Panelizing Boards The Easy Way

For reasons that will remain undisclosed until some time in the future, I recently had a need to panelize a few PCBs. Panelization is the art of taking PCB designs you already have, whether they’re KiCad board files, Eagle board files, or just Gerbers, and turning them into a single collection of PCBs that can be sent off to a fab house.

Now this is panel racing

If you’re still wondering what this means, take a look at the last board you got from OSH Park, Seeed, Itead, or Dirty PCBs. Around the perimeter of your board, you’ll find some rough spots. These are ‘mouse bites’ and tabs, places where the boards are strung together to form a gigantic rectangular panel sent off to a manufacturer. You can check out this great interview with [Laen] from OSH Park to get an idea of how this works, but the basic process is to take a bunch of Gerbers, add tabs and mouse bites, solve the knapsack problem, and send the completed panel off to a board house.

Panelizing boards is something most of us won’t have to do often. Really, you only want a panel of boards when you’re manufacturing something. For small-scale production and prototypes, bare boards will do just fine. Simply by virtue of the fact that panelizing boards is far less common than throwing some Gerbers at OSH Park or Seeed, there aren’t many (good) tutorials, and even fewer (good) tools to do so. This is how you panelize boards quickly and easily using Open Source tools.

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540 PCBs Make a Giant LED Cube

Just about anyone can make a simple LED cube. But what if you want to make a 1-meter cube using 512 LEDs? [Hari] wanted to do it, so he created two different kinds of LED boards using EasyEDA. There are 270  of each type of board, for a total of 540 (there are only 512 LEDs, so we guess he got some spares due to how the small boards panelized). The goal is to combine these boards to form a cube measuring over three feet on each side.

To simplify wiring, the boards are made to daisy chain like a cordwood module. However, to get things to line up, each column of LED boards have to rotate 90 degrees. You can see several videos about the project below.

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Panelizing PCBs in Eagle

final_panel

A lot of the board houses out there including Seeed and ITead studios have a fixed size for circuit boards before the price goes up. A one-inch square board costs the same as a much larger 5cm x 5cm board, making panelized PCBs a great way to get more boards for the same amount of money. Trying to panelize a board in Eagle with copy and paste is a chore without the right tools, though, so we’re happy to see a great panelization tutorial from [Victor].

To panelize one of his boards for a PCB order, [Victor] used one of Eagle’s User Language Programs to duplicate the part names on the additional boards. After that, it was a simple matter of running a CAM job to generate the necessary Gerber files.

Of course once the boards arrive, you’ll have to cut them apart from each other. This can be done with everything from a Dremel to a hack saw to a metal shear, but we’re wondering what other Hackaday readers are using to cut up PCBs. Leave a note in the comments with your preferred method of depanelization.