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    • August 8, 2018 9:40 PM EDT
    • Thanks Rooster, I needed that!

      You'll see them, buddy.


    • August 8, 2018 8:35 PM EDT
    • I'm thinking Cliff is planning on blowing the damn place up! We/I wanna see the historical and site investigation photos.

      Ho Lee Balls (Chinese guy wishing to purchase the model)



      Rooster: has reported Cliff to the moderator for saying "sucker"

    • August 7, 2018 10:33 PM EDT
    • Sorry I have nothing to show, but here's what's been going on for this project.


      The wiring is complete, and I'll start testing and debug, God willing, this Saturday. I'm really hoping I don't cook anything important... 


      I'm working hard on the Powerpoint for the October lectures. This is a single talk that will be given to two different historical societies in Nevada, covering the research, site investigation and modeling of this ore dump area. Ugh, so many photos (historical, model, site investigation), lots of layers to the thing. I was feeling kinda overwhelmed, until last Sunday when I decided to tackle it and devoted the whole day to the thing. So it's getting more under control now, and I'm relaxing a bit more. Long way to go though.


      The final model installation will be a big deal. I need to get this sucker done and planted on the layout, and photo'd for some final lecture slides. That will require the excavation jig that I posted on a while ago, the excavation itself, and getting this final module out there, leveled and fitted. Oh, and the wiring and debugging and programming need to happen before all that.


      So things are coming down to the wire. Lots to do this month and in September. 


      Thanks for your participation in this,




    • July 23, 2018 8:42 PM EDT
    • Cliff Jennings said:Brutha Roostah, any day I can get you worked up is a good day.   


      Amen !

    • August 2, 2018 2:05 AM EDT
    • As for me, what a difference a year makes. Then, I was using the free version of SketchUp, learning Fusion 360, using my daughter's old Cricut machine, and getting 3d prints from Shapeways and the public library. Fast forward a few months, and I have sprung for the full version of SketchUp, bought my own Cricut Maker, and bought a 3d printer (I think I must have robbed a bank or something but my memory is kind of hazy on that point).


      Oh, and I'm still learning Fusion 360 ...


    • August 1, 2018 3:07 PM EDT
    • Bob, I've used Tinkercad since I began 3D printing, about 3 years ago.  I found it very easy to learn (since I had never done any mechanical drawing or design).  Since it's written for current 4th graders, I have a chance to understand it.  I was a guinea pig for their beta product, and found it much improved from TC 1.0.  TC has a gear making routine that has improved the performance of my Bachmann trolleys.  I've got no problem with "cloud," it saves space on my computer, and allows unlimited undos.  Imporant to me.  I understand that Autodesk is trying to make Tinkercad more like Autodesk, and that's probably OK.  One more feature of TC is that updates are free and automatic.


    • July 27, 2018 2:52 PM EDT
    • Very cool, Martin. DesignSpark also has that (they call it "Nets"). I gave it a cursory try, but I didn't have the patience to make it work. That's pretty impressive routing though, I need to revisit that.


      Thanks Greg, that would be helpful for folks who don't need the dxf importing. It's great that we can gather a bunch of options in this thread, for others in a similar situation. And PADS Maker sure looks like a great tool. 



    • July 26, 2018 9:24 PM EDT
    • Cliff, I will check, but I believe you can do the footprints in PADS itself, and build your library of parts. Also, you can probably "find" libraries of standard parts and connectors to save time.



    • July 26, 2018 7:39 PM EDT

      Ouch, sorry, missed that one, yeah $2.30 each in lots of 10.  This one you don't save much for lots of 100, $2.06 each.  Guess because it's so small. 


      Yep, all auto routed.  I do love that feature. I don't think I could do these boards without it.  You just connect the pins with 'fly wires' then click the button and presto.  Very slick.



      I 'fattened up' the traces for the power after the auto route.  Worked great.







    • July 26, 2018 4:32 PM EDT
    • Greg, thanks for the info! And if PADS Maker can import DXF for footprints, it's certainly worth looking into. I sure hadn't heard of it, thanks. [edit: I couldn't find that it imports DXF, but that won't be a problem for most folks I expect].


      DesignSpark PCB appears to be doing OK -- except for some quirky Gerber default file naming, which I think I've resolved now. Seems to handle some fairly complex and multi-level boards. Thanks for thinking I'd want to (or be able to) tackle more than 2 layers in the future... my brain hurts just thinking about it though...  


      Martin, thanks for the pics and backstory, great design work. All auto-routed, huh? I had to manually place my traces, and that was a bit of a challenge even on my tiny board (by the time I complied with all the rules).


