Create Professional PCB designs with ZenitPCB Suite

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A free, easy-to-use computer-aided design software package for Windows platform, that lets you design printed circuit boards of professional quality very quickly

Anagha P.


Several electronic design automation (EDA) software are available in the market, which provide professional-grade printed circuit board (PCB) designs. While the premium and full-featured versions of design software can be pretty expensive, there are several alternatives in the form of free integrated design environments (IDEs) available these days.

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Fig. 1: Screenshot of ZenitCapture project

ZenitPCB is one such excellent EDA toolset that allows PCB designing for electronics projects. This freeware is flexible, has a simple user interface (UI) and lets you realise the design in a short period of time.

This design suite comprises four tools: ZenitPCB Layout, ZenitCapture Schematic, ZenitPCB Parts and ZenitPCB GerberView.

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Why ZenitPCB
the ZenitPCB software package is absolutely free of cost and still provides designs with professional levels of accuracy. It comes with some advanced features offered by paid software—extensive and well-managed library, multiple layers and double-sided designs support, high flexibility, superior schematic design, compatibility with standard design file formats and a tool for viewing Gerber file.

The software reduces the time to market; for example, the user can import a mechanical drawing with a PCB and build his/her board outline, thereby avoiding mistakes and saving time.

Who can use it
ZenitPCB Suite and the accompanying libraries are licenced as freeware and can be used for personal, educational and semi-professional purposes. It is aimed at designers, engineers, hobbyists, students and academicians who want to create their own PCBs with a professional touch, without having to pay for expensive licences. The circuit board for design has 800 pins and serves the level of complexity that would be required by designs for the targeted audience. This 800 pins limit, according to the developer, is the borderline between the hobby projects and professional jobs.

Designing schematics with ZenitCapture

B1A_box2Schematic designs can be created quickly and easily using the feature-rich toolset of ZenitCapture.

A schematic in ZenitCapture can have several layers and the layout is created in a netlist file format. The part libraries have a collection of more than 800 commonly-used components (both surface-mount devices and through holes) suitable for immediate placement on the project. The device required for design can be either selected from these libraries or edited/created using ZenitParts.

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Connections can be easily added with orthogonal locking and snap-to-pin features. You can also place global symbols (ground pin – GND and power supply pin – Vcc), IEEE symbols (Sigma – Σ, Pi – Π, bidirectional arrows – ↔, hysteresis – ⎎ etc), off-page connector symbols, wires, shapes, texts, field texts and so on in the schematic. Other features include auto-renaming of reference, ability to mirror the parts, customisable colour schemes and visibility for each of the layers, availability of datasheets on parts provided in the library, option to export netlist format files into PCB and customisable ASCII report.

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Fig. 2: A complete PCB design using ZenitPCB

6DE_box3ZenitPCB allows the export of reports into ASCII files into either no separation (as image) or separated (comma-separated values or CSV—to import into spreadsheet).

C13_box4ZenitPCB layout tool lets you use Netlists from competing software
This tool allows the user to import a netlist file from various other major schematic capture software (OrCAD by Cadence Design Systems, Protel/Altium Designer by Altium Limited, EAGLE by CadSoft Computer, NI Multisim by National Instruments Electronics Workbench Group, PADS by Mentor Graphics, to name a few) while preserving all the components and their relative electrical connections.

Design without schematic. It is also possible to create the PCB design project directly from the layout editor, without the need for importing netlist from schematic capture. This can be done by importing components from the library and then connecting those pins using the cursor (auto ratlines).

JEE7_box5umpers. Jumpers are short pieces of conductors that let you bypass part of a circuit and make electric connection between two pin headers. The current version has an autojumper introduced to it. When routing, you can import jumper decals into the project and place the selected surface-mount jumper on the top or bottom side of the PCB.

Photo View. This view gives you the idea of how the real PCB would look like; it shows all the through holes, slots and silk screens. The user can check whether the components are placed in the correct side, the silk and references are placed well or end up on the pads.

Rename Components. The AutoRename Reference command allows you to rename all the components in the layout. You could choose whether they should be numbered horizontally or vertically, and the width of the band. Also, you will be able to create ASCII for back annotations of several schematic captures.

Import/Export DXF. It is possible to import and export every layer and associated items from and to DXF files compatible with commercial CAD such as AutoCAD, IntelliCAD and TurboCAD.

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Export IDF. It is possible to export the design created in ZenithPCB to ASCII file containing all the 3D information. This file is compatible with most professional CAD software, making it useful for mechanical designers.

Trace Current Capacity. The Current Capacity option lets you know how many amperes of current a trace could carry, by choosing the empirical formula, foil thickness and temperature rise above ambient condition.

Alternative Bottom Component. This field in component library lets you set the bottom footprint for both wave soldering and reflow soldering.

Obstruct Shapes. It is possible to define areas in the PCB where certain operations such as copper pour, placement and routing are not allowed. Height obstruct option is used for checking against component keep-out areas.

Padstack. New features allow the user to make pad in an offset shape, and with slot holes.

You can make both single-sided and double-sided PCBs using ZenitPCB Layout. The component library has more than thousand footprints. The footprint wizard makes the creating of footprint easier. Design rule checker considers the rules to be followed while placing elements in a PCB, like the clearance between board outline, tracks, pads, components and text.

ZenitParts
ZenitParts is a simple tool that allows you to quickly create and modify parts and symbols for PCB designing purposes. The user-friendly and intuitive UI, very similar to that of ZenitCapture schematic, makes this program easy to understand and use. The created parts and symbols can be easily saved to the library of our choice. It also allows you to modify the items already provided in the library, copy, delete and rename them.

ZenitPCBGerberView
The default file format *.zpc created in ZenitPCB Layout can be exported to Gerber and NC Drill file formats from File > Export and selecting the option required. This opens the Generate Gerber Files or NC Drill Format dialogue box accordingly. Along with the Gerber and NC Drill files, the system creates an ASCII file with the name and folder of the Gerber or NC Drill files. Once this is done, click on the Open GerberView icon from below the menu bar to open the ZenitPCB GerberView window, and it displays the Gerber format according to the ASCII file.

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The GerberView has options to hide and view separate layers or all at once. This makes analysing and editing easier for the design. The colour view of each layer can be configured according to the user’s preferences. When Overlay Display Color is activated, it can control the transparency of various layers so that the user can observe more layers at the same time.

Steps for creating PCB design

7C7_TableHere are the basic steps that need to be followed when you are designing a PCN using ZenitPCB suite: First place the components in ZenitCapture. Route all the components. Package the parts and create a netlist. Now create a new project or open an existing one in ZenitPCB Layout, place a board outline (Place > Board Outline > Wizard… / Polyline). Import the netlist from File > Import > Netlist… option. Now you can route the circuit to create a suitable PCB design.

On an alternate method, you can directly design without creating schematic, by importing and/or editing components from library using File menu.

Easy user interface and detailed help files
The basic steps for designing using ZenitPCB suite are very simple and require little documentation. But if you had selected to install help file along with the package, then you can get access to an elaborate help file that guides you to create a PCB design right from the beginning. The help window can be opened by pressing the function key F1. The download page of the developer site www.zenitpcb.com also has a collection of video tutorials. Both these would help a novice engineer to get through the design process without much trouble. For more tips, advices and guidance, you could send a mail to [email protected]


The author is a technical correspondent at EFY

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