DesignSpark: For All Your PCB Designing Needs

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DesignSpark PCB is a schematic and layout design software. In this article we explore the capabilities of this software, highlight the new features that came in its latest version, and also shed light on DesignSpark Mechanical.

ABHISHEK A. MUTHA


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Fig. 1: User interface of DesignSpark PCB

DesignSpark PCB is a powerful, professional and completely free schematic and layout design software. Ideal for use in professional design environment, it currently claims over 250,000 users worldwide. DesignSpark PCB is easy to learn and comes with an intuitive user interface. It features context-sensitive toolbars, context-sensitive help, customisable shortcuts, interaction bar, easy access to all relevant commands and an online library of components—ModelSource—with some reference designs.

DesignSpark PCB also has online video and text tutorials to help users get started and a dedicated technical forum for technical clarifications. It improves itself based on community feedback, and further software development, enhancements and new features are derived from comments, design work and experiences shared by other members at DesignSpark’s forum.

DesignSpark PCB is offered completely free of charge and fully featured. (There are no intentional restrictions on designs.) There are unlimited schematic sheets per project, up to one metre square of board size and no limits on layers—all of which allow you to get your creativity flowing without restraint. DesignSpark PCB circuit design software can be used for schematic capture, PCB board design and layout, generating impressive 3D view to visualise your design in real time and generate manufacturing files.

Compatibility
DesignSpark PCB supports importing of CadSoft Eagle PCB CAD design files, circuit diagrams and libraries. In addition to extensive libraries, sophisticated part-creation wizards make it easy to design new parts from scratch or by amending downloaded symbols and footprints. Bill of materials (BOM) report can also be generated at any time.

DesignSpark PCB allows you to generate all the files required to take your project from circuit diagram to layout schematic to a circuit-board built project. Gerbers (extended RS-274-X), excellons and component position reports are available to make your design compatible with pick-and-place machines ready for automated PCB assembly (reflow oven process). Other output formats include DXF (import and export) and IDF for interfacing to mechanical CAD software tools.

Key features
Let us take a look at some of the key features of this tool:
Reference designs. DesignSpark PCB has reference designs for hardware evaluation modules and development kits with complete schematics, PCB files and detailed documentations. Designers can save a lot of their time by using these designs and modifying them according to their requirements. The reference designs include, for instance, a chipKIT Max32 kit based on Microchip processor and motor control using Fairchild FNB41060.

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Fig. 2: ChipKit Max32 reference design

ModelSource. ModelSource is an online library of PCB and schematic components with over 80,000 of them. Designers can add components in their designs from ModelSource library and, while doing so, they can see various parameters of the components, manufacturers’ details, data sheets and components preview.

Simulation interface. The Simulation interface consists of Simulation Output, SPICE libraries and Simulation Netlist. For Simulation Output, DesignSpark PCB has built-in SPICE parameters that can be assigned to components so that a number of circuit elements could be output to a number of standard SPICE simulators. SPICE simulators supported in DesignSpark PCB are LsSpice, LTspice, B2spice and TINA.

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Fig. 3: Spice simulation output

SPICE libraries available contain commonly-used components and symbols, including circuit stimuli and probes to help designers quickly generate circuits to simulate. SPICE Netlists writes a description of the devices in the circuit using basic SPICE format.

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Simulation interface lets designers analyse various simulation responses (like AC response, DC response, transient response) of their schematic in one of the above simulators. This saves a lot of time for designers as they need not make a schematic separately in the simulation tool.

Library creation and Components Wizard. DesignSpark PCB gives freedom to designers to create new schematic symbols, PCB footprints and join them to form components which can be added to the user-defined library. Also, since schematic symbols and PCB footprints are separate entities in DesignSpark PCB, by using Components Wizard designers can create new components by providing a few parameters to pre-defined schematic symbols and PCB footprint. Components Wizard also helps designers link multiple schematic symbols with different PCB footprints and save the combinations as new components.

Design calculators. Track Width calculator lets designers calculate the minimum track width based on the current it carries and temperature rise when current is applied. Track Impedance calculator calculates the characteristic impedance of a unit length of PCB track for a set of common track geometries. Via Resistance calculator calculates the resistance, voltage drop, power loss and thermal resistance of vias in a PCB design. Other design calculators available are for Heat Sink, RLCF and Conversion.

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