Halloween is Coming to Haunt You

Halloween is just around the corner, and to celebrate Upverter is giving away cold hard cash (well, some digital form of it, but that sounds less cool) to 3 of the most fun or interesting Halloween designs that are made in Upverter!  We will share the winning designs on Halloween.

What are we looking for?  Well anything that is Halloween-related, something that is in the shape of  pumpkins, ghosts or ghouls, or something that is built into you costume. Here are 2 examples of halloween designs. The first is a pumpkin shaped led board, with what looks like a really happy pumpkin, I am hoping to get a scary looking one … hint hint … but could not find one :(.  

Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 3.50.34 PM

Pumpkin design link

The second is a lighting board for a halloween costume; build it into your costume to be the life of the party.

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Costume design link

How do you participate and win?

  1. Design a halloween themed design in Upverter.
  2. Make the design Public, you should give it a good description.
  3. Send support@upverter.com and email with a link to the project and what it is. No later than Sunday October 28th.
    • Bonus points for pictures of the made design or costume with the design in it!
  4. We will pick 3 winners (at my sole discretion) and send the winners $100 each.

I can’t wait to see the designs!

Happy halloween and have fun designing!

Michael

Sausage Factory Project Update – SMD Reflow (or, 10 steps to a nice prototyping experience)

Well, many of my friends in the Upverter and CircuitMaker world have requested more details about my first project start to finish done in Upverter.

So here’s a quick update. Since I finally got a corner of our office and was given the blessing to use it for making stuff, and since I’ve finally got all the parts, I can show the next phase of the project.

But talk about a wait!! The slider pots took 12 weeks to arrive! I should have checked the supply chain for them in Octopart before designing them into my pedal!

I’m still not ready for final testing yet – stay tuned, but at least here’s an update on my progress with hand assembly of the prototype.

Now, you may not have access to a desktop reflow oven, but if you can afford to get one of the cheaper units, or build one using a toaster oven, then I highly recommend the investment. Believe me, you’re worth the time it saves when building stuff with SMT devices. Even hand pick and place is not too painful once you’re organized – as my video demonstrates here.

But this process, though you may spend a few hours on it, is so much better and faster than it used to be. For a good flow, like what I did in the video, here’s what I recommend to anyone building prototype quantities:

      1. Find a decent workspace with enough bench area to spread out your project. Mine is about 15 ft2 but you don’t need that much, 7-10 ft2 should do the job.
      2. Get a compact desktop reflow oven, or build one, or use the hot plate method if you’re doing SMT parts just on one side of the PCB.
      3. Get some anti-static component trays, with enough 2 in2 compartments to hold your “popcorn components”.
      4. From your Bill of Materials, print out the manufacturer and reference designator columns, and cut them out as labels for each component bin or compartment.
      5. When ordering parts from DigiKey, Mouser, Arrow, or whomever, make sure that you add your reference designators to each component line item so when they ship to you, each bag, tube or tray holding the parts is labeled with the reference designator.
      6. One by one sort the components into their labeled compartments in the quantity needed for your production run.
      7. Print out the top (and bottom) assembly drawings on large (A3 or 11×17) format paper and stick them to the wall in front of your assembly area. I find it helpful to also print out the schematics in case I need to verify a part against the engineered design.
      8. Order the solder paste stencil with your boards, or get them from a good stencil shop such as OSH Stencils. If you have access to a CNC or laser cutter and you know how, you can make them yourself from polyimide or acrylic film. Usually they should be very thin! No more than 1-2 Mils. Make a jig with other scrap PCB material for aligning the stencil over your project PCB. Don’t try to use the stencil without this scrap board jig! If you do, you’ll bend it and the holes will not align correctly with your board.
      9. Pick and place the parts with tweezers or if you have one, a vacuum nozzle. Pay careful attention to the orientation of polarized capacitors, diodes, transistors and ICs. The magic blue smoke can’t be put back in if you insert them wrong!
      10. Carefully put the board into your reflow oven, or on the hotplate. If you can control the temperature you need to – this is the difficulty with using the hotplate approach, you have to watch it closely and remove the heat once you see the solder fillets fully formed. Excessive heat will damage devices and your board may be DOA if you’re not careful. If you have an oven, select a solder heating profile that is suitable for the paste you’re using. Lead free pastes need a higher temperature than tin-lead pastes.

