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Just Etchin' To Share My Work
October 24, 2012 10:06 PM   Subscribe

Hailed as the Github of printed circuit board (PCB) design, allows hobbyists and electrical engineers alike to share their designs, providing a full featured schematic & PCB editor in the browser. [via (sorry, I couldn't resist, hyuk hyuk hyuk)]
posted by spiderskull (23 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

Apparently the schematic editor is "driven by octopart", a website I hadn't heard of before but that gives you a price/availability list for any part from a variety of common vendors. Seems potentially useful - if only it also had links to eagle files for parts!

More from their goals are: "(i) allow to easily build on pre-designed electronics modules, (ii) use intuitive tools that hide much of the complexity in software, and (iii) embrace the open hardware movement." Apparently they want to allow circuit board ordering directly from their site, no gerber files necessary. I'll be interested to see how that goes - the problem is that circuit boards are complicated things - getting tolerances right, parts and circuit paths laid out, etc.

It reminds me a bit of google sketchup vs solidworks: maybe there is a place for a really simple approach to circuit sharing/design - lord knows, a circuit design program that had an online database of parts/ land patterns and was as full featured as eagle, that would be awesome. If it also had a partslist per project that broke down vendor pricing per part and let you automatically place orders for parts from the cheapest vendor . . .
posted by ianhattwick at 10:43 PM on October 24, 2012

Okay, I will be playing with this.

I tried to take the step to eagle after it being recommended by a friend, but the intimidation/learning curve was awfully steep. I understand... some things... about electronics, and can learn by reading, but it's awfully hard to figure out all of things one is assumed to know sometimes.
posted by flaterik at 11:09 PM on October 24, 2012

This is great. I frequent some electronics blogs and there's a need for this . (There's already a schematic tool out there that uses ASCII for this purpose, which shows you how desperate people get).

Also, I've seen some PCB houses that have simple free schematic/PCB tools on their web site, but this is better because it is a universal tool that any of these PCB houses could use.

Long term, they should scale it up--maybe have a professional version for really large designs. I've always thought the the big schematic tool houses should offer a free but still reasonably powerful version of their software for hobbyists and small companies. I'd love to be able to use the tool I use at work to show somebody something on the web, or to hire a new engineer who already knows how to use the tool we use.

Now that one of the big tool companies, Altium, moved to China and has fired its Australian founder and CEO, maybe they can pick up some talent from some of his followers and step their software up another level.
posted by eye of newt at 11:12 PM on October 24, 2012

Fantastic. Thanks for sharing this.

I'm a (sometimes frustrated) gEDA fan, despite being forced to use expensive commercial CAD software at work. But, everyone else I talk to falls into one of two camps: the "I use the deeply flawed free tool from some website with 'pcb' and 'express' in their name, in some order that is impossible to remember" group, and the "my work gives me free multi-thousand-dollar software, and a free windows machine to run it on, so why should I try anything else group.

Now I can point them all to something that looks better already, and is likely to grow. Love to see them remove the Chrome-only warnings; designing open source hardware with closed source software dependencies is a bit silly. But, that's not a fatal flaw. At least it's multi-platform and free closed source software.

Also, being able to download gerber files is great. The only thing that gives me the our startup went out of business and now your data is lost willies is that there doesn't seem to be any way to download the schematic in an exportable format. But, perhaps that will come.

Disclaimer - I'm friends with people at Octopart. They're nifty, but, as far as I can tell they're not actually involved in this except for providing a search engine API. And I though it was great before I read the comment about them.
posted by eotvos at 11:39 PM on October 24, 2012

Looks like a nice tool for sharing simple schematics and PCBs, that don't require internal planes or impedence matching. I too am wondering how they'll cope with all the PCB layout rule checking when you click their nifty "order" button. I hope they add import/export of schematics.
posted by FrereKhan at 11:43 PM on October 24, 2012

You know one of the best parts of this site? The icons for the digital objects are schematics. I mean, obviously this makes perfect sense for a site built around sharing circuits. But in this day and age of ubiquitous stock photography, it's a refreshing change.

The new renaissance arising around open hardware reminds me of the early PC days. You wouldn't know it from today's Apple, but they used to publish schematics for their hardware in their technical and reference manuals. I've still got an old copy of the Apple IIe Technical Reference Manual, wtih full schematics in the back, along with monitor code.

