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Eagle Upgrades, PCBs, and Schematic Software

Eagle PCB

I’m almost done designing a set of PCBs for one of our standard machines.  Since our customers have different safety requirements (safety controller vs safety PLC), we have to provide several different options.  So I’m doing something that seems a little unusual: the safety components (controller, light curtain, contactors, relays) are all wired to the main break out board.

At first glance, this seems like extra work: why wire to a connector which is then plugged into a board when you can wire direct?  However, it will save time (and probably money), because it allows us to have a standard base machine that we can change into different configurations in a short amount of time (my guess is 30-60 minutes) by simply unplugging the safety connectors, swapping out the safety controller/PLC, and plugging the new connectors in.

Even better, I don’t have to worry about wiring mistakes, because all the wiring is on the PCB.  (Of course, this assumes the various cables are wired correctly, but with this approach, we can wire up and test the various components in advance).

As I’ve noted, we’re using Cadsoft Eagle PCB (currently on Version 5).  However, since Eagle is running a special (get a free upgrade to Version 7 if you buy a Version 6 upgrade before V7 comes out), we’re upgrading.  I’ve found it hard discover Cadsoft’s upgrade pricing, so we had to call and ask.  The Professional Version (schematic + layout + autorouter) upgrade (V5 to V6) is $549.

I like the fact the Cadsoft does not ask for an annual maintenance contract; instead, tech support is free and upgrades are free for the major version.

Schematic Software

I was planning on getting electrical schematic software, because normally creating schematics using other tools (such as AutoCAD) is a huge waste of time, and what we had been using died a while ago.  The software I was most interested in was Radica Software’s Electra.  It’s not based on AutoCAD (a good thing in my opinion), it’s not limited (unlike most competitors),  the price is reasonable, and there’s no annual maintenance fee (instead, it’s like Eagle: free support + free upgrades until the next major version).  We don’t create that many schematics, so it’s definitely not worth it to spend a lot of money every year on schematic software.  (Note that I haven’t had time to test Electra E6 out, but I’ve seen a number of positive comments from others).

However, with these new PCBs, I’ve moved so much of the schematic into Eagle PCB, it’s really not worth it to pay for separate schematic software.  Instead, I’ll create DXF objects from Eagle, and use those in DraftSight (a free AutoCAD clone) to create the schematic.

Resources

I’m slowly creating some pages on my Trac site with useful links and info; here are a couple that might be relevant to this post:

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