBs like this with Upverter

Now you can create high-quality designs quickly when you use the right online design software. If you’re a founder at a startup or you work as part of a remote organization, the browser-based design interface from Upverter provides all the tools you need to design new electronic products, and all in a browser-based design environment. Upverter® continuously updates the platform with new features and capabilities that are demanded by the community.

You can sign up for free and get access to the best browser-based PCB editor, schematic editor, and component database. Visit Upverter today to learn more.