     

Finish up by hand-soldering any through-hole parts you may have, then your board is ready for testing!

 

OSHWA and Altium Live: Done.

Well it’s been a crazy few weeks since my last Upverter and CircuitMaker blog post. There’s a lot going on with the Open Source Hardware Summit at MIT in Boston, and then the very next week I had the privilege of presenting once again at the AltiumLive Summit in San Diego. As a result I’ve been kept from updating the community but… here we are!

OSH – Summit 2018

OSHWA summit was extraordinary as ever. Sponsored by several companies in the open source hardware / hacker / maker community, Octopart, Upverter and CircuitMaker brands were represented. Why do we even care about this event? Because the Open Hardware Summit and the CircuitMaker and Upverter communities share the same spirit – information wants to be free, and we can’t build and improve our electronics unless the work of those who went before us is available to build upon. For this reason, and for the social aspect, I’ve always loved attending these events – to find out what’s new in the community, promote CircuitMaker and Upverter designs, meet old friends, and discuss cool projects people are working on.

There were a lot of excellent talks about the state of OSHW and it’s future, exciting innovations that can only occur because open source collaborators band together to achieve amazing things out of sheer enthusiasm, and improvements at the community level with a new version of the open source hardware certification program.

Up-close view of the OSHWA 2018 badge.
Up-close view of the OSHWA 2018 badge.
Registration Table at OSHWA 2018 – Drew Fustini was rapidly programming everyone’s name into their badge.

Drew Fustini of OSH Park posted video recordings of the main presentations which you can catch up on over at the OSH Park blog: http://blog.oshpark.com/2018/10/07/open-hardware-summit-live-stream/

New Open Hardware Certification V2.0

So what does the new OSHWA certification process mean? It comes down to the Community Definition of what Open Source Hardware actually is. Let me explain it in my words – I’m sure you’ll relate to this story:

I got excited when I discovered “open source” single board computers were made cheaply available to makers. The first of these $30-ish single board computers most people think of in this sense is the Raspberry Pi. It’s a great tool, and the fact that it runs a useful Linux distro with Python makes it especially so. With this information, there are many websites and marketing material out there since it’s release talking about open source development and waving the “open source” flag, but the day I tried finding the schematic and PCB files so I could learn (not even copy, but learn, mind) about the PCB design of the Raspberry Pi, was they day I learned that not all the people out there marketing a product as open source are telling the whole truth. I was angered by this, as I’m sure some of you may have been as well. I’m not knocking the Raspberry Pi designers or even Broadcom for the product – we all agree it’s great – but there is an incongruence to all this which I personally find distasteful. I’m all for commercial, closed and open designs for different things, but if you call something open in your marketing, you should make it truly open.

What I love about the new Open Hardware Certification is that you can’t just slap the official logo on your design unless it does meet the true community definition of open hardware. And what that boils down to is a short list of important characteristics, my personal favorites of which are:

  • Original CAD format files are made available.
    • This has to be the most important criteria. Just putting the schematics in to a PDF or even making gerber files available for download is considered not acceptable to the community definition (I’m looking at YOU, PI clones!)
  • No restrictions on Use:
    • For an open source design to be certified, its use cannot be restricted to any people group, country, industry or business. It’s truly available and useful to all.
  • Software to operate hardware:
    • Any software needed to make the hardware carry out its function either:
      • Has to be also available under a similar open source license, or,
      • Documented enough that suitable software/firmware can be written by anyone with the skills to do it.
  • Does not restrict external hardware or software:
    • Including the requirement that external software working with it be open source. In other words, you don’t have to use KiCAD to draw your schematics, just because you want the design to be open. You can use any CAD tool you prefer.
    • This also means you can write your own custom software or firmware, or design other non-open source hardware, that interoperates WITH this open hardware product. This is an important requirement for open hardware to be able to form a legitimate play in the electronics economy. Without this, we’d not have such a great competitive environment for 3D printers, laser cutters, single board computers, and many consumer devices.

But I cannot do justice to the certification program here. I highly recommend you read about it and follow it through for your own projects as Michael Weinberg, OSHWA President, suggested in his talk at the 2018 Summit. It costs you nothing but a little extra time and attention to details, and it’s definitely worth it.

