Best Design Software For Automation PCBs?
I believe creating custom break out PCBs for automated equipment is often a very good idea.Â In fact, I’m getting ready to design several new ones that will replace a lot of laborious hand wiring.
However, if you have never created a PCB before, it can be pretty scary, with complex design software (that has to handle fine pitch surface mount packages at high speed), design rules, different Gerber formats, all kinds of questions from the PCB fab house (1 oz copper?Â 2 oz copper? HASL?) and all that.
Designing a typical automation break out PCB shouldn’t be that hard, since the requirements aren’t complex: through hole parts, low speeds, large traces, etc.Â (OK, if you need to handle a lot of current, you have to start calculating and think about fancier boards).Â The problem is finding a tool that can handle these simple requirements with simplicity.
I don’t know which software is best; I’d like to hear about any real world experiences.Â If I had time, I’d like evaluate different PCB software from an automation OEM’s perspective, but that’s not going to happen for a while.
My suggestions right now are:
- Look at popular hobby-oriented software; it’s likely to be simpler or have more support.Â For example, although both Eagle PCB and KiCad are still pretty complex, there is a lot of support available on-line, and a substantial number of board houses will accept Eagle board files (so you don’t have to deal with Gerbers and such).
- On-line (“cloud”) software such as 123D Circuits or Fritzing might be a viable option:Â I’m pretty sure they’re a lot simpler than Eagle and KiCad, but I haven’t done enough research to know if they can create good break out PCBs.
- Consider an integrated solution, using software provided by a PCB board house (such as PCB123 from Sunstone).Â You might pay more and loose some flexibility, but gain simplicity.