I just picked up a Raspberry Pi, and not only do they share their schematics, but they were created with education in mind.

In short, it's great seeing a resurgence of engineers who espouse this basic philosophical belief in the power of sharing and creation through technology. I realize there are issues with techno-utopian thinking, but giving more people access to the ability to create strikes me as a good thing.
posted by formless at 11:59 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Apparently the schematic editor is "driven by octopart"

Oh, are they still around? IIRC, they were one of the early Y-combinator firms, and basically, it turns out parts catalogs are hard to monetize. Even now it sounds like their profits can pay for basically one person. might actually be a curse rather than a blessing for octoparts, if they begin to dominate octopart's traffic. Suddently instead of organic search and adsense you've got one big supplier of pageviews, eager to cut out some middlemen.
posted by pwnguin at 12:00 AM on October 25, 2012

as full featured as eagle

Does Eagle still rely on constant manual invocation of the Ratsnest command? I found that to be very very annoying, and hardly full featured. At least this web based layout tool has dynamic airwires.
posted by Chuckles at 12:13 AM on October 25, 2012

I've still got an old copy of the Apple IIe Technical Reference Manual, with full schematics in the back, along with monitor code.

Are you sure that isn't a Apple ][ or Apple ][+ manual?

Because the //e had the IWM (Intergrated Woz Machine) and was well after Microsoft used their Copyright power to crush the cloners. Cloners who made sure that they used the open nature of Apple publishing the schematics and code to their advantage in court.

Steve liked closed because closed leads to profits.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:31 AM on October 25, 2012

Does Eagle still rely on constant manual invocation of the Ratsnest command?

At least as recently as 6.2.0, yes. And if you've already defined your ground fills, the ratsnest will pour them, making you rip it up so you don't have to hunt for air wires on a purple PCB...

I suspect my next project will be in something other than Eagle. Maybe use Eagle to get a feel for the parts and layouts because they still have the broadest libraries, then move on to something else. The hitch is that all the cheap Chinese fab houses provide nice DRC files for Eagle, and the eagle 80x100mm limitation isn't such a problem for small scale THM kits..

(Actually, what kills me is that as obtuse and impenetrable as Eagle is, everything else that I've tried has been even worse. Even the express PCB tool that someone else mentioned, or Fritzing, they just sort of give up on the routing or layout complexity entirely.)
posted by Kyol at 4:47 AM on October 25, 2012

Meanwhile in derailure land - but still tied to this topic as I believe you can make one of the printers act as a PCB driller - Join EFF’s Efforts to Keep 3D Printing Open
posted by rough ashlar at 4:50 AM on October 25, 2012

Seems very similar to Upverter, which has been around for a little longer (at least mid 2011), and was also a Y Combinator seedling.

The pluses of upverter are that it works on touch devices, the file format is open and extensible, and its Canadian (so they are really polite).
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 5:23 AM on October 25, 2012 looks pretty cool. I'm really jazzed to be finding out about lots of new tools for electrical engineering and circuit design that look like they have smart people behind them:

Osh Park, run by the guy who used to do the DorkbotPDX group PCB order, now does two-sided PCBs for $5/square inch, three copies, free shipping! So if you have a three square-inch PCB, you can get three copies of it for $15, and they'll be at your door within two weeks. Thats's awesome. Plus, they have a great interface that renders your gerbers so you can make sure nothing's flipped, etc.

PartsList is a commercial product, but it's free for personal use, and so far it's been great for managing a few simple schematics I've been working on. It ties in to Octopart, so you can just pick all your components and it'll search across distributors to see where they're cheapest. Super useful. They have a more powerful product, BOMControl, that I haven't tried yet.