To learn more, check out the OSHWA Certification Page: https://certification.oshwa.org/

More Summit Highlights

I did get to sneak in a couple of video interviews. So stay tuned for more. This first one was with Jasmine Brackett from Tindie – a maker oriented marketplace where any of us can sell hardware products we designed in Upverter or CircuitMaker!

Altium Live 2018

Old School Altium Live badges - no paperwhites or microcontrollers here!

…Then on to AltiumLive! Me, Camaryn and Christian building camaraderie by attaching lanyards to “old school” badges. Perhaps we can learn from the OSHWA crowd and get on the electronic badge bandwagon for AltiumLive next year – it would sure make prepping the badges more fun!!

Upverter Meetup Oakland – User Interviews

Hi everyone!

CM version of this blog was already posted here: https://circuitmaker.com/blog/oakland-meetup-user-interviews-oshwa-summit

It’s great to see so many new projects all the time. With almost no input from Altium to this Upverter community it speaks volumes to see the momentum here. This is in spite of some people that would cast doubt over the future of this product.

We announced earlier that CircuitMaker is going to be renamed “Upverter Desktop”. We are working to merge the communities and data together – so Altium R&D and Upverter R&D teams have become a single unit collaborating across Kiev, La Jolla, and Toronto offices. These fine factories are feverishly coding to ensure data and user accounts can be brought together without loss of fidelity. As technical folks, you’re no doubt aware this is not trivial. Naturally it will take a bit of time, but so far our R&D team tells me it’s pressing forward, and later this year or early next we’ll have our sites merged and hope to have some beta testing going on well before that.

Meanwhile Upverter is here en force, and we want to keep the ball rolling on all the cool designs and community content being produced. So keep up the great work. There’s more info coming soon, but I’ll give you a tip – we’re rolling out a user generated content incentive program this month. I’ll blog separately about that soon.

In other news, we just had our Oakland meetup event, graciously hosted by Circuit Launch by Oakland airport. These guys have a really big nice workspace for startups to come in and get some serious robotics and 3D printing done, among other things. While we were there I was privileged to get some neat interviews with a few people, working on interesting projects. Check these out below…

https://youtu.be/3kc2MztsxFk

Karlis Veilands shares his build of BlueSaab 6.1 – designed in CircuitMaker by Seth Evans – and explains the movement of “Saab addicts” who needed a solution for integrating Bluetooth audio connectivity into their 1990s-2000s Saab 93 and 95 models, replacing the old factory CD changer with this module to provide all modern conveniences of phone connectivity in the high-end audio system of these luxury vehicles. There are now quite a few BlueSaab users and a vibrant forum and community support the product. It’s for communities of collaborators like this that we wanted to make sure the open source community had access not just to PCB tools, but the most productive.

https://youtu.be/LdzsFXcNKYE

Alex Wayne is a software developer by day, and an LED kinetic sculpture artist by night. What do you need when your normal line of work is not doing hardware, but you need to do hardware efficiently for your side projects? You turn the the most productive tools with the simplest user interface that’s what! And in Alex’s case, he switched from EAGLE and KiCAD in his earlier attempts to Upverter. Now he’s designing boards for some pretty amazing APA102 LED based kinetic art sculpture work – commissioned by the city of Santa Rosa CA. See his  interview to discover more about this interesting project.

Our next meetup isn’t actually ours!! Our next meetup will be the Open Source Hardware Summit – this Thursday at MIT in Boston. We’ll be emailing the CircuitMaker and Upverter Bostonians in a day or two with more details. We would certainly love to see you there! But even if you can’t get the day off for Thursday, perhaps we could catch up Wednesday evening at a pub in Cambridge? Either way, I hope to see you there or at our next meetup which will be in the Los Angeles CA area. Keep designing cool stuff and I’ll report back here again soon!

 

About the Sausage Factory Project

My First “UPVERTED” Design

In my earlier post about taking the plunge and forcing myself to learn how to use Upverter, I mentioned the project I was working on was a new guitar overdrive / distortion pedal I named “Sausage Factory”.

Well, some friends got back to me and requested to see what was in it – just out of curiosity, so although my original intention was to keep this a private project, I figured it would do no harm to share and describe more about it.

