If you have any academic links at all though, or don't mind piracy, I'd grab a student edition of Altium Designer. Solidworks too if you can get it for mechanical modeling. If you ever make it big, these are the tools you want to learn and know how to use. You don't mention anything about a good debugger - this is crucial! If you work with ARM the Segger JLink is the gold standard.
Also you should probably mention where to get cheap stencils, like Osh Stencils etc. With all the cheap parts going to extra small packages, stencils are a godsend. Or, just have your prototype made in China at any of the small board-houses - quite cheap as well compared to the time you might spend doing board assembly.
Just my quick 2c.
Considering how much the package costs and how much Altium benefits from the growing community, I honestly don't think they'd mind if you pirated the software a few years before you could afford it.
Very powerful, huge number of features. Crashed if you looked at it funny. Some windows made with TK, some with Athena widgets, some with GTK1, some with straight X11. Can't copy and paste between most of them.
I'm glad to hear it's not really the industry standard I had the impression it was. I had the impression that most purely-hardware-focused engineers didn't care about software quality much and so the whole industry just naturally leaned that way.
But yes, rest assured, outside of some (rather large) niches, no one really tolerates the garbage that is the old ECAD packages.
So what is it called when I capture a schematic in order to do some SPICE simulations on it? "PCB design minus the designing PCB part"?
"Capture" in this context means "the act of putting information in a form that a computer can use or read"¹, so I don't see how the phrase "schematic capture" is archaic when it mentions computers in its definition.
The term capture comes from a time when ECAD programs were unwieldy and difficult to use (we're talking 60s and 70s) and components weren't as complex so engineers first designed the schematic using pencil and paper and only then "captured" it in a digital format using an ECAD program. We design circuits and yet still capture schematics because of the usability of half century old software.
Fortunately, after almost 2 long years of pushing, a colleague and I finally convinced our branch of its technical merits and justified the business case to switch.
Another good reason to think about KiCad is if you care about open formats (vs. Altium for example.) CERN's own statement : "We think that KiCad can do to PCB design what the gcc compiler did to software: ensure there are no artificial barriers to sharing so that design and development knowledge can flow more freely."
Where can I find this library? Googling led me to the two sites below, but there's no download location in them.
From what I understand, VHDL etc. are for FPGAs and ICs, I'm just talking about boards with components.
Likewise, Eagle (and I am sure, KiCad) files are text based.
If you want somebody to populate the boards for you, I love Macrofab: https://macrofab.com/
Edit: just checked out Macrofab and they seem to be more expensive than circuithub at least for the couple example projects I threw into the quoting engine.
I also like macrofab if you want something assembled.
A few times I have ordered from the board houses on Ebay. Like $20 for 10+ boards and they come in about 2 weeks.
Can't beat free and unencumbered. Thank the European taxpayer and move on, IMO. The market is going to be KiCAD at the bottom, Altium Designer / Pads / Orcad in the middle, then Zuken / Allegro / Expedition at the top.
Matt Berggren (Director of Autodesk Circuits) is a big supporter of the DIY / maker community.
I think it's because that's where things get really expensive...
One of the benefits of having a traditional engineering education and experience is working alongside other engineers and designers who are trained in fields you weren't. It's really hard to put that type of combined experiences into a book or a tutorial.
There are several thousand off the shelf boxes here.
Also, designing a enclosure is a completely different beast. Nowadays you would typically start out by 3D printing stuff and then later on in the process get it manufactured by injection molding. That means going to the factory and making sure that everything is set up right before they start the manufacturing the part. Again a very ad hoc procedure that's unique for every product.
How do you find someone who can 3d print it for you?
For that matter, how do you find someone who can do the design for you (and the experience to do it right)?
Did you get it done locally, or in China?
What are some pitfalls to look out for?
How can you save money?
How long does this step take?
Anyhow here are a few points that might be relevant to you:
- As someone else mentioned, unless you're in a money-is-no-object sort of group, usually at a large corporation like google, then you'll almost always start with some stock enclosure for testing purposes. There are tons of choices, from extruded aluminum to cast steel, bent sheet metal, ABS weather proof housings. The list goes on. No, it's not a custom box designed by Dang from Silicon Valley, but trust me there's crap you didn't think of yet for the stuff inside the box. One step at a time, and remember, Compromise is the Hypotenuse of the Conjoined Triangles of success.
- Next stop: Proto Case. They will use your CAD, or you can use their custom 'box cad' package. They will do sheet metal, solid machined metal, powder coating, fasteners, everything. Not ultra cheap or anything but still a good deal if you value your time. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent fixing/remaking sheet metal enclosures when I accidentally bent a flange 2mm too long, or screwed up dimension scaling while waterjetting it. It takes time to become proficient, even if you have the tools.
- For 3D printing and such, there are tons of 'Maker' shops that have popped up over the years. I've used Ponoko before, and while slightly slow and again not ultra cheap, the parts are nice. They do 3D printing of many sorts (ABS, PLA, sintered metal, powder ceramic, UV resin), as well as laser cutting. Note: Laser cutters are REALLY awesome for prototyping things. I use a laser cutter constantly when developing prototypes.
- For machining, check out the First Cut service from protolabs. You send them a CAD model, they analyze it and then you use a flash plugin to select materials, tools, threading, etc. and click go. Last time I used them they did single approach 3-axis parts in Stainless, aluminum, mild steel, various plastics, and brass. They also do CNC turned parts (on a lathe). The parts are very high quality for the price. Beware: The tolerances are not super tight, and they won't make any guarantees about mating parts! They made parts that mate for me and it worked, but it's a bit of a gamble.
- Protolabs also does 3D printing, as well as small run injection molding. I haven't used this service so I can't say much about it, other than that their advertised prices are significantly cheaper than getting tooling made and certified anywhere else.
- Locally vs. China? Well if you mean getting a production run done in Shenzen, then if you have to as the answer is probably 'local'.
Anyhow, this is just based on my experience. I'm by no means a manufacturing or design expert. But I've made and worked on countless prototypes for all sorts of applications (nuclear medicine, MRI imaging, thoracic surgery, industrial microscopy, POC blood testing) and what I've said has held true in my arena. One final hint: If you're thinking of taking some hardware device 'to market', stop and think HARD about who your market is, how big it is, and how much it will cost to get there. It's quite possible that a traditionally 'production run' isn't necessary to get started. Lots of hardware projects started small. Also, in my experience investors aren't too keen to accept risk of the 'will the prototype work', or 'do you have the expertise to scale the hardware' variety. So bear that in mind.
That said, for us protolabs was still the right choice and they have been a pleasure to work with.
Personally, I've alway gone in for using openSCAD for the 3d design aspects, though clearly that's when approaching the problem as a programmer! I've always had laser cutting done by external services, but have a form labs 2 and repraps for printing parts. Perhaps this would justify a separate blog?