20090123

Schematic and Circuit Design

A blog reader asked me earlier today how to get started with circuit design. After very little thought I replied directly via e-mail, but I'd like to share my $0.02 with the rest of our readers who might be interested. Hopefully others who are already on this path can drop a line in the comments for this post about how they got into electronics/circuit design/microcontrollers.

I got into circuit design with a the help of a friend. He would show me his home made boards and I would go to him with questions as I made mine. I guess this is the order you will need to go in to get comfortable with circuits.

1. Learn the schematic symbols - Radio Shack has a decent book called "Electronic Formulas, Symbols and Circuits" it is a beginners guide to learning the symbols and seeing many common circuits. It is a way to learn through example. Radio Shack # 62-5031

2. Now that you can read schematics it is time to start drawing them. There are really two pieces of software that the DIY world uses for schematic capture. Make some schematics with one of these programs.
A) gschem - www.geda.seul.org/download.html - This is great software if you come from a background of using only open source code and are really a UNIX person at heart. If this is not the case move onto the next option.
B) eagle - www.cadsoftusa.com/ - Eagle is sort of shareware. You pay for the software once your circuit boards are larger than 4" in any direction. It is very popular in the Make world.

3. Schematics can be exported into PCB (Printed Circuit Board) layout programs like PCB for gschem and eagle has its own built in board layout. The idea being once you have laid out the logical connections and parts in the schematic side you then need to place each component.

That is all you need to work on for becoming comfortable with making circuits. It will be frustrating to use the software at first just because there is so much to get used to, but if you spent some time looking at lots of schematics in the Radio Shack book it will make things go smoother.

The next step after learning how to design and layout circuits is to have your circuit boards printed. I use barebonespcb to print my boards. They are in your area (Colorado) and don't charge much if you are doing runs of 10.

www.BareBonespcb.com/!BB1.asp

Finally you need to get into programming microcontrollers to start having a lot of fun. That is another hurdle, but if you have some experience programming software it will greatly reduce the learning curve.

Let me know how this goes for you and feel free to ask questions. This is sort of like how to become a electrical engineer over spring break.

6 comments:

Time Smack said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stephen said...

How did the previous comment possibly get through moderation? It's inane, it's off topic and it's even got a racial epithet. If that's the kind of comment you support you need to take a long look at yourself.

The post itself is very useful for people who want to make the jump from just putting symbols down on a schematic and actually making a useful circuit. It's a big difference and a very important one for circuit designers to manage so this will prove very helpful.

Nolan Johnson said...

When doing something new, like circuit design, its good to get all the help you can get. I happen to work at Sunstone Circuits, and we build low volume boards, too, just like bareboards does.

For EAGLE users, Sunstone has a free add-on tool, called DFM Add-Ons for EAGLE. The DFM Add-Ons capture our manufacturing guidelines as a set of DRC rule sets for the EAGLE tool. Load the rule set for the board type you're designing, and EAGLE will flag any design violations as you go.

If the design you submit to Sunstone is DRC violation free, Sunstone will guarantee that your design will be manufacturable.

A number of Sunstone customers who are new to PCB design find this free tool to be a great source of peace of mind while designing.

Whether you use Sunstone for your board fabrication or not, I recommend checking in to the DFM rule decks, and use the EAGLE feature set to your greatest advantage.

Patricio Paterson said...

I know you're aware of it, but a new book to add to your recommended list for those looking to into into diy electronics is the new "Make:Electronics" book by Charles Platt. It is very well done and the use of quality color photos of breadboarded projects as well as final perf board examples makes it very easy to follow along with design and assembly.

I would highly recommend this book to any beginner (or, as in my case, as a refresher for long dormant skills).

GreenDigitalist said...

Hmmm, interesting.

GreenDigitalist said...

hmm.