And of course Octopart is great, that website saves me from the hell that is parts searches. I use Octopart several times every day. It's true, it doesn't seem like they're making boatloads of money, but I really hope they stick around.
posted by aaronbeekay at 5:30 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

And if you've already defined your ground fills, the ratsnest will pour them, making you rip it up so you don't have to hunt for air wires on a purple PCB...

set polygon_ratsnest off; will turn off polygon pours during ratsnest and make you tear out your hair less. I usually set polygon_ratsnest off and then hide the airwires that would have been polygon'd with

ratsnest ! gnd 3v3

or whatever else is going to get taken care of by the polygon.
posted by aaronbeekay at 5:36 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I don't know why I'd use this over Eagle. Good info in this thread though.
posted by BeeDo at 5:56 AM on October 25, 2012

Now, I know findchips and octopart are both intended more for professional level use (or at least I suspect that's the hope), but I really wish there was a "hobby-level" filter. Show me vendors that will sell me parts in the ones and twos, that have clear shipping costs, etc. Jameco, digikey, mouser, maaaaaybe newark. But not Verical or Arrow. Because even in the hobby space, I can feel significant bottom-line differences based on where I shop.

set polygon_ratsnest off; will turn off polygon pours during ratsnest and make you tear out your hair less.

Ooh, that's a lot easier than ratsnets/ripup/ripup that I had been doing. It did seem odd that when I would open up the board the fill wasn't poured and there weren't any ground wires either, but as soon as I invoked the ratsnest *boom*, it filled them.
posted by Kyol at 6:07 AM on October 25, 2012

You know you can filter by supplier/distributor with Octopart, right? I get contract pricing from Newark, so I almost always search with supplier->{Newark, DigiKey}, and that will usually do the trick.

Now to get a built-in glossary option for terminology, so I can have any idea whatsoever which part is the "plug receptacle", which part is the "terminal mating block", and how the hell you find a crimper, when I'm looking for connectors.
posted by aaronbeekay at 6:28 AM on October 25, 2012

Kyol: "Now, I know findchips and octopart are both intended more for professional level use (or at least I suspect that's the hope), but I really wish there was a "hobby-level" filter. Show me vendors that will sell me parts in the ones and twos"

Octopart does this, although it seems like they've got bad data on minimum orders from some vendors (ie. Arrow).

Also, unless something has changed recently, Newark's usually pretty decent for anything other than super tiny orders.
posted by schmod at 9:52 AM on October 25, 2012

Oh, I might have been mistaking Newark for someone else where their shipping fee was basically whatever it actually costs to ship, just trust us and we'll add it to your bill. I _think_ whoever that was finally wised up and worked out a flat rate option. Because, y'know, I like to try to budget for my hobby like a responsible adult type person, and mystery shipping fees aren't exactly in the budget.
posted by Kyol at 11:04 AM on October 25, 2012

Yeah, I don't know why I'd use this over Eagle.

There really isn't a central resource for sharing designs, which is the main point here. Imagine IC manufacturers having a nice central repository of reference designs -- honestly, I'd say like 85-95% of PCBs I've seen are based on a reference design, with slight modifications for the application (which is not to say it's the best thing to do, but it's the reality).
posted by spiderskull at 11:37 AM on October 25, 2012

I must be really unlucky.
I knocked out a design in Eagle - really simple one - and went through the batchpcb process of checking the board and man was it screwed up. The hole layer was scaled dramatically differently than any of the other layers. What a mess - and I can't tell you what happened.

So, I tried this tool for the same circuit. Selected a part - hooray! it's in the list! Uh-oh, no actual part representation...well, it's letting me pick a footprint, so at least I can do tha...WTF? No pentawatt? Game over.
posted by plinth at 5:56 AM on October 26, 2012

plinth, from what I gather, board houses are generally pretty good about figuring out what the cam processor did to your board. But it is comforting knowing that if you generate the job using the house CAM, you probably won't have any surprises. And probably the nicest part about OSH Park is that if you're working in Eagle and send them your board file, it's probably not going to come out too different from your intent. (Although I suspect his DRC rules end up implying larger automatically scaled pads than are actually produced by the fab...)
posted by Kyol at 6:48 AM on October 26, 2012

Kyol - the thing that bothers me is that the process for generating gerbers from Eagle goes so horribly wrong that there has to be a step for "examine what we'll see to make sure Eagle didn't screw it up" and they list a bunch of the common problems and solutions (of which mine was not listed).

I've had similar experiences with other PCB layout software.

And as an author of software, I'm appalled at Eagle and wonder how people tolerate it and just think, "well, I guess you can learn to like anything."

And then I think about what I did in high school which was to jam flea clips into perf board and point-to-point wire them up and later hand draw traces onto copper clad board with a resist marker and break a ton of tiny bits drilling the holes and it by definition those were more efficient because I had working circuits at the end.
posted by plinth at 7:15 AM on October 26, 2012

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