Thank you for your interest in PCB123! With Version 5, Sunstone has fulfilled its commitment to create a PCB design system that delivers superior productivity against other systems regardless of price. In one program, it delivers all the tools needed to complete a printed circuit board from concept to manufacturing.
Version 5 is the culmination of effort to streamline the entire PCB design process and yields a system that is quite unlike any other. PCB layout and schematics not only reside in the same application but also are two isomorphic views of the same database. A netlist is no longer the interface between the two applications. As you create a schematic, you are creating a PCB. If you don’t want to bother creating a schematic, then just create your board and let PCB123 create the schematic for you. Data edits are bidirectional with either side updating the other. Most of the synchronizing is done transparently but some edits required that special facilities be created to ensure both the logical (schematics) and physical (Layout) views stay isomorphic. In fact, loading a pre-version-3 PCB123 file into version 5 will result in the automatic generation of a companion schematic. Likewise, starting a new design either using a netlist from another system or simply creating a PCB from scratch by manually placing new components and drawing the traces will result in a schematic that is automatically created and is continuously updated as the PCB is updated.
We are extremely pleased you are reading this guide because it is jam packed with tips and techniques to maximize both your productivity and the quality of your PCB.
Software features out of the box
With the PCB123 software you installed, you will be able to create a multi-page schematic by placing symbols that represent complete parts or sections of a part such as a gate, and then hooking them up with wires and special port symbols such as power and ground symbols.
Locating parts has never been easier. The part database is structured as a taxonomy, which can be navigated in a tree or can be searched by typing in search criteria. Parts can contain a rich set of properties, all of which are searchable. This means you can search for a part by number (distributor or manufacturer) or by some characteristic such as “4.99K, 1%”.
With PCB123 V5, you now have access to a fully defined set of parts libraries, delivering over 750,000 parts with schematic symbols, footprints, manufacturer and Digi-Key ordering information, and links to data sheets available immediately after installation. This parts library, derived directly from the Accelerated Designs Inc, Ultralib product, is made available to PCB123 from Accelerated Designs, Inc., an industry leader in electronic parts definition development.
Placing a part so its pins touch the pins of a different part will automatically generate wires between the pins as long as they are allowed by the rules. For instance, a power pin cannot be tied to a ground pin, and an NC pin (no connect) cannot be tied to anything. Wires can also be added by clicking on a pin or an existing wire (adding a junction) and then simply moving the mouse to the other pin/wire/junction and clicking again. This will automatically draw a wire that obeys the expected aesthetics. The auto-wiring feature is invoked when an already-connected symbol is moved or rotated. Even high-pin-count symbols are neatly rewired as they are moved around. Even though auto-wiring is always in effect, you can also digitize corners exactly where you want them.
At any point, you may flip over to the PCB view and you will see the new parts and their wires located at the system origin. You can select AutoPlace to rapidly position parts on the board. AutoPlace will attempt to minimize the overall interconnect distance between components while also locating the components in a reasonably aesthetic pattern. You can then examine and adjust the placement to perform local optimizations and enforce any special placement requirements that you may have.
At this point, you may choose to autoroute the design. The autorouter will first escape surface mount pins to a via (a plated hole) to allow the router unrestricted access to all routing layers and or to connect to any internal plane layers. After fanout, the main autorouter will engage which attempts to add traces between objects that must be connected together. In many cases, the autorouter may not complete 100% of the connections or it may do so by using a topology that is unacceptable to you. In these cases, or in the event you just want to route the board completely by hand, there are very efficient editing tools to complete the task.
While manual routing or performing other PCB editing tasks by hand, a Design Rule Check (DRC) is performed in real-time and you will see DRC error markers come and go as you create and fix DRC violations. Whether autorouted or manually routed, you can choose at any stage to run the Gloss command to remove redundant corners, segments, and vias.
You not only have the ability to designate internal plane layers, but you can also choose to view them as positive or negative images. In addition, you may wish to fill in unoccupied areas on the routing layers of the board with copper planes. These copper planes are typically assigned to a net, such as GND. Pins assigned to the same net, which appear inside the region, will be connected to the copper plane. Pins placed using the Add Pin tool provide you with properties to control if the pin connects with a thermal or direct connection and if the pin is tented with soldermask.
Nomenclature may be added to the board as copper or on silkscreen layers using text strings or drawn polygonal features.
