PCB designers work mainly in two dimensions. Many layers help to view the traces and components outline, but often the third dimension is missing.
- Have you ever assembled your board and suddenly discovered that it was not fitting in the enclosure or front panel ?
- Have you ever found conflicts between two larger than expected components ? Or maybe a small component cannot be installed because of its surrounding ?
- Would you like a realistic preview of your system for advertising, or for convincing your boss ?
I have used during many years Eagle3D plugin, but I was not convinced by the rendering and the lack of flexibility of this approach (fixed view point, limited interest, low model quality).
Recently in one of my project I had to design a complex 3D assembly of boards and connectors. I found SketchUp (the free 3D modeler from Google) simple to use and efficient. I modeled the passive and IC components, the PCBs and could visualize how they would interact within the small cavity hosting the project.
I was very satisfied with the model until I improved the layout. I had to update the model, move and rotate the devices, and that was time consuming.
So why not automatizing the repetitive tasks, and let you spend your time in the design of a performant circuit ?
Cadsoft Eagle and Google Sketchup can be scripted so this looks feasible ! After a few hours discovering the capabilities of ULP and Ruby languages, a first version of Eagle’up was running. A few cosmetic improvements later it was ready for diffusion.
Eagle goes 3D in a few clicks !
Note : the name Eagle’up is a contraction of Eagle and SketchUp, I hope this is not in contradiction with their respective trademarks.
Example of mechanical collision :
The microcontroller used on this board need to be programmed at least once. For this purpose I use an adapter board between the RJ12 connector and my custom compact header. Everything looks good on this view :
But when you insert completely the connector, you notice that the adapter board is in contact with the SMA socket. Not good !
The 3D model can be used to print a 1:1 scale of your design. Here is an example of a tiny board + battery assembly. Holding a real scale model in your hands help designing the best enclosure and show a potential mounting problem, even before you order boards and components !