Every design should begin with a design specification. Mine was very simple:

  • Marshall style high-gain front-end.
  • Fender/Vox/Marshall passive tone stack (Bass, Mid, Treble)
  • 7-band Graphic Equalizer similar to the Mesa/Boogie Mark IIC
  • Individual footswitching for the OD section and Graphic
  • Fit in a single hammond 1590BB metal box
  • As low noise as possible.

I used an opamp based graphic. I knew I could probably do all this in DSP based on Eli Hughes’ Monkey Jam, but since I’m learning Upverter at the same time I figured this design would stay in the analog realm so I could have more going on with the PCB. This will be harder and take longer to assemble my prototypes by a long way, since there’s a lot of 0603 parts in a graphic EQ!

This one was done first as a module in Upverter so that I could place this graphic EQ into any future designs very easily. I like the the physical design reuse aspects of Upverter – this is not just a device sheet or sheet symbol but a full hierarchical reuse block which includes the pre-routed PCB layout for it.

I’m specifying LM4562MAX/NOPB parts in this project because they are the best low-noise opamps right now which are affordable and useful at lower gains (such as in the EQ section where the gain may be 0dB or up to +/-12dB)

GraphicEQ_Schematichttps://upverter.com/eda/embed/#designId=1bbbd2511f352cc9,actionId=

The opamp gyrators were set to have Q factors and frequency bands similar to the MESA/Boogie Mark II head’s graphic, but there’s no way to get it exactly the same because it’s not the same circuit. The target center frequencies are 84Hz, 240Hz, 400Hz, 1KHz, 2KHz, 4KHz and 8KHz. The Boogie was designed a long time ago, before opamps were cheap enough or low noise enough to be used as gyrators, so that circuit uses tank circuits with real inductors and caps and resistors in series. There’s no end to the audible nuance in such things, but for my intents this is enough to make great tone, and finding the right inductors to use to faithfully copy the Boogie EQ circuit would render this project prohibitively expensive.

I created a new project after the GEQ7 re-usable module for the main overdrive pedal. This is the Sausage Factory – I named it this because it’s meant to be a meat-grinding face-melting distortion capable unit.

SausageFactoryPCBhttps://upverter.com/eda/embed/#designId=59034a1ef51ae755,actionId=

As with the EQ modules, I’ve used LM4562MAX/NOPB opamps throughout. I’ve used those before in other high-gain designs like the “Screamin’ Dolly” and they sound amazing, yet have extremely low noise. The Screamin’ Dolly next to a TS-808 will give the same tone but way less hiss because of these opamps. Similar to the TS-808 and TS-9 in this design I’m using an input buffer with a 2N5088 transistor configured as an emitter follower.

You can see the gain stage is followed by a higher voltage clipping circuit as used in Marshall Preamps, where they used a diode rectifier bridge, shorted with an additional rectifier (Silicon) diode between them. This provides a clipping voltage of about 1.5-2V as opposed to many overdrives using a single pair of back-to-back signal diodes which will clip hard at about 0.6V. The circuit here is better for a more natural head-like overdrive, and for driving the following passive tone stage. After the tone stack is a buffer with a small amount of additional voltage gain (6dB), a Master volume control pot, and then into the EQ.

Both sections – the preamp/overdrive and the graphic EQ, have pin-headers for ribbon cables to go off the board and be soldered to the 3-pole double-throw try bypass footswitches. I have a big bag of these footswitches from China ready to go…

I keep hearing about more and more PCB prototyping fab services, one of which is PCBWay. They seemed to be fairly low cost and promised a very fast turnaround time, so I went ahead and ordered the bare boards to be made there. I had them back in 2.5 weeks which was pretty fast for an off shore fab.

The quality seems good, though my silkscreen coudn’t easily be edited to show all the graphic EQ reference designators properly – so I’m just going to have to use Upverter interactively while I put these prototypes together, as a “living” assembly drawing.

20180726_153156

The boards were vacuum packed well, and I ordered their minimum prototype run of 5. I also ordered the stainless steel solder paste stencil – I’ll do another post and video when I use it to show how to use a stencil and desktop reflow oven for soldering the parts onto the boards.

20180726_153435

So, this is an honest quirk of Upverter when you use re-usable modules like I did for this EQ section – it prefixes each module reference designator with the hierarchical parent designator of the module instance. So all these reference designators begin with GQ: that’s not a bad way to handle this hierarchy. However I was not able to move the silkscreen texts in the main board, so many of them ended up cropped by the solder mask openings…

Oh well, one more thing we will improve with Upverter I guess!

