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PCB design procedure...

Posted by Matthew Little on

Here at The Curious Electric Company, we use the open source PCB and schematic design package KiCAD. This keeps getting better and better, but, as with any software, has a (quite steep) learning curve associated.

Here is the NEW version of the Bat Listener being worked on. We have listened to customer feedback and have tried to improve the kit making it easier to build, reduce the number of fiddly wires to cut and solder and have better component labelling.

Designing a PCB has a number of distinct stages. These are:

  • Schematic design
    • Produce the schmatic layout of the prototype unit.
    • Double check all wiring here, as its easy to miss a wire!
  • Initial layout
    • Where do the main components want to go?
    • Are there any limiting factors, such as mounting holes?
    • Typically done with pen and paper
  • Produce all component footprints
    • Get the datasheets for every component and produce a footprint for all of them.
  • Second layout
    • Using KiCAD, place the footprints in their approximate locations
    • This is an iterative process and can take a while - especially if one component is slightly out of position and all the others need to be moved.
  • Go away and stop thinking about it
    • I always leave the circuit board overnight. Somehow my brian still seems to work on it and coming fresh to it the next day means I see things that I might have missed if I'd sent it for production straight away.
  • Check again
    • I usually print out a 1:1 scale image of the PCB. I can then match up the components with the pads and measure everything again.
    • If possible, get someone else to have a check of the schematic and the PCB. Fresh eyes = more fault finding.
  • Get it made!
    • Send the gerber files to your favourite production house, pay them some money & wait for your boards!

Typically it takes 2-3 days to design a circuit board from scratch and get it looking right. I usually do a prototype run of 10 boards. These can be built and any errors fixed ready for the full production run.

At present we are out of stock of the bat listener until I get this PCB finished and get the PCBs in. Hopefully the improvements will be worth the wait!

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