      That's a nice looking board. Were they $2.30 each, or for the lot of 10? Either way, peanuts!


      Thanks guys, this is all a lot of fun!




    • July 25, 2018 8:17 PM EDT

      Cliff, sorry, didn't mean to mislead you if I did.  I've been using BAC for a while but I do everything in their software.  They will give you the gerbers if you do an order but I have not had a need for them.  I did use Pad2Pad before this but they were way more expensive so I tried these guys.  Mostly I wanted easy to use software that has a good auto-route. Theirs is very good IMHO.  The s/w has a small learning curve but my needs were simple so it wasn't bad at all.  I even made a custom component for the Xbee socket with it's odd pin spacing.


      Here is one of my older Xbee ATtiny boards- this one obviously is more digital, no real loads here and several SOIC components.



      I just loaded this one up in their software and pressed 'order'.  Came to $6.47 each for qty 10 (10 day turnaround).  (100 is $4.20 per board for reference)



      This one is more analog, it's $2.30 for 10.


      Here is that board, naked and also populated.  It's not very big but I'm very happy with the quality and they work very well once everything is soldered up.




    • July 25, 2018 7:06 PM EDT
    • Cliff:


      In San Diego, most professional houses use PADS, (besides my little company, Qualcomm uses it too)  by Mentor Graphics. Of course it's thousands of dollars, and handles complex products, our current board is 12 layers with several power planes and different materials for making different impedance traces working at different frequencies.


      But there is supposedly a free version called PADS Maker, and it is a dumbed down version of this professional system, so making footprints (you called them outlines) and routing, and vias and everything is in it of course.


      This package is used worldwide and accepted by every PCB manufacturer, of course you export Gerber files most times, and these are mostly driven by the schematic, not starting from mechanical CAD.


      I'll investigate further, because it should make the process easier, and never a problem with compatibility.


      (also if you get stuck, I can have my h/w engineers and/or layout guys help)


      I know you aren't making anything complex... yet!  My opinion is if the learning curve is not horrible, I'd rather drive a detuned Ferrari than a hopped up Volkswagen if you get the analogy.



    • July 25, 2018 4:35 PM EDT
    • Todd Brody said:

      I use DesignSpark Mechanical for my 2D and 3D CAD files.  It too is fairly easy to use and free.

      Have you tried designing in ExpressSCH and pricing in ExpressPCB?  That's what I use for electronic design (free), but have never used their service to produce the board.


      Todd, good to know, thanks!


      I've not used the Express products. [edit] But I just went to their site, and saw this info:


      • Standard MiniBoards are 2 layer PCBs without the solder mask or silkscreen layers. [huh, all the other services had those important elements...]
      • For a fixed price of $51, you will receive 3 identical boards.
      • The board’s size must be 3.8 x 2.5 inches. [not sure if that's a max, or a must-be outline?]
      • Orders submitted Monday through Friday by 2:00pm ET are shipped the next business day.


      That's definitely a great turnaround. But OSH Park's $7 (even if faster shipping is chosen) really spanks that $51. 


      FWIW, I'm leaning toward OSHP for proto, and PCBW for the main run (I need around 20 or 30).


      Thanks again Dave B and everyone for helping me puzzle through this. 



    • July 25, 2018 4:30 PM EDT
    • Bob, you're right, OSH Park is really neat. Their layer-by-layer on line proofing is amazing, shows your board with each layer fully explained. And $7 for 3 boards, 5 working ways, free shipping -- hoddayam!


      Support is great, in the last hour I've emailed them twice and gotten replies for both. 


      Trying BAC next.


      [edit] In an email reply, they said use their 2-layer special. But, it costs $30 x 3, yep, $90. So negatory on that. Martin, did you have a different experience?





    • July 25, 2018 3:41 PM EDT
    • Thanks for all the additional ideas guys!


      Before trying Designspark, I worked the board up in Pad2Pad, but their files were proprietary, and a single board was over $200. A run of 20 or 30 wasn't much more, but the setup was way high. With the standard Gerber files in hand, I'm getting a price of 50 cents now from PCBWay. 


      But shipping isn't always cheap or quick, so I'm doing a little comparison on those. 


      Source    Qty  Price  Shipping  Co. and working days to ship

      JLPCB     10    $5     $19.60    DHL, 3-5

      JLPCB     10    $5     $12.62    Air mail, 15-20

      PCBWay  10    $5     $21.00    DHL, 3-5

      PCBWay  10    $5     $7.00      E-packet, 10-15

      shenzhen2u 10 $10  $23.63    DHL, 3-8

      shenzhen2u 10 $10  $7.00      China post, 8-21


      I'm working on a quote from OSH Park, they didn't like my board layer file.