Stay tuned for more posts when I put these together and do some testing.

CircuitMaker and Upverter Meet at OSH Park Headquarters

Originally posted on the CircuitMaker Blog, August 3rd 2018.

Just a quick update – we had our latest “Upverter and CircuitMaker Tour” meetup on August 2nd at OSH Park Headquarters in Portland OR. Special thanks to Laen and the OSH Park crew for hosting us! It was really great to meet a bunch (about 22) of CircuitMaker and Upverter users there and hear from you all first hand where you need this to go.

In between discussing Perfect Purple PCBs and projects as diverse as custom guitar pickups and multi-Gigahertz RF boards, Zak and I were able to get candid and direct feedback about where Altium’s going with this whole Upverter + CircuitMaker merge thing.

Upshots:

  • Module based design is where this needs to go if hobbyists, artists, scientists and others are going to be able to do hardware design.
  • Modular design has a whole host of big boulders to lift, like power supplies, voltage signal levels compatibility, serial and bus interfaces, routing, PCB layer stack compatibility and so on.
  • NRE costs are a big barrier. Today, the reason shared panel services like OSH Park are so popular is that they can spread the panel cost among many designers. This will continue, and we need to work with manufacturers to bring this concept to full assembly without exploding the costs to the end user who just wants to get their project working.
  • Routing automation needs to be better out of the box, so it “just works” for non-PCB designers.

Needless to say, there’s a lot we need to do to make our future vision a reality. But nothing great ever happened without aiming high!

What do you think? What issues do you believe will be the “big boulders” for us to move if we’re going to make this work for anyone who wants to try turning their idea into a real electronic device?

Please comment!

Upverter Tour Update – Vancouver Hack Space

Our next stop on the tour was Vancouver!  First I want to thank VHS (Vancouver Hack Space) for hosting our 4th meetup, the space is great and the people are even better, if you are ever in town you should swing by and check it out. I think Tuesday is open house night.

For this one I was flying solo with the goals to connect with our users, get feedback on the future of Upverter and Circuit Maker, and find the words that best describe what we are working on.  I hope everyone had as good a time, I could not have had a better and more engaging time talking about what people are working on and Upverter’s future plans.

So what did we talk about? well we started with what people are working on, like this pump controller for a sail boat! And being a fire thrower on weekends!  As a side note, I love boats and electronics, so I was jealous.  The people that came and the projects that they are making made this event a great time.  Thank you everyone for coming out and sharing.

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I got to talk with people about what Upverter is are working on right now, how our engineering team is busy working night and day bringing Upverter and Circuit Maker communities together.  It was exciting to talk to people that had used both, what drew them to try both and how they see bringing our families together to make a better place to build electronics.  I am excited to keep this ball rolling and get the new look Upverter + Circuit Maker joint community live by the end of the year!

Together we we also talked about the future, what we are thinking and discuss what we are cooking up in the lab.  I got the chance to get feedback on the Upverter all in one solution that helps take Ideas and deliver them to your door.  What does that mean?  Well this is were it go tricky, I will need more ink to fully explain, but let me give you an idea of the high level what we talked about.
1020398

The first idea we talked about is “automated system design to pcb”, “modular design” or “drag and drop electronics”.  This is making a tool that connects templates together at a functional level, not at the IC level, making it easier and faster to get from your idea to a manufacturable PCB layout.  One aspect that I am excited about it having a fully syncronized System design, schematic and PCB layout!

The next idea that we talked about is integrated manufacturing, having a “print button” that checked the design for errors ahead of ordering, and when it passes, have a fully assembled PCB at your door.  This solves a real problem that I have personally, I cannot wait to make this a reality!

Finally we talked about integrated enclosure design.  Is it be better to auto-generate an enclosure from the PCB design? or should we make the enclosure and generate a board outline from the created enclosure?  both?  we need to start somewhere and we need your help on building what makes sense for you

 

We are doing the next meetups in the Bay Area, if you are around you need to join us!  I would love to get your thoughts on what future and get to know what kinds of projects you are working on, thinking about or dreaming of making.  Check out when and where we are going next on the Upverter Events Page.

Michael and the Upverter Team!