A full DRC (Design Rule Check) can be run on the board when it is believed to be complete. A full DRC will check for violations of net rules such as adherence to minimum spacing requirements, shorts, and opens. It will also check for possible manufacturing problems such as drill excursions into SMD features, silkscreen in holes or on SMD features, and even isolated pins in copper pour regions.
It is recommended that a final visual check of the PCB be done by selecting File > Print Artwork. Here you can print individual layers for review.
At any time, either the schematic or the layout may undergo component or net additions, deletions, or changes and the other synchronizes. This makes tasks such as adjusting the number of decoupling capacitors based on available real estate or routing density a snap.
Finally, when the design is complete you can press the Order button to begin the process of getting your circuit boards manufactured.
In addition to the core system, PCB123 Version 5 includes a Plugin interface that allows tools to be added at anytime. The Plugin SDK exposes the complete PCB object database for random access and allows for the processing of virtually all PCB123 software events. In addition to editing PCB objects, developers will be able to call upon code libraries such as the 2D geometry library (over 800 analytical operations on 2D objects) and the spatial database and DRC engine.
The SDK includes a 120-page manual, code libraries and the header files that describe the various PCB123 objects and resources. There is also a Microsoft Visual Studio Application Wizard that builds a working Plugin complete with TODO comments and example code for many scenarios. It also includes the full source code for a couple of the actual Plugins that are shipped with PCB123. These include a connection density analyzer which plots estimated route density as a function of color in a separate window and a Plugin that minimizes the angular deflection of all route corners and therefore also shortens route length. It does so without causing DRC violations. We hope that over time many creative and productive Plugins will be developed by you, the user, to share or sell to the PCB123 community.
One eye on the future
First, a quick note on some capabilities that didn’t quite make it into this initial release of the new schematics facility but are certainly expected in an upcoming release. The two main capabilities are bussing and hierarchical designs. The two features share the common requirement of a bus pin/port object. The hierarchical capabilities will be implemented as sub-circuits which get flattened immediately for logical/physical synchronization. You will be able to place one or more instances of a pre-existing schematic page from any design into another schematic page and it will be represented as a symbol with pins that correspond to special ports placed in the hierarchical page.
We would like to point out some of the less obvious benefits that the full integration of schematics and layout make possible. Aside from the fact that a netlist is a static snapshot of a schematic at a given time, a netlist also strips all the information from the schematic other than the net graphs. We can point to one example where some of the semantic information from the schematic has been confidently and successfully hoisted into PCB123 layout and that is with the automatic assignment of large net widths for nets that are attached to voltage and ground port symbols. This indicates there may be convenient, logical paradigms for visually documenting and conveying special net and component rules right in the schematic that layout will honor.
Proximity information is another example of information that is lost in a netlist. It is possible to bias the autoplacer with symbol proximity data from the schematic. Along those lines, if a schematic sub-circuit was placed and even routed in layout then that sub-circuit could then be replicated via copy and paste or through hierarchical instantiation, and the new circuit’s physical layout would be exactly relative to its original source circuit including any routing.
The benefits can work the other way too. If a SPICE simulator is hypothetically bolted on to PCB123, the simulator would have access to the exact characteristics of the routing topology of a net by simply asking layout and getting an instantaneous response. Signal integrity problems could not only be identified much faster than using separate tools but the iterative process of simulate-analyze-tweak could actually be replaced by driving special tools in layout with the simulation results that take corrective action on the routing topology. This hysteretic optimizing process could be run until it converges on correctness or raises a red flag with a high degree of confidence that a real problem exists.
Our business model has worked quite well and you can see with this release our commitment to delivering state-of-the-art productive tools to you. We are really excited about the technology and see the possibilities limited only by yours and our imaginations.
With the release of the Plugin SDK we have taken another giant step toward openness and look forward to the prospect that you, the user, may now directly contribute to the product and help guide it into niches that may otherwise be under-served.
This especially includes the development of translators to and from the various other CAD systems that you use and know well. We understand you may have a substantial investment in some of these systems and we are not looking to replace them, only augment your company’s design capacity and flexibility in the most economical way. We will always provide this ever-improving software for free to equip all engineers and designers with the tools they need to at least try their ideas at work or at home without starting in red ink.
Our revenue is realized only when your ideas are realized.
Happy engineering, from Sunstone’s PCB123 division!