      Having a couple problems though, and I can't find the answers in the DS help. 


      DS didn't export any dedicated file for the board outline; but a file called "top documentation" has it in there. OSH Park's reviewer didn't like that. 


      What's the standard way to name a Gerber board outline file?


      And can it have any mounting holes in it?




      I found a neat tool to view zipped Gerber files with, layer by layer:



    • July 24, 2018 6:40 PM EDT
    • I’ve had PCBWay and ShenZhen2U make boards for me. And also used OSH Park.  All top quality and my ShenZhen2U order I placed on a Frida, they were shipped Monday and I got them Thursday.  OSH Park is neat for one-offs.  

    • July 24, 2018 6:34 PM EDT
    • I use DesignSpark Mechanical for my 2D and 3D CAD files.  It too is fairly easy to use and free.


      Have you tried designing in ExpressSCH and pricing in ExpressPCB?  That's what I use for electronic design (free), but have never used their service to produce the board.



    • July 24, 2018 5:49 PM EDT
    • Clif - nice project and well explained for those who need to design as you did.

      If you want to save a few $$$ you can get prototype boards for only $2 + shipping - I have used their services and the boards are A-1 - they accept the same Gerber files as other firms

      Be sure to let us know how the rest of the project goes


    • July 24, 2018 5:24 PM EDT
    • OK, I'm no electrical engineer, but I've finally been making progress on an electronics puzzle that's been nagging me for some time. So for better or worse, I want to share what I've learned.


      I've had a switch machine project on the burner for a couple years, and the prototype worked fine. Even brought it to the D&B. But I needed to miniaturize it, and got stuck on the circuit card. 


      Dave Bodnar's boards are beautiful; and he told me he used Thanks Dave for all your tips!!! 


      However, I'm a mechanical guy, working in a 3D CAD package (solidworks) and AutoCAD. And I've learned that PCB (printed circuit board) manufacturers only accept proper electrical engineering PCB ("Gerber" or similar) files to do their thing. I've also learned that professional packages are either very tough to learn (for a non-sparky), or expensive, or both. 


      Now, I can make DXF files all day long, but no manufacturers accept them. And I didn't know why. But several board makers, that supply their own version of  PCB design, do accept DXF as "footprints" for the board. That is, borders and holes. Unfortunately, the output is proprietary, and you pay through the nose for that particular service. 


      This post is about how I was finally able to bridge that gap.


      First off, my board is highly bounded by the surrounding geometry, and packaging the components hasn't been easy.



      The circuit is simple, and the board is mainly power distribution with a little signal wiring thrown in. Here's the populated board.



      The easy step was to export the board's geometry to a DXF file.



      I hunted for software that accepted DXF, and installed and tested it, only to find that the format was proprietary, the board expensive, and the output wasn't the Gerber industry standard. So I couldn't use PCBWay, or sources like that.


      But after several gyrations of this, I finally found the key: DesignSpark. DesignSpark PCB is FREE. You have to register, but that's all. It imports DXF for board footprints, and exports to the industry standard formats.


      Here's the PCB design after importing my DXF, converting it into a "board," parking the "pads" on it and running the "traces". I'm over-using the quotes here, because these are the kinds of terms I've had to become familiarized with.



      The export function of this software generates the many industry-standard files required for a PCB. For example:

      • Top documentation (the board, in green here)
      • Top copper (topside conductors, shown in red)
      • Bottom copper (bottomside conductors, shown in blue)
      • Top silkscreen (what's printed; in yellow here)
      • Top copper resist (not shown; automatic; all that green stuff)
      • Bottom copper resist (ditto, on the bottom side)


      That's why DXF or similar CAD files won't work for this: the layers are in different files, with their own metadata requirements. 


      All these files are zipped and uploaded to PCBWay. A few 24-hour cycles have passed, while they (in China) found my flaws and told me about them. I fixed, and re-uploaded. And the board is finally passing! 


      I'm not ready to order quite yet, because I want to breadboard some other stuff and do more testing. But this run-through is telling me that these PCB's can be had for around 80 cents each, plus S&H of around $9 via "e-packet". 


      Probably not gonna rock the socks of a lot of people here, but as a geek I was too excited not to share.


      Finally, you folks who do know all about these sorts of things, please share your insights and improvements to all the above!