Our first two small KiCAD OSHW boards are ready!

MPU9150

I wrote some time ago about the importance to use Open Source CAD tools when you want to make OSHW designs.

FOSS CAD tools increase the base of your contributors, you can’t expect to have many people who to contribute back to your project if you make it with Altium or PADS which cost thousands of EURO/USD.
Even Eagle which have low cost entry version cost thousands if you want to use it for more complex designs.

So the decission was taken, but the resistance among our developers was not small 🙂 nobody wants to break his comfort when there are already lot of libraries made and had to be duplicated for the new platform.
It’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks 🙂

Situation changed a bit this month as we got two new guys who joined Olimex design team – Todor Bobotilov 25 years old “fresh out of school”, who recently graduated Technical University in Plovdiv with one of the best scores/results from the exams, and Christo Budakov who have 25 years of experience with electronics design and has worked for Bulgarian Academy of Science, and as free consultant last years. They both joined Olimex on March 4th.

So I decided that after the latest announcements for the new features in KiCAD we have no excuses anymore and have to kick Eagle by the end of this year with all our designs. And to start clean the new guys will be thrown in the deep waters from the beginning and they will start working with KiCAD from scratch.

First thing was to install newest and latest although unstabile version of KiCAD to may be up to date with latest developments.

This is easy to do in Ubuntu, you just have to add the nightly builds repo to your apt-get list:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:js-reynaud/ppa-kicad

Then every morning you will be asked if you want to install the newest build. This had some trade offs like latest KiCAD tends to crash every couple of hours for some reason, but this is OK, we know that we work with unstabile version and just have to save the projects more frequently :))))

Another issue – the libraries, we have our own technologycal setup in our production, based on our process we run for many years, this includes how the stencils are manufactures, how the NC files for the machines we have are generated, what component pads to be used, what drills, annular rings, etc we have to use to suit our PCB design and manufacturing process to achieve the best yield in production, in most of the cases this have nothing in common with the recommended by vendors PCB land pads and dimensions.

Christo started working on the libraries slowly while making new boards he converts from proven Eagle libraries just the components he uses in his current designs.

This week we got two new very simple boards designed with KiCAD:

MOD-MPU9150 3-axis gyro + 3-axis accelerometer + 3-axis magnetometer compass all in one here is the GitHub repo you can see it how it looks on the picture above.

and MOD-OLED-128×64 OLED 1″ display with UEXT and Breadboard 0.1″ headers, the GitHub repo is here.

OLED

you may bet many more and much complicated designs are to follow 🙂

A10-OLinuXino-LIME shield templates for Eagle and KiCAD uploaded on GitHub

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For these who want to make their own LIME shields we made templates in Eagle and KiCAD which they can use.

Be careful as these are freshly made and still not prototyped by us, all measures are taken the shields to be functional and error free, but these shields are still not prototyped and may contain errors so use on your own risk until we prototype and verify them 🙂

https://github.com/OLIMEX/OLINUXINO/tree/master/HARDWARE/A10-OLinuXino-LIME

Specially KiCAD is still black magic to us 🙂

Why is important Open Source Hardware Community to use Open Source CAD tools

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Eagle PCB Layout is around for many years and with their freeware 80x100mm licensee attracted lot of Open Source Enthusiasts to use it.

If you check the OSHW projects which people release probably 80% of them are made with Eagle for the same reason. When Eagle was available for free, nothing comparable existed, the open source tools were very immature and not so easy to use, then once you start using one CAD you get used to it and you make your own libraries, scripts, ULPs and you are tight bind to it so you do not want to move to other platform.

CarSoft (Eagle creators) had this wise idea that you can download and use the freeware version to view big projects and to edit and modify small projects with size 100×80 and up to two layers which in most of the cases is enough for the mass Arduino community.

Working with complex boards like OLinuXino is another story – the boards are 2-4-6 and some 8 layers, very complex, some of them big and exceeding the PCB limits for the freeware and for the non-commercial EUR 100 licensee (limited to 160×100 4 layers).

The CAD tools are the major difference between Open Source Software and Open Source Hardware. With FOSS to start contribute you just download your open source compiler and you can reproduce, modify, re-compile, debug the code.

With Open Source Hardware the sources are edited with special CAD tools, which may cost from free to 100 000 EUR.

You would not expect to have many contributors if your CAD cost EUR 100 000 would you?

Even now with Eagle where the full licensee cost EUR 1200 there are mostly companies working on commercial projects which decide to spend these money, and generally releasing OLinuXino using Eagle CAD just help Eagle owners to sell more licensees 🙂

The more Open Source Projects we do the more I think that moving to Open Source CAD would help Open source community in several ways:

  1. increasing the base of the people who could modify the projects as the open source CAD tools are free to obtain
  2. the selected CAD tool will gain more users and community, which will help to fix bugs, add new features, libraries and move forward and improve.

Having taking all this into consideration we have to select open source tool to migrate to.

Out of the list https://www.olimex.com/PCB/DesignTools/ we have check gEDA, PCB, kiCAD and it seems only the later have some improvement with the years.

So we are going to evaluate kiCAD as tool which to use for our future released OSHW boards.

I know this process will be painful and will cost us *lot* of money due to the time spent on re-training of our PCB developers, the decreased productivity of working with new and unknown tool, time spent to transfer the developed many years libraries and scripts/tools from Eagle, but the final result will be more open and community friendly product.

We may fail with the migration, but it worth to try at least

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