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Eagle 3D PCBs with Alibre: Extruding the PCB

Extruding the PCB – Overview

The first step to a complete 3D PCB model is to create the PCB.  The basic approach is to export a DXF outline of the PCB and its holes from Eagle PCB, import it into Alibre, and then extrude it.  It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Alibre Design refuses to extrude sketches with any overlap.  AD V11 did not show where the errors are, but V12 does (this feature alone makes V12 worth the upgrade).

If your PCB border has a non-zero width, Alibre will not extrude the PCB because the four corners overlap.  For some reason, Alibre Design does not accept the way the standard Eagle DXF script creates holes.

I did not have any success getting Alibre Design to extrude the silkscreen or trace layers, nor was I able to overlay the silkscreen or traces as a visible sketch on top the extruded PCB (maybe because Alibre Design does not support surfacing).

When extruding, CoCreate PE is about as picky as Alibre, but (like AD V12) it highlights what it doesn’t like.  SolidWorks doesn’t have problems extruding the standard Eagle DXF output.  VX Innovator is also less picky; I have successfully extruded the silkscreen layer.

I made a couple quick and dirty changes to the standard Eagle DXF creation ULP to fix the holes; the result is dxf-fsw.ulp.

Creating the PCB — Step By Step

  1. Open your project in Eagle, then open the Eagle Board editor with your PCB layout.  I used the FP-SMC-1 project as an example; you can download the files here.
  2. Make sure your borders have a width of 0.
  3. In the Eagle PCB board editor, turn on only the dimension, via, and pad layers (layers 17, 18, and 20).
    Layers for DXF creation in Eagle

    Layers for DXF creation in Eagle

    FP-SMC-1 in Eagle set for DXF creation

    FP-SMC-1 in Eagle set for DXF creation

  4. In the Eagle PCB Board editor, run the dxf-fsw.ulp ULP.
    1. Select a file name for Output file; I used FP-SMC-1.dxf with the appropriate path for my Eagle PCB setup.
    2. The Always vector font, Use wire widths, and Fill areas setting should not matter.
    3. The units do matter: you need to know them when you import the DXF.  I used inches.
    4. Then run the script by pressing OK.
    5. You can download my resulting file here FP-SMC-1.dxf

      Running the dxf-fsw ULP

      Running the dxf-fsw ULP

  5. Close Eagle PCB.
  6. Start Alibre Design.
  7. Select the File->Import menu, select AutoCAD DXF files for the file type, select the file (in my case, FP-SMC-1.dxf), and press Open.
    1. File Units need to match the units you used when creating the DXF in Eagle (I used inches).
    2. I don’t think Maintain Projection matters.
    3. Importing Only Visible Layers makes sense.
    4. Start importing by pressing OK.

      Importing DXF into Alibre

      Importing DXF into Alibre

  8. Select the Sketch->Activate 2D Sketch menu  (or press Ctrl+K).
  9. Select the Edit->Select All menu (or press Ctrl+A)
  10. Select the Edit->Copy menu (or press Ctrl+C)
  11. In the Alibre Home window select the File->New->Part (or press Ctrl+Shift+T)
  12. Select the Sketch->Activate Sketch menu (or press Ctrl+K)
  13. Select the plane to use for your new sketch.
    1. You can name the sketch.  It’s not a big deal in a simple part, but I would recommend named sketches in a complex part.
    2. I used the XY plane.  You can select the plane by either clicking on the plan in the work area, or clicking on the list of planes in the tree on the left (e.g. Planes->XY Plane).
  14. Select the Edit->Paste menu (or press Ctrl+V) to paste the DXF drawing into the sketch.
    1. You could select and move the sketch around if desired.

      FP-SMC-1 DXF pasted onto the sketch

      FP-SMC-1 DXF pasted onto the sketch

  15. Select the Sketch->Activate Sketch menu (or press Ctrl+K) to deactivate the sketch mode.
  16. Select Extrude Boss by menu (Feature->Boss->Extrude) or icon (typically the top right icon).
    1. Verify the correct sketch is selected.
    2. Use To Depth for Type.
    3. Use your PCB thickness for depth (0.062″ or 1/16″ for me).
    4. I reversed the extrude so the sketch is on top (probably doesn’t matter a lot).
    5. Leave everything else with the default settings, except you may want to name the extrusion.
    6. Start the extrusion by pressing OK.

      FP-SMC-1 ready for extrusion

      FP-SMC-1 ready for extrusion

  17. Save the PCB using the File->Save As menu (Ctrl+Shift+S); mine is available as FP-SMC-1 PCB.AD_PRT

    The extruded FP-SMC-1 PCB

    The extruded FP-SMC-1 PCB

  18. We are done creating the PCB itself.  Now we have to assemble the board inside of Alibre, so stay tuned.

Here is the FP-SMC-1 PCB as an Acrobat 3D PDF; if a correct version of Acrobat is installed, you can click on the PCB, and then rotate it and more.

3 comments

1 Alex { 07.05.10 at 8:20 am }

Nice, looking forward to the next steps.

2 Tony { 07.08.10 at 11:38 am }

Thanks, but please be patient; I have at least three more posts coming in this series, but the next one is probably 1-2 weeks away (I have to get some family stuff done first).

3 Mike Price { 10.29.11 at 4:23 pm }

Thanks for the writeup. I followed yor directions. When I import the DXF into Alibre, all of the radiused corners and some of the straight corners have tiny circle symbols on them. Very tedious to search and remove, as they prohibit extrusion. Any ideas on how to avoid this? Thanks.

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