Recently there have been a raft of shiny looking browser based PCB design tools such as Circuit Maker and Upverter, these look very interesting; the online collaborative development opportunities are obvious and linking into the OctoPart's live component pricing, standard part library and BOM management tools could be a big time saver at the manufacturing stage. Maybe online tools will be the future, however I am a little reserved about having designs locked into a closed online platform.
In particular I have been keeping a close eye on KiCad developments after I heard CERN had got involved in the development. I was very impressed watching this video showing the newly developed KiCad intelligent semi-auto router in action:
I think it's time I gave KiCad another try! Today I managed to install KiCad and put together the RFM12Pi schematic and layout the board. Here's my experience:
I wanted the latest build to get the shiny new features, so I installed the development branch by adding the PPA to Ubuntu:
I installed KiCad build dated 16th July on 32-bit Ubuntu 14.04
I found I needed to add the line "export KIGITHUB="https://github.com/KiCad";" to my ~/.profile file to get rid of cannot find github footprint errors when running CvPCB (the program in KiCad which links the schematic parts to PCB footprints)
I followed the fantastic video tutorials from Contextual Electronics to help me get started.
|1. KiCad Schematic Editor, net list must be manually exported to move to the next setp|
|2. Linking schematic parts to PCB footprints|
|3. Board layout the new interactive router was great (see video above)|
|New router options|
Update: the finished Kicad RFM2Pi V2.7 design is up on github:
To engage in discussion regarding this post, please post on our Community Forum.
Obviously we have considerable lock-in to EAGLE PCB with our historic designs and learning a new software tool is always going to be a slow and slightly frustrating process, however I'm quite impressed that after about 5hrs I think I'm got the hang of basic KiCad functions. I will seriously consider using KiCad for new designs in the future. I think the increased effort will be worthwhile to enable us to be using a fully open-source bit of design software to design open-hardware, what do you think?
Thinks I liked about KiCad:
- Interactive router, very impressed with this. Big time saver
- More intuitive setup of default track widths and net classes
- How net and pin names are displayed in the layout editor
- How schematic symbols and PCB footprints are handled as separate entities, more intuitive than Eagle IMHO
Thinks I miss moving from Eagle:
- Have a live link between schematic and PCB, KiCad requires exporting and re-importing a new netlist each time there is a change in schematic
- There are more ready made parts in Eagle libraries then there are KiCad part libraries, but I'm sure this will change.
- Being able to highlight all tracks on a particular net by selecting a wire on the schematic (maybe I've just not found this feature yet in KiCad?)