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Free PCB CAD tool gets upgrade

Posted: 21 Aug 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:library creation tool? pcb cad? pcb123? electronic controls design? ecd?

With a new release that includes expanded libraries and a library creation tool, a free PCB CAD tool claims to be approaching the capabilities of commercial offerings.

The tool, PCB123, is used specifically to design boards that are manufactured by PCB123's parent company, Electronic Controls Design (ECD).

Available as a free download from the PCB123 website, the package includes schematic design, placement and automatic or interactive routing for boards with two or four layers. It outputs a proprietary data format used by ECD. Designers can get price quotes and order boards from within the software package.

"As a circuit board manufacturer, we have a dependency on Gerber outputs from design packages," said Bob Schnyder, marketing manager for the Internet products group at ECD. "To avoid that dependency, we decided to create our own software, and bridge that gap to provide a complete and seamless design-to-order solution for our customers."

"We're PCB manufacturers, not design software providers, so we've had some trials and tribulations," Schnyder said. "But the latest version we have is the most stable, and the best value for customers."

Todd Clifton, PCB123 product manager, said the free software has gained about 45,000 users since its initial release last summer, with hundreds of boards manufactured to date. He said that most of PCB123's business is prototype boards, although there have been some production runs.

With the new release, he said, the package now offers around 200,000 different package and schematic symbols. "We're probably right up there with Cadence and OrCAD in the volume of parts available," he said. Moreover, he noted, a new tool lets users modify library parts and create their own.

Clifton also said the PCB123 package will be extended to six- and eight-layer boards within the year. He said there are no limits on the number of components or nets.

PCB123 comes with built-in design rules. It automatically loads parts onto the board when the schematic is completed. Designers can then place parts where they want, and use the batch autorouter, a point-to-point autorouting capability or strictly manual routing.

Clifton said the package compares "really well" to low-cost, commercial PCB CAD packages. "A lot of things we do are similar," he said. "The autorouter is not the most intelligent, but for basic designs, especially in the prototyping industry, it does extremely well."

- Richard Goering

EE Times

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