Importing and Modifying Arduino Projects in Upverter

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If you’re looking for a great platform for creating a prototype electronics system, then Arduino is one of your best bets. Arduino boards offer plenty of capabilities in a compact package, including USB connectivity, reasonably fast processing, and connectivity with external devices. The schematic and layout files are also available as open source design data, allowing you to quickly import and modify an Arduino board using your favorite design software.

Upgrading Existing Arduino Projects

Although Arduino boards are readily available and provide a great pre-assembled platform for building a new system, Arduino boards carry some disadvantages. First, the Arduino IDE is not the best platform for building firmware, so you will need to find another editor to create code for firmware. If you already have some experience building software, then this shouldn’t be a huge obstacle. The Arduino library controls many MCU peripherals that you might not need, and getting under the hood and replacing 

In terms of the hardware capabilities, some Arduino boards only use 8 bit MCUs, and only Atmel microcontrollers are officially supported. There are a number of Atmel MCUs that you can use to upgrade the board to 16 or 32 bits, so you can create your own more-powerful variant of an Arduino board using Atmel MCUs or another brand of MCUs. In general, going beyond 8 bit MCUs means you will have fewer restraints on processing power and register width for logical operations and arithmetic.

If you look at the layout, there is a bit of wasted board space between the EEPROM and the top connector, and Arduino decided to put their logo in this area. You could use the existing schematic and create your own layout for a custom Arduino board if you’re feeling adventurous. You could also modify the existing layout to fit into a smaller board, although this can be difficult if you aren’t using the right design software.

There are some examples where companies have taken an existing Arduino and beefed up its capabilities to provide faster clock speeds, more communication channels, and greater flash memory and RAM. Take a look at this example from Microchip if you want to get an idea of what you can do with modified Arduino projects.

Getting Started with Arduino Projects in Upverter®

If you want to design directly on top of an Arduino board or modify an existing Arduino, you can go to the Arduino store and download the schematic and layout files. You can then import them directly into Upverter and start modifying them as you like. I decided to get started with the Arduino Uno and start modifying it directly in Upverter. Once you download the Eagle .SCH and .BRD files, you can create a new project in Upverter and import this schematic and layout data as a new Arduino project.

In this example, we’ll ditch the external 16 MHz clock oscillator and just use the internal 32 MHz clock in the new MCU. The ATXMEGA32E5-M4U MCU from Atmel is a better option to use than the existing ATMEGA16U2 in the Arduino Uno schematic as it has higher resolution and faster clock speed in the same footprint. Once you ditch the external clock, you can also free up some board space in the layout and finish your routing. The ATXMEGA32E5-M4U can also be found in Upverter’s component database, so you can immediately add it to the Arduino schematic and layout. You can swap out the existing MCU automatically or manually.

Removing an oscillator from Arduino projectsDitch the external oscillator before adding the new MCU

If you don’t feel like swapping the existing MCU with the automated tool, you can just select the existing MCU in the schematic and delete it. You can then go to the Add Component window, search for the ATXMEGA32E5-M4U, and place it in your schematic. The last step is to route the existing connections back to the new MCU.

As you rebuild the schematic around the new MCU, you’ll find that there is a slight alignment mismatch between the existing open connections and the new connections to the new MCU. This is shown in the figure below (see the red box). However, you can rest assured that the new connections are routed properly, and you can check that the reference designators match on the new and existing connections.

ATXMEGA32E5-M4UIgnore the slight alignment mismatch for the moment

Going back to the PCB layout, you’ll see that the new MCU will fit nicely in the old location, however you will need to change up your routing so that you can make the required connections. Like most component swaps, the new component generally doesn’t have the same pin arrangement as the old component, so some modifications to the layout will be required.

newMCUThe new MCU will fit nicely in the red box above

Wrapping Up and Sharing

Once you’ve routed connections to the new ATXMEGA32E5-M4U MCU and removed the slower clock oscillator, you’ll find that there is some more space on your board to place some other components if you like. There is no perfect way to route the open traces back to the new MCU, so it’s up to you to finish off your layout. When you’re ready, you can share your upgraded Arduino board with the Upverter community by marking your project completed and making it publicly accessible in your Dashboard area.

You can complete the same process shown above with any of the other components found on the board as you see fit. The other candidate for replacement is the EEPROM as it takes up a significant amount of board space.

The other option for completing custom Arduino projects is to ditch the current layout and redesign it entirely. Depending on how pins are arranged on the new component, you may find it easier to simply reroute your board rather than modify an existing complex design. I would personally take this route once I swapped out the EEPROM for a different component and added any other desired functionality to my customized board.

There are many online PCB design platforms, but few give you the tools you need to take a design from start to finish without adapting at least one external program into your workflow. The browser-based PCB design platform from Upverter provides all the tools you need to build or modify Arduino projects and share them with other designers. There are plenty of other 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 and contains an extensive library of components for building your Arduino projects.

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.

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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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.

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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.