KiCAD BOM Management

KiCAD remains a popular tool for designing PCBs and other circuits, and with good reason: it’s versatile and it’s got pretty much everything needed to build any type of circuit board you’d want. It also comes with a pretty steep learning curve, though, and [Jeff] was especially frustrated with the bill of materials (BOM) features in KiCAD. After applying some Python and Kivy, [Jeff] now has a BOM manager that makes up for some of KiCAD’s shortcomings.

Currently, the tool handles schematic import, like-component consolidation, and a user-managed parts database that can be used to store and retrieve commonly used parts for the future. All of the changes can be saved back to the original schematic. [Jeff] hopes that his tool will save some time for anyone who makes more than one PCB a year and has to deal with the lack of BOM features native to KiCAD.

[Jeff] still has some features he’d like to add such as unit tests, a user guide, and a cleaner user interface. What other features are you anxious to see added to KiCAD?

This script is a great tool for anyone who has had similar frustrations. KiCAD is popular to modify and expand, too: there have been tools for mechanical CAD export, a parts-generator and cost-tracker, and an Eagle to KiCAD converter if you’re thinking of making the switch.

SDRAM Logic Analyzer Uses An AVR And A Dirty Trick

We often see “logic analyzer” projects which are little more than microcontrollers reading data as fast as they can, sending it to a PC, and then plotting the results. Depending on how fast the microcontroller is, these projects range from adequate to not very useful.

At first glance, [esot.eric’s] logic analyzer project has an AVR in it, so it ought to be on the low end of the scale. Then you look at the specs: 32 channels at 30 megasamples per second. How does that work with an AVR in it?

The answer lies in the selection of components. The analyzer uses a 128MB SDRAM DIMM (like an older PC might use for main memory). That makes sense; the Arduino can’t store much data internally. However, it isn’t the storage capacity that makes this choice critical. It seems [esot.eric] has a way to make the RAM “free run”.

The idea is to use the Arduino (or other host microcontroller) to set up the memory. Some of the memory’s output bits feedback to the address and data lines. Then the microcontroller steps aside and the SDRAM clocks samples into its memory by itself at the prevailing clock rate for the memory.

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Tools of the Trade – Solder Paste Dispensing

The general process of circuit board assembly goes like this: You order your PCBs. You also order your components. For surface mount components, you apply solder paste to the pads, put the components on top, and then heat the board up so the solder paste flows and makes a bond. Then for through hole components you put the leads through the holes, and solder them with an iron or a solder wave or dip. Then you do an inspection for defects, program any microcontrollers, and finally test the completed board to make sure everything runs.

The tricky part is in volumes. If you’re only doing a few boards, it’s usually easiest to assemble them by hand. In the thousands you usually outsource. But new tools, and cheap hacked tools, have made it easier to automate small batches, and scale up into the thousands before outsourcing assembly.

In this new series which we’re calling Tools of the Trade we’ll be covering a variety of tools used for building products, and we’re starting with circuit board assembly. Let’s investigate our tools of the trade: solder paste dispensing. Continue reading “Tools of the Trade – Solder Paste Dispensing”

Tindie Opens a Flea Market for Tools, Components, and other Gear

We like to pop into electronics flea markets and swap meets at every chance we get. Last month [Brian] made it to the ham swap meet at Northrup Grumman held in Redondo Beach. I had a great time a couple of years back at the Electronics Flea Market held at De Anza College. Physical proximity to one of these nearly-mythical events is, unfortunately, required. If only the Internet offered a solution to this problem…

The fact that you’re reading Hackaday puts you into one of three categories: you wish you had a lot more tools, you’re on the way to a well-stocked workshop, or you’re trying to pass on your shop surplus to someone who will love it like you do. There’s now a perfect solution for the buy-upgrade-horde cycle we all inevitably fall into: the Tindie Flea Market. If you use something to make hardware, this is going to be the place to buy or sell it.

tindie-flea-market-thumbHas that starter scope been collecting dust since you picked up not one, but two better models? We know you can’t part with it unless you know it’s not going to be thrown out, and this is the chance to find not just a good home, but an owner that will use and cherish it. This goes for all kinds of great tools. After all, how do you find someone to take that pick and place off of your hands?

At launch, the Tindie Flea Market categories will include Adapters and Cables, Audio and Video, Batteries and Power, Bulk Components, Equipment, Fasteners, RC, and Small Tools. Maybe I’ll finally be able to find a home for that tube of power transistors I ordered years ago in the wrong package — and maybe even that long tape of EEPROM that I ordered in 1.8v instead of 3.3v. Time to start my listings and keep good stuff out of the landfill. Yet another great reason we were so happy to welcome Tindie to the Hackaday family.

Arduino RF Network Analyzer

What do you get when you combine a direct digital synthesis (DDS) chip, a power detector, and an Arduino? [Brett Killion] did make that combination and wound up with a practical network analyzer.

The project uses an Analog Devices AD9851 DDS chip clocked at 180 MHz which will output a sine wave at any frequency from 0 Hz and 72 MHz. A Butterworth low pass filter processes the DDS signal and then feeds a two-transistor amplifier. The circuit will output about 0dBm into 50 ohms. The power detector is an Analog Devices AD8307 along with a 50-ohm input load. There is no filtering on the power detector so it can measure from very low frequencies to 500MHz.

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Dual UART/I2C Breakout Goes Both Ways

[Jesus Echavarria] sent us a link to this cute little tool that he’s built. It’s a dual USB-to-I2C-or-UART adapter, with a few more oddball features thrown in for good measure. If you were electronics Batman, you’d have this on your utility belt.

[Jesus] originally designed the board because he wanted to sniff a bi-directional UART conversation using his computer, and get it all done in inexpensive hardware with minimal fuss. So he looked to the Microchip MCP2221 chip, which is an inexpensive USB to serial and I2C chip, but with some extras. In particular, it’s got four GPIOs, a ten-bit ADC and a five-bit DAC with selectable reference voltage, and it’s all controllable over USB. And [Jesus]’s board has two of them.

Implementing USB on a microcontroller isn’t always that much fun, so we can see why he took the straight-ahead hardware approach. And as a side benefit, he gets all the other kooky functionalities that the chip brings. And we have been introduced to what looks like a neat chip to use in USB and microcontroller projects. We’re going to put one in our next random chip order.

PCB Laminator Is Its Own Project

One of the easiest ways to make PC boards at home is to use the toner transfer method. The idea is simple: print the artwork using a laser printer and then use a clothes iron to transfer the toner from the paper to a clean copper clad board. The toner is essentially plastic, so it will melt and stick to the board, and it will also resist etchant.

There are several things you can do to make things easier. The first is the choice of paper. However, the other highly variable part of the process is the clothes iron. You have to arrange for the right amount of heat and pressure. If you don’t do a lot of boards, you’ll probably have to make several passes at getting this right, scrubbing the reject boards with acetone and scouring pads to clean them again.

[Igor] had enough of the clothes iron and knew that other people have used lamination machines to get the toner off the paper and on the blank board. He started with a commercial laminator but hacked it for PID control of the temperature and made other improvements.

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