When we think about how we can use software to create things, we tend to keep that thought process digital. That is to say, we imagine using software to create and edit film productions, or take on graphic design projects, or blend images in Photoshop. But there are some instances in which a software program can be used to create a blueprint for something both physical and functional.
The trendy example these days might be 3D printing. While this is still a little bit of an emerging technology, Make Use Of’s list of products you can make provides some idea of how useful it may already be. By learning to design in 3D printing software, you can enable yourself to construct your own device cases, speakers, household tools, decorations, and even small furnishings (and more). One can imagine this list continuing to grow in the years to come, and more people learning the relevant software design as well.
Another way to turn software savvy into physical results, though, is learning how to design a printed circuit board. PCB design is not discussed as often as 3D printing, and neither is it as new or flashy in nature. At the same time however, it’s an absolutely vital skill in the modern world. PCBs are the core components of countless electronic devices we rely on every day. And while not all of them are possible to replicate in DIY fashion (you won’t be building your own iPhone in all likelihood), you can learn to make quite a few interesting things through this method of design.
Here are a few words on how to do it.
Choose a Project
As stated above, you won’t necessarily be making particularly complex devices with your own PCBs — at least at first. So a wise first step is to look through some tech devices that people design on their own, and choose a project to focus on. Electro Maker’s selection of DIY devices is a good start to your search, mentioning items like garage door openers, home thermostats, and the like. Whatever you ultimately choose to focus on, though, will inform your circuit board efforts.
Study Existing Designs
Once you have a project in mind, do your research and study how circuit boards for similar projects are made. In many cases you’ll at least be able to find general write-ups regarding the type of design at hand; in others you may even find full blueprints of the electronics. Whatever you find will give you something to imitate and draw inspiration from as you go about your first PCB software effort.
Explore Your Software
Programs for PCB design may not be publicized or showcased like, say, 3D printing programs. However, it is perfectly possible to find the tools to begin designing your own PCBs. Altium’s look at downloading circuit maker software makes it abundantly clear that programs are available that are both easy to use and suited or professional use. In other words, even as an amateur designer, you can learn to use the same tools professional electrical engineers rely on.
Sketch Your PCB
Once you’ve accessed and explored your software, and you have an idea of the type of circuit board you want to design, it’s advised that you sketch out a sort of blueprint. This can literally be a quick sketch on a piece of paper, but it should lay out the components and connections you need to bring your design into being.
Set Up a Schematic
Your first step in the actual software will be setting up a schematic, which essentially amounts to starting your design project. It’s something that will require some trial and error, and you’ll need to take advantage of walkthroughs and instructions within your chosen software program. But ultimately this will start your design process.
Input Components & Make Connections
Once you have a schematic opened and set up, it will be time to input components and outline connections. Again, you’ll need to explore your specific software to work out how to do this specifically (in terms of what tools and actions within the program to use). But this is the point at which you essentially translate your sketch into a software-based design — and one that will ultimately serve as the finished PCB design.
When you’ve gotten through all these steps, you can send your PCB design to a manufacturer and soon receive a physical circuit board that will function as you set it up to. This in turn can help you design your own electronics projects like some of those mentioned above.
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